Lawmakers call for deeper scrutiny of RMAs

Link to article here.

Three billion reasons to shut down toll authorities
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
April 2, 2016

It’s been a rough week for Texas’ Regional Mobility Authorities (RMAs). They’ve come under scrutiny in recent years as duplicative, wasteful, and even corrupt governmental entities that exercise a lot of power, control billions in tax money all with very little oversight and financial accounting. So much so that Lt. Governor Dan Patrick created an interim charge to investigate the state funds that flow to RMAs and asks the Senate Transportation Committee to recommend additional oversight procedures to ensure RMA expenditures are a valid and accountable use of state funds. Ouch!

BLOAT: Austin toll road costs triple

Link to article here.

Public outrage rises as cost of Austin toll road triples
By Terri Hall
January 17, 2016
Examiner.com

Toll roads in Texas face growing opposition and a shocking revelation by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) just threw gasoline on the fire. The CTRMA tripled its initial cost estimates for its plan to add toll lanes to US 183 from MoPac to RM 620 in Austin from $225.7 million to a whopping $650 million. The 8-mile project will now cost $81.25 million per mile. By anyone’s estimation, that’s a staggering jump.

MoPac toll road costs increase $60 million

Link to article here.

Note: the Original price tag was $136 million, now it’s going up to $197 million because of some ’stubborn’ limestone? That’s hardly a $61 million problem. That’s the trouble with these design-build contracts, the cost always goes up! Change orders, change orders, change orders - it’s how these companies game the system and the taxpayers. End the Regional Mobility Authorities. They exist to WASTE our money and impose unaccountable toll taxes.

MoPac's new toll roads likely to be delayed a few months
By Nick Simonite
Austin Business Journal
Jan 29, 2015

This highway has a habit of slowing anything down in its path — including construction crews. The toll lanes to be added to MoPac Expressway won't be typical. They'll be "managed lanes," meaning that the toll will fluctuate depending on traffic conditions. The heavier the traffic, the bigger the toll.

MoPac Expressway's new toll lanes may be ready at the end of the year rather than in September, the Austin-American Statesman reports.

Contractor problems and tougher-than-expected limestone are partly to blame, according to the report, which states that the 11-mile-long highway makeover still will cost less than the $197 million that the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority was granted for the project.

Man receives toll bill for a vehicle from another state that he does not own

Link to article here.

Man Keeps Receiving Toll Road Bill
The bill is for a vehicle from another state that he does not own
Jan 14, 2015
KRGV.com

MISSION - A Mission man said he has been battling with the Texas Department of Transportation for years. The problem is a TxTag toll bill he received by mistake.

The man called 5 On Your Side for help.

Elwood and Avis Hedin have been coming down to the Rio Grande Valley from Minnesota for years.

“It's very frustrating. When you are talking to a person, it's like talking to a machine,” said Elwood Hedin.

It was back in 2012 when Hedin first got a bill from the Texas Department of Transportation's TxTag Office, which handles toll roads.

He paid his small bill, but then started getting billed for another vehicle which was not his.

Woman received toll bill to place she's never been

Link to article here.

The litany of toll billing problems continue. Erroneous bills could impound your vehicle and block your car registration, which impede your ability to get to work and earn a living!

Woman Receives Toll Road Bill by Mistake
Jan 07, 2015
KRGV.com

HARLINGEN - A Harlingen woman said she got a toll road bill by mistake and tried to resolve it without any results.

She called 5 On Your Side for help.

Due to a combination of computer and human error, it is possible to be issued a bill for a place where someone has never been.

Diana Rosales got a letter in the mail last month from some place she knew nothing about.

She received a bill from the North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority (NET RMA) for $2.11, along with a threat of added penalties and fines if she did not pay up.

“We haven't even traveled out of the (Rio Grande) Valley during the month of November,” said Rosales.

She had supposedly driven her Mercedes on something called Toll Road 49, which loops around the city of Tyler.

NET RMA is an independent government agency involved in transportation projects in Northeast Texas.

Rosales tried calling the number on the bill.

She said, “Several times. And I say that because I did call several times. After waiting 30 minutes on hold on one occasion, I gave up. I said this is crazy. This is just insane.”

The authority places cameras along the toll roads. These cameras read the license plates of vehicles that travel on those roads.

CHANNEL 5 NEWS contacted the agency, and a spokesperson said they dismissed the bill over the weekend. She said lighting caused a bit of glare on one vehicle's license plate. That caused them to think the vehicle was the one Rosales owns.

“There is nowhere on there where I can contact or even submit a form, or go online and submit a form. Please send me a picture or send me some proof that I was there,” said Rosales.
She almost paid the bill just to get it over with.

“It's the principle of the thing and you multiply that two dollars and whatever cents by how many? And how many people are actually willing to call 5 On Your Side? Wouldn't it have been easier to just write a check and just bill the two dollars and whatever cents?” she asked.

Rosales's case does bring up the question of how many incorrect bills the regional mobility authority send out to drivers by mistake each year, and how many people pay money they do not actually owe?

If they send you a bill by mistake and you pay it, can you get a refund? Those are the questions. CHANNEL 5 NEWS is trying to get answers.

The attorney for NET RMA said they are working on the answers to those questions. There are eight regional mobility authorities operate in Texas, including agencies for Hidalgo and Cameron counties.

The North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority does have a way you can dispute a toll.

It cannot be done online. A letter must be mailed in.

The attorney for the NET RMA explained their process for reading license plates.

The attorney said license plates are read by a camera, and that image is then entered into a computer. Software handles optical character recognition. That information is then reviewed by a person.

One problem is that some characters look virtually identical, such as an "l" and the number one.

So both the computer and the human have to make a mistake on the same license plate for someone to receive a bill in error. The NET RMA said their error rate last week was less than one percent.

Watch ARMA lock-in toll road option BEFORE new 281 study even starts

View ARMA Board Member, Jim Reed, admit at the October 27 SAMPO meeting that they plan to be the lead environmental study agency since they have no reason to keep their doors open without their 281 toll slush fund. So to find a way to justify their existence at taxpayer expense, they're seeking to rig the next round of environmental work for 281, 1604, and I-35 (which would clearly bias these projects in favor of toll roads) before a new study even begins! A clear violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Video Unavailable

TxDOT tries to back away from non-toll plans on 281, 1604

Though is a HUGE victory to wrestle away 10 miles of toll lanes, carefully notice the word choice here. DFW officials were also promised a non-toll expansion of lanes next to the planned toll lanes on I-35E only to have TxDOT pull the rug out from under them. TxDOT later told them there wasn't enough money to do the non-toll expansion as promised so they'd be building the toll lanes first (the non-toll lanes would come later when, presumably, the funds dropped out of the sky). More background here. San Antonians beware!

Considering the Alamo RMA just got rejected for a federal bailout (known as a TIFIA loan), how do they anticipate securing enough funding to do either 281 or 1604 as a toll road anyway?

Funding identified for Loop 1604, U.S. 281

By Vianna Davila

Updated 12:03 a.m., Saturday, May 5, 2012

Transportation officials have nailed down a plan to pay for expressways on sections of U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 without tolls, but with a couple of twists.

The Loop 1604 portion would be just under seven miles, rather than the 12.5 miles originally planned. And toll lanes will likely one day run alongside the free ones on both highways, but drivers would have a choice of which lanes to use.

That's a marked change from previous toll plans in which the entire expressway would have been tolled.

It's unclear whether the toll lanes would be built at the same time as the free lanes and whether they would be elevated, though that is a possibility, said Leroy Alloway, director of community development for the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, the county's tolling agency.

The plan, presented Friday to a committee of city, county and transportation officials tasked with solving the funding puzzle, includes cost estimates for the projects, a mixture of funding sources that would be used to pay for them, and a proposal for how nontolled and tolled lanes might co-exist along the corridors.

The San Antonio Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization board will discuss the plan May 21 and vote at its meeting in June.


Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Funding-plan-for-Loop-1604-and-U-S-281-identified-3536328.php#ixzz1uFHjBLKR

Toll agency denied federal TIFIA loan, trouble ahead for tolls in San Antonio

Link to article here.

RMA gets rejected for TIFIA loan

By Terri Hall - Examiner.com
April 30, 2012

Good news for taxpayers. The Alamo RMA has been counting on the federal taxpayer to subsidize its toll project on Loop 1604 with a TIFIA loan. However, the feds just announced they denied the Alamo RMA a TIFIA loan on Loop 1604. They also denied the Central Texas RMA a TIFIA loan on the toll project on MoPac in Austin. Without it, the Alamo RMA will be hard pressed to get enough financing together to pull off its first toll project in Bexar County.

Toll viability studies and MPO documents have shown there is no toll viable segment on Loop 1604 -- NONE. In other words, there is not one segment of the 35 mile project that will pay for itself with just the money collected by those who use the road, the toll users. So instead of scrapping the toll idea, they’ve proceeded down the road of expecting public subsidies from EVERY taxpayer in Texas as well as across the nation in order to add lanes to the congested corridor.

So EVERY taxpayer will be paying to build the toll lanes, but only those who can afford to pay up to 50 cents a mile in toll taxes will actually be able to use the lanes in yet another DOUBLE TAX scheme concocted by our politicians. The toll tax rate would also be in the hands of the unelected bureaucrats at the RMA.

Thanks to a new state law, HB 1112, the RMA will also own Loop 1604 in perpetuity if it gets away with slapping tolls on this freeway. This guarantees you’ll be paying tolls in perpetuity -- Executive Director Terry Brechtel even admitted it at the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) twice, on camera.

So drying up the RMA’s funding sources will help ensure these ill-conceived toll projects will never be built. We need to expand our roads and keep them freeways, not plunge generations into risky debt schemes that are fiscally unsustainable.

Show me the money
Bexar County elected leaders have FAILED to bring home the ‘road’ bacon for nearly a decade, ever since Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature orchestrated the switch from affordable gas tax funded roads to toll roads. Apparently their spines are made of wilted lettuce since they’ve persistently failed to end the diversions of our road taxes to non-road uses and failed to secure the road money we send to both Austin and Washington.

State law prohibits the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), run by a 5 member commissioner appointed by pro-toll Governor Perry, from withholding the allocations due to a region if it chooses not to include tolls in the mix. Yet that’s precisely what TxDOT has been allowed to get away with since the law took effect.

At last Thursday’s Commission meeting, it announced once again that San Antonio will be shorted its due allocation of the recent $2 billion TxDOT windfall by $50-70 million. We should be getting 10-11% by formula according to Texas State Representative Lyle Larson, which would mean $200-$220 million of the $2 billion, but in the Commission’s efforts to punish our community for its resistance to tolls, it only gave us $146 million.

Let me give you a little funding history. In the last DISCO Report for TxDOT, it shows Tarrant County (similar in size and population to Bexar County) received 10.9% of the state total compared to Bexar County’s paltry 2.87%. The Ft. Worth TxDOT District received 13% compared to the San Antonio District’s 5%. Of the discretionary pots of money TxDOT has at its disposal (most often to bribe local officials into tolling), the San Antonio District has received only $349 million compared to Ft. Worth’s $834 million. Even the Pharr and Austin Districts receive more money proportionately than we do, getting $345 million and $479 million, respectively, when San Antonio is the second largest city in the state.

When you look at those figures, it’s looking a whole lot like it’s more than a failure of leadership but outright malfeasance to allow San Antonio to ‘donate’ our tax dollars to everywhere else in Texas while our roads sit in gridlocked congestion and taxpayers are being told there’s no way out of it other than paying MORE taxes through tolls.

The Executive Director of the Houston area MPO even thanked the Commission for moving money from outside Houston to the areas of the state “with the greatest need.” That’s socialism pure and simple, folks. Meanwhile, 281 is tied for FIRST place on the Texas Transportation Institute’s Commuter Stress Index as the THE most congested road in the state of Texas.

What a joke! Houston of all places is showing its lack of priorities in snagging $350 million in gas taxes to subsidize a toll road -- a DOUBLE TAX since your tax money is building the road and yet you have to pay a toll to drive on it. The Grand Parkway, a greenfield project where there's NO congestion and NO traffic demand, is getting funded ahead of existing, congested corridors like 281 & 1604 in San Antonio.

If lawmakers ended the diversions of gas taxes to non-road uses at the state level, and if they dedicated vehicle sales taxes to roads (instead of dumping it into general revenue), Texans would reap $4 billion a year MORE for roads using existing taxes. That would TRIPLE the amount of money to San Antonio without raising a penny in new taxes on driving. That’s not counting what could be reaped from ending the federal gas tax diversions.

Not one politician in this region should be let off the hook for this persistent highway robbery. Time to show these ineffective local leaders the door. Speaker Joe Straus is chief among them. If they can’t prevent our money from being literally stolen by other areas of the state on their watch, they don’t deserve to serve the good people of San Antonio any longer.

Toll rates to be up to 50 cents a mile in SA

So if San Antonio wasn't awake to the runaway, punitive taxation of toll roads before now, let this article below be a wake-up call...can you afford to pay 50 cents a mile in NEW taxes to get to work? Didn't think so...also consider, do you want the toll tax rates to be in the hands of an unelected board whom taxpayers cannot hold accountable? Do you want this unelected toll authority, RMA, to own these state highways in PERPETUITY versus have these roads revert back to free parts of the state highway system once the improvements are paid for? Well, If your answer to all of the above is 'No,' then you had better start getting involved in nixing these ill-conceived toll schemes...

On March 26, 2012, the San Antonio Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) voted to take certain segments of 281 & 1604 out of the toll plans and make them non-toll projects. After a seven year long grassroots tax revolt, vigilance finally PAID OFF!

US 281 from Loop 1604 to Stone Oak Pkwy and Loop 1604 from Hwy 90 to Bandera Rd on the west side and from I-10 E to I-35 on the east side will now be done WITHOUT TOLLS. But the remaining portion of Loop 1604 from Bandera Rd. to I-35 will have added 4 added toll lanes (2 each direction) called ‘managed lanes.’ Over 50 toll projects still remain on the books at the MPO at this moment, including adding toll lanes to I-35, I-10, the southern leg of Loop 1604, and tolling most all upgrades to every interchange between these highways.

Can you pay 50 cents PER MILE in tolls?
At it’s Board Meeting April 12, 2012, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) adopted a range of toll rates they plan to charge motorists to use the new managed toll lanes. The RMA will charge from 17 cents up to 50 cents PER MILE -- often the highest rate will be charged during peak hours (or commute hours, when most people need to use the road).

They’re ‘managed’ lanes because this un-elected government bureaucracy wants to ‘manage’ your morning commute and charge you a premium to access these lanes during rush hour.

The tolls may be variable rates that change with time of day and level of traffic on the toll lanes.  If too many people use the lanes, they’ll change the toll in real time to bump cars off the lanes by increasing price.

Government no longer wishes to fix congestion, it wishes to manipulate congestion for profit. These new-fangled toll lanes added to existing, paid for, right-of-way also have non-compete agreements that limit or prohibit the expansion of free lanes/routes surrounding the toll lanes -- guaranteeing congestion on the free routes and forcing us to pay the new tax on driving.

Also, none of these toll projects are toll viable, which means they know up front there won’t be enough projected traffic to pay for the cost of the expansion. Rather than nix the toll project, the RMA plans to SUBSIDIZE the toll lanes by building them with gas taxes and other public money in addition to the toll revenue bonds. But you won’t be able use the lanes without paying ANOTHER tax, a toll. So these toll schemes are DOUBLE TAXATION!

Tolls in perpetuity? Permanent NEW tax on driving
The Texas Legislature passed a bill, HB 1112, in the 82nd session in 2001, that gives RMA’s ownership of these segments of state highways in PERPETUITY. Why would they seek ownership of our state highways in PERPETUITY? Because they want to charge you tolls in PERPETUITY! On October 26, 2009, Terry Brechtel, the Executive Director of the RMA admitted they plan to keep the toll in place in perpetuity, after the improvements are paid for.

Toll rate range approved

By Vianna Davila, San Antonio Express-News

Published 02:38 p.m., Thursday, April 12, 2012

The public got its first preview of the tolls Bexar County drivers might one day pay, after the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority board amended its policies Thursday afternoon to include a range of possible toll rates.

The range, which could be anywhere between 17 and 50 cents per mile, would increase by a certain percentage every year, once a toll road is built and operational.

The board also formally exercised the RMA's right to build tolls on Loop 1604, should those projects ever come to pass.

The decision will not impede the recent proposal by Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff to expand parts of Loop 1604 without tolls; but it ensures the RMA will be in charge of any future toll projects along other parts of the corridor.


Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Toll-rate-range-approved-3477958.php#ixzz1sJloHo7K

Brownsville mulls West Parkway toll project

Link to article here.

Group mulls toll road project’s future

By STEVE CLARK/The Brownsville Herald
2011-12-07 21:55:13

The Brownsville Metropolitan Planning Organization is inviting the public to offer comments on the proposed West Parkway project at a meeting set for Dec. 14 on the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College campus.

Specifically, the meeting will address whether to remove the $176 million toll road project from the MPO’s long-range Metropolitan Transportation Plan. The West Parkway would run along what is now Union Pacific railroad right-of-way from the B&M International Bridge to U.S. Expressway 77/83 near the Union Pacific overpass. The route would also run through West Brownsville, a fact that stirred up opposition from many of the neighborhood’s residents soon after the city first revealed the plan in the mid-1990s.

The parkway would feature two lanes and overpasses and, as with all toll roads, limited access. The Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority, which was created in 2004, has championed the project in recent years as necessary to handle higher traffic volume in coming decades and also as a source of funds — an estimated $400 million — for future, non-toll road projects.

The CCRMA proposed to pay for construction mostly through toll revenue bonds but also with private investment, since no money is available from the state or federal government for the project.

Despite the city’s initial enthusiasm and CCRMA’s later efforts to move the project forward, official support has waned. In 2009, the city commission passed a resolution opposing the parkway. More recently, Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez contacted MPO Director Mark Lund, suggesting that his organization look at dropping the project from the long-range plan all together.

“It was his suggestion,” Lund said. “He wrote me a letter saying let’s discuss that and put it up for a vote.”

Opponents of the West Parkway worry it would be a stake in the heart for West Brownsville revitalization.
“Nobody wants that toll road,” Martinez said. “We don’t want it. We don’t need it. I’m sure that (the CCRMA) is well intentioned. The problem is, some of these ideas of progress, they fail to see how it really affects the community. Quite frankly, West Brownsville needs to be restored. To me, it’s a travesty not to preserve it.”

With the Dec. 14 meeting requesting public input on the subject of “deletion of the project” from MPO plan, Martinez got what he asked for. Lund noted that the CCRMA lacks a Comprehensive Development Agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation for the project, which precludes revenue-sharing agreements with private investors — something the CCRMA had been interested in as a funding option to help build the parkway. CCRMA does have two Comprehensive Development Agreements, which are authorized by the Legislature, for two other projects: a second causeway to South Padre Island, and the Outer Parkway, which would connect the causeway with U.S. Expressway 77 north of Harlingen.

Cameron County deputy administrator and CCRMA assistant coordinator David Garcia said the lack of a development agreement on the West Parkway closes off one funding avenue but leaves several others open.

“We don’t have the revenue-sharing type arrangement for the West Parkway, but what we do have is what is called design-build finance agreements that can be executed for large projects like the West Parkway,” he said.

Meanwhile, the CCRMA is trying to get an environmental study done on the project, Garcia said.

“The most important thing is to try to get some sort of environmental document finished,” he said. “If you don’t do that you basically can’t do anything else.”

However, the project may not get to that stage if the MPO’s policy board decides to drop the parkway project from its long-range plan. Then the city will be stuck with the expense of redeveloping the corridor, Garcia said.

“If that happens, it will be very difficult to move the project forward,” he said. “The question that should be asked is, OK, what’s going to happen to that corridor? Is it going to remain a corridor that is not going to be properly maintained and properly developed?”

Aside from the parkway, different people have different ideas on what should be done with the right-of-way once the rails are eventually pulled out. The public will be asked to weigh in on these ideas as well at the Dec. 14 meeting.

Included on the meeting agenda are projects the MPO is proposing be added to the long-range plan. These include the West Loop, a different creature than the West Parkway in that it’s not a toll road but rather a two-lane, at-grade roadway with signals at major intersections and an estimated cost of $20 million to $24 million. Another proposal, for a three- or four-lane version of the West Loop, has a projected price tag of $24 million to $34 million. Yet another proposal, West Loop Trails, calls for hike-and-bike trails along the rail corridor as opposed to a new road. The estimate for the hike-and-bike project is $8 million to $12 million.

Lund said that for a project to be on the MPO’s long-range plan it has to meet a certain standard of financial feasibility, adding that he hadn’t yet seen CCRMA’s new design-build plan.

“Whatever they propose, the MPO’s plan is not like a wish list,” he said. “It can’t be pie in the sky. We act as a gatekeeper. In that sense we have a federal mandate that when we put together our plan we develop reasonable assumptions. We take that aspect seriously. You don’t get into our plan just because you hope something will happen.”

The Dec. 14 MPO public meeting will take place at 10 a.m. in the boardroom of Gorgas Hall on May Drive on the Fort Brown campus. The public may also submit comments to the MPO in writing, though all comments must be submitted no later than Dec. 27. The MPO policy board will hold a vote on the West Parkway and other agenda items in January. For more information call Mark Lund, MPO director, at 548-6150.

Ten pillars deemed flawed on US 290 project


Link to article here.

This is what happens when our highway department outsources its expertise and project management to these new Regional Mobility Authorities that have no earthly idea how to build highways. They're Rick Perry's Wall Street JP Morgan-Chase-First Southwest cocktails specializing in "innovative financing" and building debt bombs (like the subprime mortgage crisis), not highways. We have got to get  rid of these RMAs and of Perry's attempt underway to re-make of the highway department into a Goldman Sachs finance zone (eventually on track for massive taxpayer bailouts -- think Greece), and get back to TxDOT building traditional state highways (that used to be the envy of the nation).

Jacobs is also the firm that engineered the southern ramps of the 281/1604 interchange in San Antonio and it's also conducting the US 281 environmental impact study that involves preliminary engineering and cost estimates. FYI, Webber may be Houston-based, but it was purchased by Cintra's parent company, Ferrovial a few years back. So this is what we get when Cintra's on the job. We have confidence in none of the above!

10 pillars on U.S. 290 tollway project deemed flawed

By Ben Wear
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Updated: 10:21 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011

Published: 9:10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011

Ten concrete columns were built either too high or too low on the U.S. 290 tollway project in Northeast Austin and will have to be replaced or altered, an official with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority said Thursday.

Two columns will be completely rebuilt. The other eight must be shortened or made higher.

The cost of the reconstruction efforts will be borne by the project's general contractor, Webber LLC , because the error was determined to be Webber's fault, said Steve Pustelnyk , spokesman for the mobility authority. Pustelnyk said the added work will not delay opening of the first mile and a half of the 6.2-mile Manor Expressway project, which will be owned and operated by the local toll agency and will run from U.S. 183 to just west of Manor.

He said that first phase of the tollway, including the four flyover bridges, should open by late 2012 .

The flyovers, which will connect U.S. 183 with what will be new, tolled express lanes on U.S. 290, are being built under a $52.5 million contract. The first section of toll lanes and access roads is being built under another $207.3 million contract, also with Webber.

That company is also the general contractor on the mobility authority's five-mile extension of the 183-A tollway in Leander and Cedar Park, a $75.7 million project that should open by spring.

Pustelnyk said Webber is "in concurrence that the cost is theirs."

Mario Menendez , general counsel with Houston-based Webber, said Thursday that he was not familiar with the problem and could not comment on whether his company was at fault, or whether it will cover the cost of repairs. Nor could he say what that cost would be.

"Certainly we're going to stand behind the contractual obligations we've assumed," Menendez said.

The flawed columns involved three of the four flyover bridges in the project: two on the flyover that connects eastbound U.S. 290 to northbound U.S. 183, four on the flyover that connects westbound U.S. 290 to southbound U.S. 183, and four on the flyover that connects northbound U.S. 183 to eastbound U.S. 290.

The problem was discovered about two months ago as crews were attempting to suspend a steel beam between concrete columns and found that "things were not lining up the way they were supposed to," Pustelnyk said.

But the origins of the flaw go back about two years, before construction began in spring 2010 .

Pustelnyk said that an original set of plans for the interchange by Jacobs Engineering Group , when it was reviewed by Webber, were found lacking. So Jacobs redesigned the project and the resulting plans were approved by the mobility authority and Webber.

However, "for an unknown reason, the old set of design plans was used to build these particular columns," Pustelnyk said, and that mistake was not discovered until they had been built. Initially, officials thought only one column was built under the wrong specifications, but a follow-up investigation confirmed that 10 of 117 would have to be altered.

On Thursday, one of those flawed columns and its triangular "bearing seat" on top was part way through a demolition effort in the median between the eastbound and westbound lanes of U.S. 290.

Pustelnyk said the new columns will be structurally sound. "Any of the changes that are being done have been reviewed and approved by licensed engineers," he said.

A column on the MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1)/U.S. 290 flyover project in Southwest Austin, found by inspectors to have inadequate concrete, had to be rebuilt earlier this year. That episode on the Texas Department of Transportation project was followed a few months later by the bankruptcy of the Nevada-based contractor and abandonment of the job. A new contractor resumed work this week on that job.

U.S. 290 in Northeast Austin is likewise part of the state highway system under TxDOT's control. But TxDOT ceded control two years ago of the future tollway section to the mobility authority.

RMA contractor, First Southwest, guilty of bid rigging

The Alamo RMA just hired this firm, First Southwest, as one of its financial advisers at its July 2011 Board Meeting. The corruption inside RMAs (Regional Mobility Authorities, a fancy way of saying toll authority) is systemic. All of these RMAs need to go!
____________________________________
Enforcement

First Southwest In 'Tainted' JPM Deal

SEC Cites 'Fraudulent Bidding’

Thursday, July 14, 2011

By Lynn Hume
The Bond Buyer


WASHINGTON — First Southwest Co., as bidding agent for a repurchase agreement related to a $233 million bond deal in Texas for which it was financial adviser, improperly allowed JPMorgan Securities to lower its bid for the repo, reducing the issuer’s investment rate, according to documents and transaction participants.

The Securities and Exchange Commission said the deal, involving bonds issued in 2005 by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, was one of many that involved “fraudulent bidding practices” that JPMorgan engaged in with the assistance of bidding agents.

The SEC described the transaction without identifying the bidding agents or issuers in the complaint. It was filed last week against JPMorgan in connection with its $51.2 million settlement of securities fraud violations for bid-rigging of muni-bond related reinvestment contracts. The complaint only noted that the bidding agent for the repo in the Texas authority’s deal was one of the FAs for the bond deal.

But the final judgment issued a few days ago by a federal judge in New Jersey — which approved the settlement and imposed a permanent injunction against JPMorgan prohibiting further violations — listed the bond issuers. Transaction participants identified First Southwest as the FA for the bond deal and the bidding agent.

Read the rest of the article here.

Toll authority "got everything it wanted" from lawmakers in Austin

At the Alamo RMA's July Board Meeting, its illegally hired taxpayer-funded lobbyist, Brian Cassidy gave a report on how well he did bringing home the anti-taxpayer legislation in Austin during the 82nd legislative session. Texas Govt Code Chapter 556 specifically prohibits state money from being used to hire lobbyists. Here's what the RMA's lobbyist "got" them: the right of first refusal to develop all toll roads in its jurisdiction, the right to own all state highways it tolls in perpetuity, the ability to raid tolls from one corridor to give it to another, the re-authorization of design-build CDA contracts that eliminate low-bid competitive bidding, and the right to levy toll taxes in perpetuity. All this by UN-elected boards!

Watch it below...

ARMA insults TURF Founder at public hearing

Alamo Regional Mobility Chairman, Bill Thornton, breaks decorum by insulting Terri Hall, TURF Founder, after she gives public comment on behalf of taxpayers at the July ARMA Board Meeting. Board members are supposed to sit and LISTEN to the public during public comment, not use it as forum to bash an advocate who brings up legitimate concerns with spending millions of dollars on studying toll scenarios and financial risk assessment. Hall got a chance to respond during another agenda item, but you can read the body language of the Board, they didn't care nor listen to the plight of taxpayers or question the fiscally reckless decisions they're making.

Watch it below...

FL lawmakers takeover, bailout regional toll authorities

Link to article here.

Lawmakers site economies of scale and duplicative duties with the of the State Turnpike Enterprise as reasons for the takeover of most every regional toll authority. Our hunch is this is a bailout of sorts. Plus, these agencies are unelected and unaccountable and have clearly gotten out of control with setting toll rates too high to keep the roads viable. Texas State Representative Joe Pickett has a bill, HB 1921 to make the El Paso Regional Mobility Authority elected, Rep. Ken Paxton has one, HB 1636, to require RMAs to have an annual financial audit and to have its checkbook posted online, and Rep. Rafael Anchia has one, HB 1577, to subject the North Texas Tollway Authority to sunset review. The Grant Thornton Audit said RMAs' duties duplicate those of TxDOT's. Texas could take a page out of Florida's playbook and abolish them altogether and put them under the Texas Turnpike Authority division of TxDOT, which would be a HUGE savings to the taxpayer. If TxDOT were run by an elected official as we've advocated for the last four years, that would just about neuter the majority of the problems at TxDOT and with tolling. Now's the time, when we have a $27 billion hole in the budget.

Team Florida at one another's throats - state Turnpike move to takeover regional tollers

Toll Road News - Posted on Fri, April 1, 2011

 The Orlando and Tampa tollers see themselves as in a fight for their survival in the state legislature against a hostile takeover move by Florida's Turnpike Enterprise (FTE). A bill moving successfully through the state Senate (SB7198) threatens to kill the long established regional toll authorities in Orlando and Tampa. It would put an end to the Orlando Orange County Expressway Authority (OOCEA), the Tampa Hillsborough County Expressway Authority (THCEA) and the Mid Bay Bridge Authority (MBBA) "transferring all assets, rights, powers, duties, and bond liabilities to the (state) turnpike enterprise…"

It would transfer to the Florida Turnpike Enterprise, a division of the state DOT:

- OOCEA's SR528 Beachline Expressway

- MBBA's Mid Bay Bridge

- THCEA's SR618 Selmon Expressway

- OOCEA's SR408 East-West Expressway

- OOCEA's SR417 Central Florida GreeneWay

- OOCEA's SR414  John Land Apopka Expressway

- OOCEA's SR429 Daniel Webster Western Beltway

The Mid Bay Bridge is a small but viable local toll bridge, not to be confused with the Santa Rosa County Bridge Authority which runs the failing Garcon Point Bridge also in the panhandle of Florida. (CORRECTED)

Killing a bunch of local toll authorities



In addition the bill repeals a bunch of lease-purchase agreements between the state Turnpike Enterprise and county toll authorities, and repeals previous legislation authorizing a whole list of regional and county toll authorities:
- Brevard County Expressway Authority

- Broward County Expressway Authority

- Pasco County Expressway Authority

- St Lucie County Expressway and Bridge Authority

- Seminole County Expressway Authority

- Southwest Florida County Expressway Authority

- Osceola County Expressway Authority

- Jacksonville Transportation Authority

These eight local toll authorities, largely in project development, would be aborted.

Miami Dade Expressway Authority exempted from takeover

Notable by omission is any move against the Miami Dade Expressway Authority (MDX), which operates five major tollroads in the Miami area. It is left entirely out of the bill, its assets and powers completely untouched. (See comment at end by Javier Rodriguez, executive-director MDX)

More toll rate power to state secretary transportation

The bill would also limit toll rate setting by toll managers to an unprecedented degree.

It requires that cash and electronic toll rates throughout the state to be equal.

The Turnpike Enterprise would generally be required to index tolls to the rate of inflation although they could be increased more if required by bond commitments, bond covenants, or if directed by FDOT.

Toll rates for new toll projects would have to be adopted in the planning and project development stage, also seriously handicapping projects that inevitably miss some planned targets.

Sponsors

The Republican leadership - state senators JD Alexander, budget committee chair and Don Gaetz transportation committee chair - are the main sponsors of the bill but they are working closely with the Turnpike Enterprise and the secretary of transportation.

When we called the senators offices asking for any materials explaining the rationale for the bill we were referred to the state Turnpike Enterprise.

Economies of scale claimed

They claim major scale economies through eliminating duplicated activities, and doing operations jointly. A single traffic and revenue consultant compared to many, a single bond counsel etc. they say.

A figure of $14m a year savings in "overhead" is mentioned, and another $10m in amounts FTE presently pays regional tollers.

Supporters of 'consolidation' also claim greater borrowing capacity - $3b more.

Text of SB7198:

http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2011/7198/BillText/Filed/HTML

FTE summary of the case for consolidation:

http://www.tollroadsnews.com/sites/default/files/SummaryFTE.docx

EDITORIAL COMMENT: We're skeptical about the economies of scale in what looks like a very superficial analysis of consolidation by FTE (see attachment below). In areas where there are indeed economies of scale these can usually be realized by joint procurement or one toller performing an activity on behalf of another, or several - on a negotiated cooperative basis.  Whole organizations don't have to be merged.

There are also diseconomies of scale - operations that require more management when they are centralized but spread over a larger area, reduced opportunity for innovation, more layers of bureaucracy.

There are disadvantages in preventing local initiative and in ending local control ands responsibility. Florida is a large state with distinct regions and there is logic to having regional and local entities run what are usually very regional and local roads.

The bill would straitjacket toll rate setting.

What possible justification is there for a provision requiring cash and electronic tolls to be the same? Cash tolls cost way more to collect than electronic tolls. Tolls should reflect costs. Economical methods of toll collection should not be forced to cross-subsidize higher cost manual activities. That's Luddite thinking.

The bill would seem to rule out variable pricing of roads - a proven means of managing traffic for smoother flow and reduced congestion - and a way of increasing motorists options.

SB7198 makes no provision for toll concessions or public private partnerships.

This is a serious power grab by state officials at the expense of local and regional autonomy.

There's also some very cynical political calculation in the exclusion of Miami-Dade from the state takeover. Does the logic of scale economies and eliminating duplicative activity not apply in south Florida, to the state's largest metro area - only in the metro areas of central Florida?

More likely the sponsors of SB7198 sense the Miami pols are too formidable to take on at present. (see comment at end by exec-director MDX)

They want to grab the low hanging fruit first.

SB7198 is the kind of legislation you'd expect more from Democrats, than from Republicans.  

Republicans claim to be opposed to centralization of power, to one-size-fits-all approaches, and to price controls. Not when it comes to tollroads in Florida, apparently - editor.

FOLLOWUP: Javier Rodriguez, executive-director MIami-Dade Expressway Authority emailed us: "the reason MDX is not included in this legislation is because MDX does not have any lease/purchase agreements with FDOT.  MDX purchased - paid off the lease/purchase agreements - the five expressways in 1996."

COMMENT ON FOLLOWUP: Mr Rodriguez makes an important point in highlighting the lease-purchase agreements between Florida Turnpike Enterprise and the regional toll authorities, although we're not convinced the payoff of such agreements is what saved MDX from this takeover/consolidation move by the state. MDX is a creature of the state and could equally easily be legislated out of existence and its assets, powers and obligations handed to FTE, if legislators chose - editor.

SA Council votes for RMA bailout


On October 14, 2010, the San Antonio City Council unanimously voted to give the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) a BAILOUT on the City's $500,000 loan to the toll road agency. The RMA defaulted on the loan September 1, 2010, and the City Council voted to breathe new life into the controversial toll agency that's been on the ropes since the clearance for its first toll project, US 281, got yanked in 2008, by voting to give the RMA a one year extension on repayment of the loan.

Taxpayers asked the Council to pull the plug on the RMA, whose salaries exceed $1 million/yr for just 10 employees, and whose sole existence relies on levying NEW toll taxes and keeping free lanes jammed so that congestion weary commuters will part with more of their hard-earned cash. Councilwoman Jennifer Ramos did take RMA Executive Director Terry Brechtel to task prior to the vote. The RMA has no revenue stream to pay back the loan other than tolls, so the vote showed unanimous support by Mayor Julian Castro and the Council in FAVOR OF TOLLING this community. The estimated tab to the average family will be $2,000-$3,000/yr in NEW taxes just to get to work.

However, to say they have no revenue stream may be true, but it's not the same as having no money. The RMA has been skimming multi-millions in management fees (at least $15 million that's over and above their salaries and operating expenses) off the TxDOT grants for the environmental work on 281 & 1604 and off the interchange project. So they're not exactly broke...just really good at balance sheet chicanery.

The attitude of some RMA Board members at their Board meeting after they appeared at Council was "Why would they expect us to pay the loan back after all we do to serve this community?"

Can we get our loans forgiven because we serve the community? Such a cavalier attitude when it comes to the taxpayers' money is truly astonishing...they think they're entitled to everyone forgiving their debt just because they're the RMA. They're seeking to have TxDOT forgive some of their debt, too.

So when you're struggling to pay your tax bill and to keep food on the table, remember who voted to give a failing government bureaucracy a bailout with YOUR money citing government’s “financial hardship,” while making YOUR financial hardship greater.

____________________________________________________________________________________
RMA loan extended

By Josh Baugh - Express-News

Web Posted: 10/14/2010 7:25 PM CDT

The City Council on Thursday agreed to give the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority — the agency that would build toll roads in San Antonio — another year to make good on a $500,000 loan that it can't afford to pay.
Toll-road opponents, including members of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, decried the move, saying it was essentially a vote in support of tolling.

TURF founder Terri Hall, who wasn't at the meeting, said that extending the term of the five-year-old loan allows the RMA to continue to exist. She and her group are lobbying state lawmakers to repeal the law that allows regional mobility authorities to exist.

“We want these RMAs to go away,” she said. “They're a big waste of money and a second-tier bureaucracy.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Council votes for RMA bailout


RMA loan extended

By Josh Baugh - Express-News
Web Posted: 10/14/2010 7:25 PM CDT


The City Council on Thursday agreed to give the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority — the agency that would build toll roads in San Antonio — another year to make good on a $500,000 loan that it can't afford to pay.
Toll-road opponents, including members of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, decried the move, saying it was essentially a vote in support of tolling.

TURF founder Terri Hall, who wasn't at the meeting, said that extending the term of the five-year-old loan allows the RMA to continue to exist. She and her group are lobbying state lawmakers to repeal the law that allows regional mobility authorities to exist.

“We want these RMAs to go away,” she said. “They're a big waste of money and a second-tier bureaucracy.”

Read the rest of the story here.

More public subsidies for Austin toll projects

Link to article here.

Note the massive amount of taxpayer subsidies for these LOSER toll projects. If these were well-conceived toll projects that could pay for themselves, that would be one thing, but using taxpayer money to build them only to charge taxpayers AGAIN to use them, is clearly an egregious DOUBLE TAX.
___________________________________________________________________

Friday, October 1, 2010

Central Texas gets $153M for transportation projects

Austin Business Journal


The Texas Transportation Commission has approved $153 million for work on several toll roads on Mopac, U.S. 290, U.S. 183 and others.

The Texas Department of Transportation and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority will use grants for work on:

 

Manor Expressway project (126.7 million)
the MoPac Improvement Project ($5.4 million)

Oak Hill Expressway


"The Mobility Authority Board, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) and the Texas Transportation Commission all came together to prioritize funding for these vital Central Texas Projects," says Heiligenstein. "With so many unmet needs statewide, getting scarce dollars isn't easy these days. We made a good case that Central Texas was in critical need of these funds, and we came to the table with a promise of local funding in the form of toll revenue bonds. As a result, we were rewarded with $153 million in grants."

The $500 million Manor project will create a toll road from U.S. 183 on U.S. 290 to Parmer Lane. It is also being paid for through issuance of toll revenue bonds or other creative financing methods, according to a press release. Due to funding limitations, TxDOT will provide the grant money over a three-year period between 2012 and 2014.

The Mopac Improvement Project proposes to construct express lanes along an 11-mile stretch of Loop 1 from Cesar Chavez Street downtown to Parmer Lane. The TxDOT grant will pay for an environmental study that was halted in 2007 due to funding issues.

The Oak Hill Expressway seeks to alleviate traffic at the "Y" on U.S. 290 in Oak Hill. The grant money will be used to complete a comprehensive environmental impact statement that would allow for construction of the expressway.

The 3.5-million Manchaca Expressway project proposes four tolled lanes and non-tolled lanes connecting Mopac in southwest Austin to FM 1626 and I-35. The latest grant money will be used to complete an environmental impact statement.

The eight-mile Bergstrom Expressway project will make improvements to U.S. 183 South from Springdale Road to Patton Avenue.

Express-News sold out for tolls

Bruce Davidson, author of the column below, heads the Editorial Board at the Express-News. He, and the paper (as evidenced by their coverage since they laid off the excellent, unbiased, and very fair transportation reporter Pat Driscoll), are sold out on tolls. This is one of many editorials that read like an RMA press release. Whatever RMA Chair Bill Thornton speaketh, Davidson prints as Gospel.

Whenever we've attempted to go to the Editorial Board to dialogue about the toll issue, they flatly ignore us and our concerns (as well as elected officials, attorneys, certified planners, and other experts who have joined us) and print a negative editorial in response to our "visit." After all, the paper has the establishment to please, never mind the Express-News is bleeding readers. Why? Because of columns, editorials, and stories like this one. Or perhaps it's because the RMA has paid the Express-News nearly $25,000 in government advertising.

I find the first line of this column inexplicable. How can we NOT blame the tolling authority, which is precisely what the RMA is, for tolling our existing freeways? Though there's plenty of blame to go around, including the people Davidson cites, our state lawmakers led by Rick Perry (we would add there are culprits who have approved and voted for this at EVERY level of government, local, state, and federal), it defies logic NOT to address the RMA's culpability in the toll road fight.


The RMA is a Board of UN-elected bureaucrats appointed by YOUR county commissioners, who have given them the authority to levy taxes (toll taxes) without answering directly to the taxpayers (which is taxation without representation). Their only source of revenue is tolling (and a heap of loans from the city and county and grants from TxDOT to keep them afloat until they tap the vein of your wallet with their first toll road). RMAs were created in state law for the sole purpose of tolling and off-loading the State's job to build STATE highways to local government and its taxpayers.

This notion that the RMA "doesn't care where the money comes from, they just want to fix the road" is a farce. They're a tolling authority! They exist to toll roads! Most importantly, the needed fix to 281 was already paid for with gas taxes until TxDOT made the money disappear sometime in mid-2008. So the toll agenda for 281 has NOTHING to do with lack of funds. They had the funds...it's about tapping a new revenue stream and levying a discriminatory, targeted tax on 281 users in order to fund 1604 (which they don't have the money for). The fact 281 already had the funding is one the RMA and the Express-News like to ignore so they can push toll roads, making them appear the ONLY option.
Then, the stimulus money the RMA is using to build HALF of a non-toll interchange (for the price of a WHOLE interchange) is a one time deal. We've long objected to the RMA even doing a non-toll project, especially with the pricetag they can't justify ($143 million for just the four southern ramps of the interchange when the RMA's published price to build the northern ramps in 2018 dollars is $59 million. If they can build half of the interchange for $59 million, they can surely build the whole thing NOW for $120 million! For comparison, the 410/281 interchange just built cost $155 million). What on earth are we paying our highway department to do if we now have these high paid bureaucrats at the RMA sitting around duplicating TxDOT's role and charging us $20 million in "management fees" to oversee the interchange project that TxDOT should be doing (without the added cost)? The RMA is a second-tier bureaucracy and a taxpayer rip-off from start to finish.

Here are just two timelines (here and here) to give you a flavor of how corrupt and untrustworthy this RMA is. Then here's a few other zingers. The RMA operates in secrecy and has refused to hand over the financial guts to its potential toll agreements BEFORE the contract gets signed (when the public can actually DO something to stop provisions that are not in the public interest). It hides behind a state law that allows these agencies to keep toll viability studies, the market valuation, and other key financial details SECRET from the public AND even YOUR elected officials. In fact, prior to a crucial vote on financing the 281 and 1604 toll projects at the MPO December 7, 2007, the RMA did not give MPO Board members this information prior to their vote, causing them to vote BLIND.

During the last legislative session, the RMA spent $32,000 of YOUR money to hire a lobbyist to lobby state lawmakers for toll roads and more taxing authority to levy ANY kind of tax to raid your pocketbook. The RMA also recently came out in favor of thwarting legal challenges to its unwanted toll projects by lobbying to force binding arbitration. Then, the RMA Board just voted to do all of its business BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, out of the public eye, unless they have an "actionable item" to vote on. Plus, the RMA has 8 employees whose total salaries with benefits equal more than $1 million dollars annually. All but two employees make six figures, which is totally out of balance with the median household income in San Antonio, which is $36,000/yr.

Credibility gap
As long as the 281 & 1604 projects are marked "toll" in the MPO's plans, the RMA has control of the project and a vested interest in ensuring it remains tolled even when new sources of revenue become available. The RMA is conducting its own environmental studies on both the 281 and 1604 toll projects (the fox guarding the hen house), yet to read the Express-News editorial, you'd think the RMA was a paragon of diplomacy, reaching out to its "enemies." Diplomacy? Pleez...their consultants told the community advisory groups that the RMA didn't have to listen to our feedback nor the public feedback at the hearings either. The RMA is using these "community groups" as window dressing, nothing more. After repeated attempts to sit down with the RMA and work out many issues regarding these projects, they've REFUSED to work with ANYONE who gets in the way of their toll agenda. The RMA opposed the citizens' call for a temporary superstreet fix, too, until they figured out that doing the project could boost their PR with fed-up residents and give them something to do until their first toll project brings home the bacon.

RMA Chair Bill Thornton promised on WOAI radio January 14, 2009 that they'd fix 281 non-toll if they got a new source of funds. When stimulus funds became available, the RMA STILL submitted the project as a toll project (they planned to build it with stimulus money and still charge users a toll to drive on it, a DOUBLE TAX), which is proof-positive that even when they get a new pot of money to do something non-toll, the RMA still pushes its toll agenda...regardless of the opposition to it.

Also, the FHWA also informed MPO Chairman Commissioner Tommy Adkisson that as long as a project is marked toll in the MPO plans, it will be done as a toll project. With 800 people packing an auditorium in October 2009 to tell the MPO they don't want toll roads (and only 100 got to testify with all but 7 against), and with MPO Board members & the RMA assuring the public that both toll and non-toll options are on the table for 281 and 1604, how can they have an ounce of credibility when both are marked toll projects in the MPO's TIP and when the tolling authority (RMA) is conducting the "study" of the options? How can the MPO have any credibility that non-toll options are even being studied when its attempt to find a contractor to do an independent study of non-toll options (apart from the RMA) yielded ZERO takers?

Toll roads NOT inevitable
Then, Davidson would have us accept his premise that toll roads are inevitable because lawmakers in Austin refuse to raise your taxes. First of all, tolls are taxes and they have yet to hesitate to charge commuters the MOST EXPENSIVE tax to fund roads. Second, where is Davidson's call to end the diversions to the gas tax we ALREADY PAY? Why would any thinking person ask government to raise taxes when they're misappropriating the taxes we already send them? Third, why isn't Davidson insisting San Antonio get back the money we already send to Austin and Washington that we're shorted before he advocates for higher taxes (tolls)? Lastly, ending the vehicle sales tax diversion (that's being dumped into general revenue instead of going to roads) would nearly triple our region's road money WITHOUT RAISING TAXES! But Davidson doesn't think that way. He's an extension of the government bureaucrats at the RMA.

Goes to show, one must do his/her due diligence before believing what you read in the Express-News.
________________________________________________________
Austin's aversion to tax hikes makes toll roads inevitable

By Bruce Davidson - Express-News

Web Posted: 05/13/2010

Don't blame the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority when U.S. 281 from north of Loop 1604 becomes a toll road.

RMA officials are in the midst of the lengthy Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process. They are studying three possible approaches to dealing with the nightmarish traffic on U.S. 281.

One scenario involves overpasses at the key intersections and non-continuous frontage, as RMA spokesman Leroy Alloway described it. Another would have expressway lanes and continuous frontage road from Loop 1604 to the Bexar County line. And a third option would have elevated U.S. 281 lanes, leaving most of the existing structure in place.

RMA Chairman Bill Thornton emphasizes that while the project is listed as a toll road in Metropolitan Planning Organization plan, that status is a placeholder.

Read the rest of the story here.

______________________________________________________
Agua should drop legal threat
Express-News Editorial Board
Web Posted: 05/11/2010

The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority is engaging in some highway diplomacy. Rather than allowing plans for road construction in the U.S. 281-Loop 1604 corridor to get bogged down in challenges, the RMA is bringing potential adversaries to the table and making them part of the development process.

The RMA has created community advisory committees for both of the two major highway projects it is managing — a 7.9-mile segment of U.S. 281 north of Loop 1604 to the county line and a 37-mile stretch of Loop 1604 from Interstate 35 North to Highway 90 West.

Among the stakeholders on these committees are representatives of homeowners associations, school districts and the business and development community.

The RMA has also included groups with which it has traditionally had an adversarial relationship: the Alamo Sierra Club, Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas, Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, San Antonio Toll Party and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom.

This diplomatic approach is a wise one. A good faith effort by members of the advisory groups can streamline the process for road construction and avoid lawsuits and political challenges that are both costly and time consuming.

Read the rest of the story here.

Toll agency lawyer disbarred


Link to article here.

Nielson is a prime example of the revolving door syndrome that dominates transportation/toll issues. He's not unlike former State Rep. Mike Krusee who nows lobbies his ex-colleagues for big bucks. These guys just get recycled from one job to the next, using their connections from elected office to exploit taxpayers...

Toll road agency lawyer resigns after bar suspension
Tom Nielson served on Round Rock City Council for six years before joining Central Texas Mobility Authority as general counsel in 2006
 By Ben Wear AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Monday, Feb. 8, 2010

Tom Nielson, a former Round Rock City Council member and general counsel of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority since 2006, quietly left the toll road agency several weeks ago after the State Bar of Texas suspended his law license.

The five-year suspension of Nielson's right to practice law, for "professional misconduct," grows out of a 2000 land deal that went awry several years before he became the toll authority's lawyer, according to a six-page suspension judgment by the bar. Nielson, according to the judgment, falsely claimed to have put $25,000 in a trust account and gave a "false document" to a partner in the deal purporting to show that the money had been deposited with a title company.

Nielson, 49, who officially left his $164,388-a-year position at the toll authority Jan. 15 after his license was suspended Jan. 1, said that although there was a "discrepancy" involving a document, "I still contend there was no issue with it." The charges confirmed in the Dec. 28 judgment were of the "he-said-she-said" variety, Nielson said.

"Hey, I've lost my career," Nielson said. "But I'm not a bad guy. It's not like I made off with millions."


Instead, Nielson said that he and Byron "Dick" Wilson, of Hutto, were "squeezed out" of the sale of land on U.S. 183 near Anderson Mill Road, well south of where the mobility authority would later build the 183-A toll road. Then Wilson sued in 2006, and Nielson said he paid about $50,000 in a settlement in which he didn't admit guilt.

He also must pay the State Bar almost $6,000 in attorney fees.

Wilson, who in August 2008 filed the grievance with the State Bar that led to the license suspension, could not be reached for comment.

Mobility authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein, whose friendship with Nielson goes back two decades to when their children played youth sports together, said he knew nothing about the disputed land deal between Nielson and Wilson.

"It was never brought up during his employment, or before that during the interview process," Heiligenstein said. "He obviously thought it had been worked out."

Nielson told Heiligenstein in mid-December about the bar complaint and that he was resigning, Heiligenstein said. Nielson's picture and his position with the agency were still posted on the agency's Web site Monday afternoon. Agency spokesman Steve Pustelnyk , alerted to this, had the post removed later in the day.

Nielson, who graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1986, according to the bar, served on the Round Rock City Council from 1999 to 2005. He became general counsel for the mobility authority several months later, in effect replacing private attorney Brian Cassidy, who had been doing legal work for the agency on a contract basis almost since its creation in 2002.

Cassidy, who had continued to provide some services for the authority, including lobbying at the Capitol, was back in the counsel's chair when the mobility authority board of directors met Jan. 27.

The bar decision said that Nielson, representing a landowner, in late 2000 had approached another person, identified in the original grievance as Wilson. Nielson and Wilson, anticipating a $100,000 profit on what Nielson described Monday as a "land flip," agreed that Wilson would put up $25,000 "earnest money." Two years later, according to the judgment, the partner questioned Nielson about when they would see the profits. Only at that point, the document says, did Nielson reveal that the deal had soured and returned the $25,000.

It was unclear Monday whether that $25,000 was a part of the $50,000 settlement of the lawsuit.

Heiligenstein is interviewing candidates for general counsel, he said Monday.
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