Tuesday, September 02, 2014
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Guerra: TxDOT dysfunctional, needs replacing

Link to article here.

Mr. Guerra nails TxDOT to the wall in his very truthful and accurate assessment of what's gone wrong at TxDOT. One of my favorite lines: "TxDOT — which spends $8 billion annually — is not only dysfunctional, it is clearly hell-bent on pushing an agenda that few outside of the road-construction industry agree with." Amen, Mr. Guerra!

Carlos Guerra: TxDOT's problems warrant not just a fix, but replacement
Outside its own, its contractors' and Gov. Rick Perry's offices, the Texas Department of Transportation doesn't exactly have a bunch of fans.

That was apparent earlier this week when cheers erupted statewide after the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission released its blistering 159-page staff report on the agency.

Created by the Legislature in 1977, the Sunset Commission reviews each of the state's 150 agencies every 12 years, looking for waste, inefficiency and duplication.

The commission's 12 members often tweak staff recommendations, then fire them to the Legislature before the agencies are reauthorized.

If an agency is not reauthorized, it dies. This seldom happens, but Sunset recommendations have led to changes, even a few important ones.

One big reason TxDOT's evaluation got so much ink and air time is that it is unusually harsh and extensive. But it also confronts incredibly contentious Texas issues: TxDOT's relentless drive to build toll roads, privatize state roads and build the Trans-Texas Corridor that will cut through thousands of acres of private property.

TxDOT's ham-handed actions have created a broad and deep-seated distrust of the agency, so it wasn't surprising to read in the staff report's second paragraph: “Sunset staff found that this ... distrust permeated most of TxDOT's actions and determined that it could not be an effective state transportation agency if trust and confidence were not restored.”

And if that isn't clear enough, ask the thousands who attended TxDOT's public hearings on these issues and were treated rudely and then blown off entirely, or the reporters and others who sought public information only to be stonewalled.

TxDOT — which spends $8 billion annually — is not only dysfunctional, it is clearly hell-bent on pushing an agenda that few outside of the road-construction industry agree with.

But the Sunset report also excoriates its secrecy, and disingenuousness, and for how it remains unaccountable, even to the lawmakers who appropriate its budget. It also details management, bookkeeping and policy-development practices that are, at best, questionable.

TxDOT's projected $86 billion shortfall, for example, was even disputed by the Governor's Business Council Transportation Task Force before the state auditor faulted its seriously flawed methodology.

And what about that $1.1 billion accounting error that TxDOT kept under wraps for months? Or the instances in which the propriety of expenditures — like spending millions to promote and lobby for the Trans-Texas Corridor — have been seriously questioned?

And some of its practices have also made it difficult, if not impossible, to verify if appropriations are being spent for their intended purposes.

When the Sunset Commission meets in August to review this report in Austin, they can count on drawing a big crowd.

But replacing the five-member, governor-appointed Texas Transportation Commission with a single commissioner — the Sunset staff's principal recommendation — doesn't address long-term issues that need attention now.

Lawmakers need to replace this insular agency entirely with one that does not view itself as a self-governing road-building entity that lets private-sector vendors write its policies. In today's fast-changing world, Texas must deal with transportation more comprehensively by seriously incorporating rail and other public-transit options into its plans.

And if we don't, our grandchildren will inherit a huge system of largely underused highways that either will be controlled by unaccountable private-sector operators from who knows where, or will have been sold back to the state but their debt will remain unpaid for generations to come.

What kind of future is that?

Tolling Authority to charge nearly 10 times more than to keep 281 a FREEway


Submit your comments by email to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or fax them to (210) 495-5403. Tell them we want the $100 million gas tax funded overpass plan not a $1.3 billion toll road on 281 NOW! Be sure to ask for confirmation that they received your comments!


Today, per state law, SB 792, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) held a public hearing for the purpose of disclosing financial details about the toll contract, toll rates and escalation methodology, and how long the tolls will be collected on the highway. TURF and the San Antonio Toll Party were there, despite a public hearing being held in the middle of a workday. Here is our official statement that was limited to a paltry 3 minutes, though we represent thousands of citizens.

TURF Statement at RMA Public Hearing on 281 Toll Contract, June 11, 2008

First, this hardly satisfies the law’s requirement of a public hearing when it’s at 1 PM in the middle of a workday when the public you’re soliciting comments from is at work paying your salaries. The purpose of a public hearing is not like City Council business or other meetings, it’s to inform the public directly and seek their input, neither of which this hearing does.
Second, Mr. Thornton and others at the RMA have repeatedly misled the public saying this toll project accelerates the improvements to US 281 when in fact, the gas tax funded improvement plan promoted in hearings in 2001 which includes overpasses, added freeway lanes, and frontage roads (I have the plans right here to prove Mr. Irwin and Ms. Brechtel who directly lied in numerous public forums saying the original plan is insufficient because it lacked frontage lanes and access to businesses are wrong) has been funded and should have broken ground in 2003.

Third, the cost of this gas tax plan comes to $170 million adjusted for inflation in today’s dollars ($100 million in 2004 dollars). The amount of gas taxes ($100 million) and Texas Mobility Funds being used for this project (anywhere from $112 million to $325 million) would more than cover the cost of keeping 281 a FREEway as the overwhelming public comment at the legal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) hearings asked for.

This is a taxpayer rip-off of mammoth proportions considering you’re now taking a $170 million improvement plan and turning it into a $1.3 billion project (as revealed in ARMA Notice of Public Hearing for the 281 project, $475 million construction cost, $864 million in interest) when you factor in the interest on the bonds. Also, your disclosure of the contract details falls woefully short since I have the market value study for 281 that shows you plan to refinance this loan in 15 years, which can significantly affect if not increase toll rates and will extend the life of the bonds from 40 to 50 years. Your disclosure also fails to reveal the source of debt for the remaining $141 million needed, the amount of interest on that debt, whether the public will vote on issuing that debt, and any fees paid to the bond investors for both bonds.

Fourth, you told the Judge in our federal lawsuit to stop this toll road nightmare that you were planning to sell bonds in August, now you’re saying it will be this fall. Once again, which is the truth? The public can hardly make an intelligent assessment of this project and provide comment given the lack of transparency, the lack of truthfulness, and the stubborn refusal to cease the conversion of an existing freeway into a tollway without a public vote as the law requires.

Lastly, today TxDOT announced it will change the project route for TTC-69 in response to the overwhelming public comments opposing the new corridor route. Yet today, the RMA and TxDOT stubbornly refuse to respond to the massive public outcry and public comment against this freeway to tollway conversion by installing the gas tax plan and abandoning the toll plan. One can hardly articulate the level of hypocrisy we’re witnessing today. So I guess you’ve left us no choice. We’ll see you in court.

TxDOT to "consider" using existing highways for TTC-69

We still have concerns about this announcement by TxDOT for the reasons cited below.

With the 391 commissions, TxDOT has to do what these local governments require of them by invoking the coordination mandate in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) "to the greatest extent practicable." That puts TxDOT in a HUGE legal box they cannot wiggle out of. The wording of this TTC-69 TxDOT statement (and the transportation commission's minute order from a few weeks ago) is very intentionally saying they'll simply "consider" existing right of way, which is NOT a mandate to do so which the 391 commission by contrast can force. So anyway, TxDOT isn't giving up much, they're playing legal games. Needless to say, we're very cautious about this announcement. We think it's to quell the forming of more commissions and to make concessions to the Legislature before the Sunset Commission/Legislature guts the agency if they don't "act" more responsive to the public.

Also at issue: It can still be 1,200 foot wide land grabbing, privatized tolled corridor and it will toll existing right of way already paid for with gas taxes. They claim it won't toll existing lanes, but they've been downgrading the existing lanes to frontage roads all over the state. Why should we believe TxDOT now?

If they change the scope of the project so dramatically, TxDOT should have to, by law per NEPA, redo the environmental study totally, not just submit some letter to the FHWA. They should be required to redo the document reflecting the new project route (see map here) and the new "alternative" selection using existing right of way replacing the new corridor "alternative" as the current document states. Stay tuned for more updates.


June 11, 2008

TxDOT Recommends Narrowing Study Area for Texas Portion of I-69
Citing Public Recommendation, Project Would Follow Existing Roads

AUSTIN – The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) announced today that it will recommend that the I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) Project be developed using existing highway facilities wherever possible. If additional travel lanes are added to existing highways, only the new lanes would have tolls.

"After a dozen town hall meetings, nearly 50 public hearings, and countless one-on-one conversations, it is clear to us that Texans want us to use existing roadways to start building the Texas portion of Interstate 69," said Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton.

"TxDOT's recommendation would effectively shrink our environmental study down to roads such as U.S. Highways 77 and 281 in South Texas, State Highway 44 and U.S. Highway 59 along the Coastal Bend and U.S. Highways 84 and 59 in East Texas. We are dropping consideration of new corridors that would run west of Houston in addition to other proposals for new highway footprint in other parts of the state."

TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz, in a letter to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), wrote "The preliminary basis for this decision centers on the review of nearly 28,000 public comments made on the Tier One DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact statement). The overwhelming sentiment of these comments focused on the need to improve the existing transportation network" rather than building a new corridor for the project.

TxDOT's stated intention has been to focus on making needed improvements to existing and planned transportation facilities within the I-69/TTC study area. Such upgrades may fully satisfy the project's need to improve the international, interstate, and intrastate movement of people and goods for many decades.

In May, the Texas Transportation Commission adopted guiding principles and policies that will govern the development, construction and operation of toll road projects on the state highway system and the Trans-Texas Corridor. In addition to reaffirming that only new lanes added to an existing highway will be tolled and that there will be no reduction in the number of non-tolled lanes, the Commission stated that wherever possible, existing right-of-way would be considered for the development of new projects.

"The Commission made it clear that they wanted their newly-adopted principles applied to the development of important projects like I-69 and a parallel corridor to I-35," said Saenz. "We are closer than ever to realizing the promise and the potential of I-69, and we will move forward with this important Transportation Commission policy in the front of our minds."

Saenz said that TxDOT would continue to talk to the public about I-69/TTC, and he encouraged Texans to ask questions and share their ideas at the department's "Keep Texas Moving" website (www.keeptexasmoving.com). He noted that the recently-named I-69 Corridor Advisory Committee will help guide TxDOT's work on the project. Saenz said he looked forward to the appointment of Segment Advisory Committees comprised of local leaders who will help further develop I-69/TTC.

"We also want to keep working with our Congressional delegation and the Texas Legislature," added Transportation Commissioner Houghton. "Legislative leadership, public involvement and local commitment will all be essential if we are going build this long-awaited highway."

TxDOT is preparing its report for FHWA following completion of the public involvement process for the environmental review of I-69/TTC. If today's recommendation is approved by FHWA, plans for a separate new corridor would be dropped from future environmental reviews, and the existing infrastructure would serve as the study area for future environmental review. TxDOT is expected to submit its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for public review prior to federal approval late in 2008 or early in 2009. FHWA approval of the FEIS does not authorize property acquisition or construction.

In the future, the northern and southern portions of I-69/TTC could be linked in the Houston area. Houston's connection to I-69/TTC, including access to the Port of Houston, will be determined in coordination with elected leaders and transportation planners in the area.

A copy of Saenz's letter to FHWA and a new map reflecting TxDOT's recommendation are available on the internet at www.keeptexasmoving.com

- 30 -
Find out more at www.txdot.gov.
For more Information call TxDOT's Government & Public Affairs Division at (512) 463-8588.

Oil causes stock market dive

Link to article here.The free fall continues...not the time for new toll taxes!

Stocks tumble 206 points on oil surge
Wall Street slumps as crude prices rally more than $5 a barrel, the dollar falls and Fed's 'Beige Book' shows more weakness.
By Alexandra Twin, CNNMoney.com senior writer
June 11, 2008

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Stocks tumbled Wednesday, with the Dow losing over 200 points, amid a $5 spike in oil prices, more problems for the bank sector and a report showing continued economic weakness.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) lost 206 points, or 1.7%. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 (SPX) index lost 1.7% and the Nasdaq composite (COMP) lost 2.2%.

The Dow Jones Transportation average fell 4.7% on the jump in oil prices.

"Oil prices are spiking today and there's also this renewed issue with the financial sector," said Greg Church, president at Church Capital.

Lehman Brothers (LEH, Fortune 500) stock fell as investors continued to react to the company's huge quarterly loss announced earlier this week. Merrill Lynch downgraded the stock to "neutral" from "buy."

And Church said that the financial sector was being plagued by vague market rumors that supposedly bullet-proof Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500) could take a big hit.

Anheuser-Busch (BUD, Fortune 500) stock could be active Thursday after it was announced late Wednesday that Belgian rival InBev has made a nearly $47 billion offer for the company. Reports suggested InBev was interested in the maker of Bud a few weeks ago. Shares gained 7% in after-hours trading.

In other news, it was announced after the close of trade that the House bid to extend jobless benefits beyond the six-month mark has failed. (Full story)

Thursday brings the May retail sales report from the Commerce Department. Sales are expected to have risen 0.5% after falling 0.2% in April. Sales excluding autos are expected to have 0.7% after rising 0.5% in April.

Oil prices surge. U.S. light crude oil for July delivery rose $5.07 to settle at $136.38 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after the government's weekly supply report showed crude prices shrank more than expected.

Meanwhile the DOE forecast that oil prices will stay well above $100 a barrel and gas prices will stay above $4 a gallon through 2009.

"You're seeing a growing awareness that the rising price of oil is impacting everyone's ability to do business," said Mark Travis, president and CEO Intrepid Capital Funds.

Additionally, he said investors were responding to the ongoing malaise in financial markets.

The Federal Reserve released its periodic 'Beige Book' survey of economic activity in the afternoon. As expected, the survey showed continued economic weakness in late April and early May, due to weaker consumer spending and advancing commodity prices.

Eye on the Fed: Chairman Ben Bernanke hinted earlier this week that the central bank will soon need to raise interest rates, to combat higher pricing pressure - and to prop up the weak U.S. dollar.

Fed Vice Chairman Donald Kohn, speaking at a Fed conference in Massachusetts, said that the rise in oil prices is raising consumer inflation expectations and that it is critical for these expectations to be contained. Fed Governor Randall Kroszner spoke at the same conference on consumer protection and the role of credit in the economy.

Company news: Corporate Express NV, a Dutch distributor of office supplies, accepted an improved $2.7 billion bid from Staples (SPLS, Fortune 500).

Alcoa (AA, Fortune 500) tumbled almost 8% after a JPMorgan (JPM, Fortune 500) analyst said that the aluminum producer is not looking to sell itself or spin off part of its business and that this will be a disappointment for Wall Street.

Including Alcoa, 27 out of 30 Dow components slid. Other big decliners included AIG (AIG, Fortune 500), American Express (AXP, Fortune 500), Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) and General Motors (GM, Fortune 500). The lone Dow advancers were the oil components Exxon Mobil (XOM, Fortune 500) and Chevron (CVX, Fortune 500) and chemical maker DuPont (DD, Fortune 500).

Market breadth was negative. On the New York Stock Exchange, losers topped winners four to one on volume of 1.39 billion shares. On the Nasdaq, decliners topped advancers three to one on volume of 2.17 billion shares.

Gas hits new record: The national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas rose to a record $4.052 from the previous day's record of $4.043, AAA reported.

Other markets: The dollar slipped versus the euro and yen.

Treasury prices advanced, lowering the yield on the benchmark 10-year note to 4.07% from 4.10% late Tuesday. Bond prices and yields move in opposite directions.

COMEX gold for August delivery rose $11.70 to settle at $882.90 an ounce. To top of page

TxDOT jet-sets all over state abusing access to State Aircraft

Link to article here.

Just when you'd think things at TxDOT can't get any worse, a front page story appears telling of their abuse of state airplanes for $130,000 worth of jet-setting across the state on the taxpayers' dime! At least one of those trips was taken by Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton who used the planes to illegally lobby in favor of the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 project at a workshop they initiated with elected officials (which is against the law) and then lied about sponsoring it.

This event is part of TURF's evidence against TxDOT in our lawsuit to stop it's propaganda campaign and illegal lobbying. The other two offenders: Rick Perry and the Attorney General (who is representing TxDOT against the taxpayers in our lawsuit to stop their illegal lobbying and ad campaign) with over $20,000 each in state-funded travel for what can be argued was personal and/or political travel.

Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and Empower Texans, whose Director is quoted in the article, put together this video as a spoof on TxDOT's luxury airline use at taxpayer expense. Watch it!

Cost, uses of state's plane fleet targeted
By Peggy Fikac
Express-News Austin Bureau

AUSTIN — Five years after Texas leaders tried to disband the state's airplane fleet, officials still call on the service to fly them to meetings, awards ceremonies, funerals and even a neighboring GOP governor's inauguration.

Officeholders and bureaucrats, including Gov. Rick Perry, say they look at cost and efficiency before deciding whether to use the aircraft, which cost $258.75 to $977.50 per flight hour and are allowed for official state business.

But some question the fleet because bills are often footed by taxpayers and because commercial airfare may look cheaper.

“It sure does raise the eyebrows and make the nose crinkle a bit,” said Michael Quinn Sullivan of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. “Between two really good Texas-based airlines, there's any number of options to get from anywhere to anywhere by air pretty quickly.”

Then-Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Perry talked up selling the planes during a 2003 budget crunch.

But the Texas Department of Transportation, which oversees the fleet, expects it to log 1,227 more flight hours — for a total of 3,350 or about $2.3 million worth of flying time — in this two-year budget period than the last.

“State agencies have seen the value of our services as an effective business tool,” said TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott, noting commercial air travel's cost “continues to rise, and its reliability continues to deteriorate.”

State taxpayers don't pay for the trips funded by donations or other sources. Among them: University of Texas football recruiting jaunts, paid by the self-sufficient athletics department; the UT president's travel; and a trip by Texas A&M basketball coaches and players to the Big 12 media day in Kansas City.

Louisiana trip questioned

But many other trips are paid by the state and may draw closer scrutiny, such as a $3,962 trip by Perry, a staffer and a member of the governor's security detail to Baton Rouge for the inauguration of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a fellow Republican. Perry, who heads the Republican Governors Association, spoke at the prayer breakfast.

“I'd want to know, did he go to (Democratic New Mexico Gov.) Bill Richardson's inauguration?” asked state Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, head of the House Democratic Caucus. “If he didn't go to Richardson's, I think it's pretty apparent this is a partisan political trip. If he's going to do that, he ought to do it on his own dime. He's got plenty of money in his campaign. Taxpayers shouldn't pay for it.”

Perry spokesman Robert Black dismissed the idea that the trip was political, asking, “When was Richardson inaugurated? I have no idea if he (Perry) was even invited.”

“Not only was the governor invited ... to participate in Bobby Jindal's inauguration, I think most Texans recognize that the states of Louisiana and Texas have a unique relationship that has grown out of the natural disasters that happened a few years ago,” Black said, noting efforts led by Perry to help after Hurricane Katrina.

Perry's office notes that most of his travel, aside from that on state aircraft, is paid by his campaign.

His Baton Rouge trip was among a slew of state-airplane records covering the six months ending in March examined by the San Antonio Express-News.

Among officials using state money to pay for flights and billed more than $20,000 apiece for the time period were Perry ($24,537); Attorney General Greg Abbott and staff ($21,943); TxDOT administration, government and public affairs, and other divisions ($130,568); the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality ($56,560); and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and staff ($50,302).

Commercial cost compared

Destinations used with the fleet included news conferences, public meetings and awards ceremonies. They also included memorial services for Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson and for Kate Marmion, granddaughter of former Gov. Dolph Briscoe, and meetings on the Trans-Texas Corridor by transportation officials.

In choosing a state plane, officials say they consider factors including productive use of time, avoiding the cost and delay of overnight stays, number of people traveling and availability of commercial flights.

Some trips invite comparison to commercial airfares — including Perry's to Baton Rouge, because an online booking service currently shows roundtrip flights as low as $486 per person ($647 per person for a flight departing in the evening) or totals of $1,458 to $1,941 for three people. Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle noted Perry's schedule and commercial flight schedules play into such decisions.

Another is a March 7 trip to Houston by Staples and two others at a cost of $2,346. Southwest Airlines' flight schedule shows three adults could currently travel roundtrip for $257.50 apiece, or a total of $772.50.

Staples spokesman Bryan Black said Staples got to Houston at 7:45 a.m. for a school award presentation and, after a day of events capped by a speech at the International Brangus Breeders Association Banquet and Awards Dinner, left at 9:30 p.m..

That would have been too late to make the last commercial flight. Compounding the time crunch was that Staples was due in Hereford the next day. (He went by state plane, at a cost of $2,659). Bryan Black noted Staples often visits hard-to-reach rural areas but uses commercial flights when he can and often drives. “He wants to make sure that he visits with Texans and listens to what they have to say.”

Three state senators flew state planes during the six-month period examined: Sens. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio; Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock; and Kip Averitt, R-Waco. Uresti racked up the largest bill of the three at $13,009 for trips to Marfa, Del Rio, Eagle Pass and Laredo.

“I have the largest senatorial district, geographically, not only in Texas but in the United States — 55,000 square miles,” Uresti said. He said he is “very selective” in using state aircraft but sometimes must make stops in hard-to-reach places.

“There's no easy way to get to Marfa,” he said. “My constituents in Alpine, in Del Rio, in Fort Stockton — they want their state senator at their town hall meetings. It's there for that use. I don't abuse it.”

How small is $18 million?

The state fleet is in addition to airplanes belonging solely to individual agencies, such as the UT and A&M systems and the Department of Public Safety, which may still use the state fleet when their planes are busy.

Sullivan, of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, said he isn't suggesting officials are wrong to use a fleet that's at their disposal, but lawmakers should take a hard look at whether it's necessary to maintain it.

“There's certainly the occasional need for someone to be transported in that way,” Sullivan said, citing law enforcement and response to natural disasters. But, he added, “when you find out these various muckety-mucks are jumping on the planes just because it's easier to do that, that's not right.”

The fleet, previously under the State Aircraft Pooling Board, was targeted by Strayhorn and Perry in 2003 when the state faced a $10 billion budget shortfall. At the time, Strayhorn said selling the planes and associated property would yield $18.2 million. Perry vetoed the pooling board from the budget, but the fleet was transferred to TxDOT.

Perry spokeswoman Krista Piferrer said Perry “doesn't really have an opinion one way or another” now about whether the fleet should be maintained.

“His main priority has always been that aircraft are used for state business and are operated on a cost recovery basis.”

Sullivan said $18 million is a small percentage of the state's $152.5 billion two-year budget, but added, “It's not a small amount of money. ... You take the richest person in Texas, and they notice when $18 million is gone.”

Toll billing scam in New York

Link to article here.

E-ZPass ‘Unpaid Toll’ Service Center Collection Agency Email is a Scam
By Jack Phillips, Epoch Times | July 11, 2014

A circulating e-mail that purports to be from E-ZPass and said the customer drove on a toll road is fake and a scam that contains malware.

The e-mail is designed to get recipients to download malware onto their computer via links and attachments contained within it.

The e-mail reads:
“From: Collection Agency
Subject: Pay for driving on toll road

E-ZPass Service Center

Dear customer,
You have not paid for driving on a toll road. This invoice is sent repeatedly, please service your debt in the shortest possible time. The invoice can be downloaded here.”

It’s recommended to not download the invoice, as it’s malware.

The e-mail also has the E-ZPass logo in an attempt to make the scam look more official.

This isn’t the first time scammers have tried to use E-ZPass for their own gain.

The New York State Thruway has a post on its website, warning people to watch out for the scam.

“We have recently learned of an email phishing scam which appears to be an attempt to collect 
unpaid tolls. An example of this email is shown below. Please be advised that this is not an  authorized communication from E-ZPass, the New York State Thruway Authority or any other  toll agency associated with E-ZPass. We advise you not to open or respond to such a message  should you receive one,” it said a few days ago.

“If you have any questions about the validity of any message received, please contact the E-ZPass New York Customer Service Center at 800-333-8655.”

Sunset Committee Report proposes major reform, greater accountability at TxDOT

Link to article below here.

A scathing Sunset Committee Report on TxDOT was released today (news story below) and it recommends a "legislative conservator" takeover the agency among other reforms.

There are 6 problem areas identified in the report, but here are the key recommendations that pertain to our concerns:

• Abolish the Texas Transportation Commission and replace it with an appointed Commissioner of Transportation.
• Establish a Transportation Legislative Oversight Committee to provide necessary oversight of the Department and the state’s transportation system.
• Require the Transportation Legislative Oversight Committee to review and comment on TxDOT’s research program, including individual research projects and activities.
• The Sunset Commission should recommend that the Legislature directly fund the Texas Transportation Institute to conduct transportation research previously contracted through TxDOT.
• Continue TxDOT for four years (instead of 12).
• Require TxDOT to develop and implement a public involvement policy that guides and encourages more meaningful public involvement efforts agency-wide.
• Require TxDOT to develop standard procedures for documenting complaints and for tracking and analyzing complaint data.
• TxDOT should provide central coordination of the Department’s major marketing campaigns.

The big holes? We asked for the 5 member Transportation Commission APPOINTED by the Governor to be replaced with a single ELECTED commissioner, and while the Sunset Committee staff recommended abolishing the Commission and replacing it with a single commissioner, they still would have that position APPOINTED by the Governor (giving us the same mess we have now)! The difference is the Commissioner would be re-appointed and come before the Senate for confirmation every 2 years instead of every 4.

Hole #2 - "TxDOT should provide central coordination of the Department’s major marketing campaigns." What??! TURF is suing the State to STOP TxDOT's "marketing" propaganda campaign, the last thing we need is to centralize illegal activity! We also don't need "public education" campaigns like "Don't Mess With Texas" anti-litter program or its "Click it or Ticket" campaign when we're supposedly "out of money" for basic highway needs. This is wasteful, useless spending and the Committee staff should have called for an end to it. It's their job to eliminate waste. Well, this is prime fodder for the chopping block. It enriches marketing and PR firms, not provide transportation for taxpayers.

Hole #3 - There are no specific public involvement recommendations that would force TxDOT to do what the public asks them to, particularly in regards to toll projects and the Trans Texas Corridor. Simply taking public testimony and then ignoring it is what has caused a massive taxpayer revolt all over the state! We need some public involvement REQUIREMENTS that FORCE TxDOT to implement the alternative chosen by the public, not the one that makes the State the most tax revenue.

This is why we need YOU to come testify before the full Sunset Advisory Committee on July 15 in Austin to insist the Committee make any new commissioner directly accountable to the taxpayers at the ballot box so we don't end up with the same problems we have now.

TxDOT labeled 'out of control'
By Peggy Fikac
Express-News Austin Bureau
AUSTIN — Saying big changes are needed to restore trust in the Texas Department of Transportation, the Sunset Advisory Commission staff is recommending a revamp of TxDOT's governing board, project planning and its dealings with lawmakers and the public.

The Sunset staff report to be released today — and shared with the San Antonio Express-News by a source close to the process — comes in the wake of controversy over planned public-private partnerships on toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor and questions concerning agency funding figures.

“The Sunset review of the Texas Department of Transportation occurred against a backdrop of distrust and frustration with the Department and the demand for more transparency, accountability, and responsiveness. Many expressed concerns that TxDOT was ‘out of control,' advancing its own agenda against objections of both the Legislature and the public,” according to the report.

It says that “tweaking the status quo is simply not enough” to restore trust.

TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott said Monday, “The confidence of the Legislature and the public are very important to us. We still have work to do, but we are confident that our ongoing efforts to improve the transparency and accessibility of TxDOT are making a positive impact.”

Among changes, the staff is recommending replacing the five-member commission with a single commissioner, who would have a two-year term rather than the current six years. The shorter term would mean required Senate confirmation would occur more often, giving lawmakers more oversight.

However, the commissioner still would be appointed by the governor, a concern for opponents of TxDOT's policies.

That's because the policies pushed by the Texas Transportation Commission are in sync with those of GOP Gov. Rick Perry, who named the commissioners. Opponents of those policies would prefer an elected commissioner or commissioners.

“The most important thing is that they're elected positions,” said Sal Costello of TexasTollParty.com. “It gets right down to who's accountable.”

“We wanted a single, elected commissioner who answers directly to the people of Texas ... Having the governor's paws on this department just has got to stop,” said Terri Hall of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. She added, however, that proposed changes constitute “a step in the right direction. I'm glad the committee seems to be hearing what the public outcry is.”

The staff also proposes increasing legislative oversight through a new House-Senate committee; making TxDOT's transportation planning and project development more open and easily understood; enhancing chances for meaningful public involvement; improving TxDOT's contract management; and reviewing the agency again in four years, rather than the usual 12, to ensure needed changes have been made.

Agencies are reviewed periodically by the Sunset commission to see if they should continue to exist and whether changes are needed. Changes proposed by the commission will be considered in 2009 by the Legislature.

Lawmakers on the commission said it's clear that change is needed, although they'll need to weigh input including staff recommendations.

Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said he wants to give new Texas Transportation Commission Chair Deirdre Delisi a chance to improve agency operations but that he likes the direction of Sunset staff proposals.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, said straightforward, public accountability is key.

“There is obviously a great amount of distrust between the Legislature and the agency, as well as the general public. Something obviously needs to be done — major — to change the way this agency is doing business,” she said.

ELECTION 2014: Texas gubernatorial candidates give insight on transportation

Link to article here.

It’s worth noting, while Attorney General, Greg Abbott was required by law to review public private partnership (P3s) contracts for legal sufficiency, he could not negotiate the terms. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) was given full authority by the legislature to do that. They’re the ones selling out Texans with favorable terms for private corporations at taxpayer expense. Abbott is campaigning on funding roads with existing taxes, not turning to more tolls and P3s.

Wendy Davis, however, not only voted to give this authority to TxDOT, she voted in favor of tolling every chance she got, for local option gas tax hikes (as noted below), and had conflicts of interest since her law firm worked for the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) and she sat on the Senate Transportation Committee that votes on all NTTA bills. She never recused herself from any vote.

ELECTION 2014: Texas gubernatorial candidates give insight on transportation
By Keith Goble
Land Line state legislative editor

A new governor will be seated in Texas following the Nov. 4 election. The candidates competing for outgoing Gov. Rick Perry’s position have track records and have weighed in on transportation issues.

 The two major party candidates vying to replace him are Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis. One issue that will confront the winner is a transportation system in need of $4 billion more per year in revenue.

Read more: ELECTION 2014: Texas gubernatorial candidates give insight on transportation

Perry's indictment called 'suspect,' yet he ignored a crony's drunk driving arrest

Link to article here.

Perry’s indictment called ‘suspect,’ yet he ignored Krusee’s drunk driving arrest
By Terri Hall
August 16, 2014

The Republican Party is predictably coming to the aid of one of its own, Governor Rick Perry, who was indicted yesterday on two felony counts stemming from alleged abuses of power. Perry threatened to veto funding for the Travis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit if District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg didn’t resign due to her drunk driving conviction. She didn’t resign, and Perry vetoed the unit’s funding. A Texas Grand Jury found probable cause that the governor committed crimes of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant when it handed down two indictments. If found guilty, Perry could face up to 109 years in prison.

Perry’s attorney, Mary Ann Wiley, says he was acting within his constitutional powers to veto such legislation last year. The Democrat-controlled Travis County District Attorney’s office has been called into question before for its highly political case brought against Republican Congressman Tom Delay for allegedly using corporate money to influence elections. He was convicted in Travis County, but it was later overturned by an appellate court. So many are crying foul that Perry’s case is more of the same.

Read more: Perry's indictment called 'suspect,' yet he ignored a crony's drunk driving arrest

Another flawed Reason Foundation poll

Link to article here.

We'd answer this question with a resounding, 'NO!' The only reason why Reason Foundation's polling keeps showing this result is due to how they rig their questions and because Americans think they can avoid paying tolls but they know they can't avoid paying a higher gas tax. Reason Foundation is the biggest proponent of privatizing public roads and toll roads on the planet. They represent the special interests who will profit from P3s and claim they don't lobby - HA!

Another recent poll showed Americans don't want to pay either tolls or higher gas taxes and they oppose P3s two-to-one.

Do Americans really favor tolls over fuel taxes?
Aug 15, 2014 by Sean Kilcarr in Trucks at Work

I’m not sure what to make of the latest Reason-Rupe poll of 1,000 U.S. adults concerning transportation issues, for it seems to me full of conflicting points of view. Then again, maybe that’s the real finding where this survey is concerned – that we don’t like the way things are in terms of highway funding, but that we remain quite divided on how to go about fixing it.

For starters, let’s just say that making broad assumptions about how some 200 million or so working-age American adults feel about transportation funding seems hard to achieve from a poll based on just 1,000 folks. But maybe that's just me.

Read more: Another flawed Reason Foundation poll

FL drivers overcharged on toll roads

Link to article here.

Lawsuit accusing state of tolls overcharge goes forward
August 14, 2014
By Steve Andrews

TALLAHASSEE, FL (WFLA) - A judge in Tallahassee gave the green light Thursday to a lawsuit that claims drivers using Florida toll roads are overcharged.

For years, viewers have contacted 8 On Your Side about problems with electronic tolling: including over-charges or plate misreads.

Plant City trucker John Northrup had his fill of the state over charging him month after month, so he filed a lawsuit.

The Florida Department of Transportation wanted the litigation thrown out. Judge James Hankinson rejected the state's motion to dismiss and ordered Northrup and his attorney to include every expressway authority in Florida in the complaint.

"This is a problem that has been going on for several years and has not been corrected," Northrup attorney Cory Fein said.

Northrup intently watched the court hearing in Tallahassee Thursday.

Much like he intently watches his monthly Sunpass billing statements.

"It's been two years of complete nightmare," Northrup expressed.

John Northrup drives a 5-axle rig. An 8 On Your Side investigation last year found Sunpass charged him for 6, 7, 8 even 9 axles more than 170 times.

"There's something flawed in their system," Northrup insisted.

The Department of Transportation has given Northrup three different explanations about why he is repeatedly over charged.

It even put the three transponders he uses on his rig and personal cars on a special watch list.

"All three transponders have been over charged and I've also had billing for approximately 25 tolls for the Broward County school district applied to my account," Northrup complained.

Northrup is suing FDOT, claiming Sunpass and Toll By Plate use defective equipment.

This litigation isn't just about truckers who stand to lose thousands of dollars, 8 On Your side received several calls from several folks who were charged for vehicles they don't even own.

Gale Segura received bills four times from the state's Toll By Plate program charging her for a silver Toyota with an Alabama plate. The problem is she doesn't own a Toyota.

"I said, can you look at the picture that you sent me and look at the license plate, it's not a black Hummer and it's not even a Florida plate," Segura said.

"There's all reasons why you get a might get a misread or a misidentification. It doesn't happen very often when it does happen when we are aware of it we fix it," FDOT attorney Paul Martin said.

Martin contends there is no perfect electronic tolling system. And that Sunpass and Toll By Plate use the most advanced and effective electronic equipment available.

"There are a lot of people who use the toll roads," Northrup attorney Fein stated."And when it's a few hundred dollars per person it doesn't take much to multiply that up to get numbers into the 10 million dollars plus range."

Copyright 2014 WFLA. All rights reserved.

Victor Vandergriff: Why not every North Texas highway can be tolled

Link to article here.

Victor Vandergriff: Why not every North Texas highway can be tolled
By Nicholas Sakelaris
Staff Writer- Dallas Business Journal
August 14, 2014

Years ago, transportation planners made a decision that nearly all new highway capacity in North Texas would have a toll component, either tolled highways or managed lanes.

Looking back, Victor Vandergriff, Texas Transportation Commissioner, says he wondered at the time how people would react to that and how they would hold the decision-makers accountable for that once it came to fruition.

That time is now.

Read more: Victor Vandergriff: Why not every North Texas highway can be tolled

Politicians beg for toll connectors for Hwy 288

Link to article here.

TxDOT considers direct connectors for 288 project
Pearland successful in urging that the links be reincorporated in plans
By Mark A. Quick | August 12, 2014
Houston Chronicle

State officials have taken to heart the pleas of Pearland leaders requesting that direct connectors linking the proposed Texas 288 toll lanes to Beltway 8 be added back to construction plans.

"Our concern was when you have a toll road running down the middle of (Texas 288), how is a driver going to get onto Beltway 8 if they want to run over to Pearland or head toward (Interstate 45)?" Pearland Mayor Tom Reid said.

Without the connectors, northbound drivers on Texas 288 toll lanes would need to exit at Texas 6 and use the feeder road, he said.

The Pearland City Council adopted a resolution June 23 urging the Texas Department of Transportation to reverse a decision to not include the connectors. The Pearland Economic Development Corp. adopted an identical resolution.

"As the community and our region continue to grow, the intersection in question will only become more congested. It is imperative that we have direct connectors there," PEDC President Matt Buchanan said of the Texas 288-Beltway 8 intersection.

Plans are underway to construct toll lanes in the grassy middle median of Texas 288. TxDOT officials expect construction to begin in the summer 2015.

According to TxDOT documents, the Brazoria County Toll Road Authority will design, construct, finance, operate and maintain the portion of the toll lanes in Brazoria County, which are anticipated to extend south to County Road 58.

Later this year, state officials expect to select a firm to design and build the Harris County portion up to its end at U.S. 59.
Costs for the Harris County portion are expected to run $585 million and costs for the Brazoria County portion at $160 million.

State officials also have to work out the dynamics of engineering the connectors and the allocation of toll fees once a driver transitions from the SH 288 toll lanes onto the Beltway 8 toll lanes.

TxDOT's commission expressed support for the connectors on June 26 after hearing local residents and entities advocate for that.

Issues now in focus include designing the connectors, determining their connection points and identifying how tolls will be collected, TxDOT spokeswoman Raquelle Lewis said.

"We have to make sure the connectors can be accommodated successfully and safely," she said.

Harris County Toll Road Authority spokeswoman Patti Evans said that safe traffic flow between future toll lanes and Beltway 8 is a primary concern that must be addressed in plans.

Reid said that without direct connectors, motorists will simply drive the feeder roads, defeating the purpose of toll lanes and resulting in lost revenue.

"We have to accommodate and prepare for the tremendous growth taking place in the Pearland, Manvel and Alvin areas," he said. "If we don't get on top of this now, we will have even greater congestion problems in the future. I think it will end up costing more in the long run if we don't do this now."

TxDOT hearings a sham

Link to article here.

Houghton knows better. MPO staff and TxDOT staff run everything. The MPO boards have no idea what they’re voting on. Plenty of elected officials complain they can’t get their projects into the MPO plans and they have no idea how the process works. The Alamo Area MPO meets during the day in a transit center downtown (not near any of the neighborhoods where toll roads will be) with NO public parking. We’ve had people get their cars towed and get parking tickets just to attend an MPO meeting. Then they gripe the public doesn’t show up. Really?  When we have showed up by the hundreds, they NEVER once vote in favor of what the public says they want (which is no tolls). Not once in 10 years. 

Read more: TxDOT hearings a sham

Rick Perry's three ways for road-building: Tax, toll or asphalt fairy

Link to article here.

Rick Perry's three ways for road-building: Tax, toll or asphalt fairy
By Kathie Obradovich
August 11, 2014
Des Moines Register

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, winding up a business roundtable appearance in Des Moines today, was asked how he managed to pay for roads in Texas without raising taxes.

There are three ways to pay for transportation infrastructure: "Tax roads, toll roads, or the asphalt fairy," Perry said. "There is no other way, and roads are expensive."

He forgot to mention a fourth way, which is all the rage in Texas: Borrow the money. According to Perry's website, the 81st Texas Legislature authorized and appropriated $2 billion in bonding for road building. "While bonding can be an effective short-term solution for funding projects, Gov. Perry continues to pursue innovative, long-term transportation funding solutions for our state's perpetually growing transportation needs," his website goes on to say.

Perry, speaking at the Association for Business and Industry office in Des Moines, added he recommends avoiding tax increases. The business growth that results will raise the revenue needed to pay for road construction, he said. But in Texas, local communities are having trouble keeping up.

Bloomberg News reported in June that Texas local governments are piling up debt for infrastructure and local services as Texas grows. The state's debt increased about 170 percent to $41 billion from 2000 to 2012, and local borrowings grew by 145 percent to almost $196 billion, Bloomberg reported.

Gov. Terry Branstad has said we don't want toll roads in Iowa, and he ousted the previous governor in part by blasting borrowing for infrastructure. He hasn't ruled out an increase in the gas tax, but has held off pushing for the change. This year, an exploration of alternative revenue sources went nowhere.

Guess that leaves the asphalt fairy. Hope she's not too tired to fly up here when she gets finished in Texas.

Roads and bridges won't pay for themselves

Link to article here.

How many times have we heard this false choice? It's either gas tax hike or more toll taxes (always the expectation is more money out of our pockets), not spend our existing taxes wisely and stop diveting our road taxes to transit and rail and projects drivers don't benefit from. Taxpayers aren't stupid, they aren't going to give irrepsobible politcians permission to raid our wallets even more.

Roads and bridges won't pay for themselves
August 10, 2014
Wisconsin State Journal editorial

Americans want good roads and bridges but don’t want to pay for them, according to the latest Associated Press-GfK poll on transportation.

No surprise there.

Of course smooth roads and sturdy bridges are popular. Of course taxes and toll roads are not.

That’s why we need leaders in Washington, D.C. and Wisconsin to make tough yet necessary decisions.

Congress just failed — again — to show leadership on America’s transportation demands. It slapped a $10.8 billion patch on the nation’s Highway Trust Fund, which is teetering on insolvency and will need more money by May.

Congress’ stopgap measure did little more than tweak the rules for private-sector pensions, pretending that saves money.

In reality, it just pushes more cost and risk into the future and doesn’t come close to fixing a gaping hole in the highway fund that, in recent years, has climbed to more than $50 billion.

Congress pushing the problem to next spring is like a road crew filling a pot hole on a crumbling road — for the umpteenth time — that long ago needed rebuilding and expansion.

Our leaders at the statehouse in Madison aren’t doing much better. Gov. Scott Walker and Co. borrowed more than $1 billion in the state budget to Band-Aid the problem and try to survive another election.

At both the state and national levels, the solution is pretty simple: Raise more revenue to pay for more expensive roads, bridges, rail and transit. Where should that money come from?

Only 14 percent of respondents in the AP-GfK poll supported raising the gas tax. Yet the federal government’s 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993. Wisconsin’s 32.9 cents-per-gallon gas tax hasn’t been raised since 2006.

Surely our politicians and the most of the public grasp that costs have risen over the last two decades, along with traffic. If we want good roads, bridges and public transportation, we need to pay for it, rather than passing the cost on to our kids.

If the public doesn’t want a higher gas tax, then it needs to accept tolls or some other source of increased revenue. Or it needs to stop driving so much. But as of this spring, total traffic volume is up, compared to a year ago.

Unfortunately, the AP-GfK poll suggests the public is opposed to more than just the gas tax. Only 17 percent of respondents said they support tolling. That’s a little better than support for the gas tax, but not by much. And only 20 percent support replacing the gas tax with a miles-driven tax. Only 30 percent favor pushing the problem to state and local governments.

So what does the public support? Apparently, a free ride. But that’s not realistic, even with more interest in public transportation options.

At the same time, more fuel-efficient cars are paying less gas tax while still using public roads.

Most of the public, we suspect, if given a detailed accounting of the highway fund deficit and stale gas tax, would be OK with a higher tax and other measures to raise more revenue. Regardless of whether that’s true, our leaders should have the courage to do what’s needed to balance the books.

The only good news in the latest poll is that a lot of people aren’t sure what to think. For example, while only 17 percent favor private toll roads, 37 percent aren’t sure about their position, and 46 percent (fewer than half) are opposed.

It’s going to take leaders in Washington and Wisconsin to do the right thing and balance transportation cost with revenue.

Biden talks about gas tax hike again

Link to article here.

Biden again goes off-message in talking about raising the gasoline tax
By Al Kamen and Colby Itkowitz
August 7, 2014
Washington Post

Okay, so maybe it’s not a huge shocker when Vice President Biden goes off-script. We’ll never forget his honest answer about legalizing same-sex marriage in 2012 that caused an epic White House scramble to get President Obama on the same message.

So on Wednesday, when Biden — well known for his deep affinity for transportation issues, particularly his beloved Amtrak — criticized Congress over transportation spending, he again veered off the administration rails.

“Hell, Congress can’t even decide on a gas tax to keep the highway system going,” Biden said during remarks about the border crisis.

But wait! The Obama White House, since its earliest days, has been adamant about one thing: It would not seek to raise the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal tax on gasoline to pay for highway investments. Tax increases don’t make for good politics. The White House proposed this year instead using revenue from corporate tax reforms to pay for infrastructure investments.

As the Loop wrote last month, we have a sneaking suspicion that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx may not be as opposed as his bosses are. Note how former DOT secretary Ray LaHood changed his tune as soon as he was unshackled from the Cabinet. And it appears Biden would like to see Congress raise the tax, too. (The vice president’s office has not responded to our request for further clarity.)

The federal gasoline tax was last raised in 1993 during the Bill Clinton administration, and before that by President “Read my lips: No new taxes” George H.W. Bush in 1990, and by President Ronald Reagan, who also promised no tax increases, in 1982.

Business groups and many members of Congress want to raise the tax in the interim to bolster the Highway Trust Fund to buy time to debate other financing streams. But, underscoring the difficult politics of it, an AP-Gfk poll released this week found that only 12 percent of Americans support raising the tax, and 59 percent were opposed.

But will Biden’s “gaffe” send the White House into a tizzy as his gay marriage remarks did?

Unlikely. It’s an election year, after all. And new taxes don’t quite rouse the base.

NTTA's $900,000 design error

Link to article here.

NTTA to review policies on project designs after $900,000 error
Transportation Writer
Dallas Morning News
07 August 2014

The North Texas Tollway Authority will review how it oversees the design of its projects after poorly designed steel led to a delay and about $900,000 in additional costs on the new Chisholm Trail Parkway.

The design flaw came to public light Thursday at an NTTA board committee meeting during which staff members asked for the money to make up for the mistake. The agency’s full board is expected to make a final decision on that request this month.

Assistant executive director of infrastructure Elizabeth Mow said she plans to recover the costs from URS, which officials said was the subcontractor responsible for the design flaw. Mow said that company does not currently have any other active contracts with NTTA.

Agency spokesman Michael Rey said steel beams needed for the project were not built strong enough.

“When they got on site, they saw they were not properly engineered for the job at hand,” Rey said.

Rey said the errors affected only the portion of the toll road over the Trinity River and University Drive in Fort Worth. He said some affected portions are still not open while others were fixed before they opened last week.

The road’s main lanes from Johnson County to downtown Fort Worth opened in May. The agency has been gradually opening various connector bridges, entrances and exits ever since.

Board members questioned why the error wasn’t caught during the design phase of the process.

“The severity of that, in my opinion, is more than just the costs,” said board member Mojy Haddad.

Mow said that the agency relies on engineers working for its contractors to review and sign off on project designs. She said the agency spot-checks about 10 percent of a project’s plans.
“There are millions of items in a design project,” she said.

Mow said the agency reviewed other portions of the project and does not believe there are other problems. She also said the problem should have been caught during the design phase, before the steel was manufactured and delivered. Mow said agency officials plan to begin looking more closely at critical portions of projects, like the affected bridge.

Board members told CEO and executive director Gerry Carrigan to bring back more information about how the agency oversees design work so they can review policies.

“Every one of us realizes the seriousness of this,” said board member Michael Nowels.

Money for the overruns caused by the flaw will come from $65 million in contingency funds already budgeted and set aside for the project. The agency has spent about $30 million of that money to date.

“This makes me sick, but it happens,” Mow told board members. “That’s what the contingency is for.”

TxDOT's waste of tax money on driverless cars

Link to article here.

TXDOT’s driverless leadership
August 6, 2014 by Christopher Paxton
Empower Texans

TXDOT continues to be the best parody of itself. At the last Texas Transportation Commission meeting, leaders of the agency planned to approve a multi-million dollar sum of taxpayer funds for hovercrafts, jet packs and driverless cars.

We’ve reported before on TXDOT’s bad habit of duplicitous financial habits—approving major expenditures for questionable projects, and then claiming poverty. At the most recent Texas Transportation Commission hearing, the agency topped its already extensive flair for the ridiculous.

The proposal, entitled Emerging Transportation Technology Research Initiatives detailed the department’s plans for partnerships with corporations, universities and other government entities to research and develop “emerging transportation technologies.”

The report failed to mention the potential multi-trillion dollar cost impacts of implementing many of the pie-in-the-sky ideas. Of these ideas are some “winners” for private sector investment that the department will no doubt be “testing” in the initiative.

A solar panel roadway crowdfunding page cited in the report entitled, “Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways[sic]” has raised over $2 million of the estimated $56 trillion–yes, trillion–needed to fund the project. Also in private development is a driverless car being pursued by technology giant Google. Despite pipedream promises of a new accident-free, emission-reduced driving experience for all, the current Google research vehicle has a price tag of around $300,000—more than a Ferrari.

Other ideas put forth by the report include unmanned aerial vehicles—“drones,” jetpacks, a “hyperloop,” and hover cars.

The agency has requested that the legislature fund this program with $50 million through its legislative appropriations request—the formal process by which agencies submit their projected operating costs to the legislative budget board to be included in the state’s next appropriations bill.

Former liberal Republican State Senator and current vice chancellor for federal and state relations at Texas A&M University Tommy Williams lauded the plan as a, “great opportunity.” Williams conveniently omitted for whom the plan is a great opportunity: his new employer. Through its taxpayer-funded initiative, the Texas Transportation Institute, Texas A&M already receives over $60 million to research and develop transportation “solutions.” It is no-doubt that this new plan will put even more money into A&M’s Transportation Institute.

While publicly feigning poverty, TXDOT will submit a biennial budget request to appropriators for $20 billion. Ignoring these boondoggles, agency officials are emphasizing their purported need for an additional $5 billion simply to keep up with growing population needs.

This fall, Texans will have a vote on Proposition 1, a constitutional amendment creating a major funding source for the agency. With leadership like this, it is certain that much of the new money will be wasted on similar initiatives that have little to do with operating the agency now and addressing current, vital transportation needs.

Texans are right to be skeptical of TXDOT; episodes such as this demonstrate why the agency has a long way to go to earn the public’s trust. While trying to develop driverless cars, it appears TXDOT has a bigger problem to tackle: driverless leadership.

Christopher Paxton serves as the Budget and Fiscal Policy Analyst for Empower Texans. Hailing from Houston, Texas, Christopher graduated from Baylor University with a Bachelors degree in Political Science and Communication Studies. Christopher served as the Legislative Director for Rep. Scott Sanford during the 83rd Session of the Texas Legislature. Christopher resides in Austin, Texas where he is an avid cyclist.

Austin's urban rail ballot measure lacks roads

Link to article here.

In fact, the $400 million in road projects that were later added to the measure, turned out to be roads already funded by TxDOT. So no new money on the table and most of them involve tolls.

Austin urban rail ballot item promises, but lacks, road money
By Ben Wear
American-Statesman Staff
August 6, 2014

The city of Austin in November would ask voters for authorization to issue bonds for $600 million for light rail, according to ballot language up for approval Thursday by the Austin City Council, while only promising additional funding for roads.

Business interests this summer have made it clear that their support for the overall program is contingent on $400 million in road funding, 40 percent of what the city plans to spend overall. But instead of including road bonds in the ballot language, city officials would make the rail bonds contingent on finding unspecified sources for road money.

Read more here.

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