Secret plan to toll existing interstates ignites outrage

Link to article here.

"SECRET" TxDOT SCHEME UNMASKED BY NEWSRADIO WOAI SPARKS OUTRAGE
Newsradio 1200 WOAI's exclusive report last week revealing a secret plan by TEX-DOT to attempt to put toll booths on existing highways has rallied anti-toll opposition.
By Michael Main
WOAI Radio
Wednesday, September 5, 2007

TEX-DOT may have cut its own throat with the public as a result of that "secret plan" to try to toll existing highways first revealed by Newsradio 1200 WOAI last week.

Members of the San Antonio Toll Party, an anti-toll group, say public outrage is growing exponentially as a result of the revelations that TxDOT has been quietly lobbying congress to try to "buy back" federal highways in Texas so the state could slap toll booths up on them.

Additionally several lawmakers at both the state and federal level, who were not necessarily outspoken critics of toll roads before, say they'll now sponsor legislation to block any tolling of existing highways. They add TxDOT's credibility may be damaged beyond repair even among toll road supporters, since many of those toll road advocates had been fervently reassuring the public that no existing highways would ever be tolled in Texas, only to find that TxDOT was working behind their backs to do just that. Some toll road advocates tell Newsradio 1200 WOAI they feel they were "stabbed in the back" and "left twisting in the wind" when the story broke.

Lawmakers furious over tolling existing highways

Link to article here. The article notably left out State Representative Nathan Macias who led the charge against SB 792 that unleashed market-based tolls (highest possible tolls). Macias noted TxDOT's fuzzy math and outrageous cost escalation for 281. He also demanded that TxDOT install the gas tax funded plan for 281 immediately. At yesterday's press conference, several lawmakers joined him and also called for the gas tax plan to be constructed on 281 yet that's not mentioned in this story.

More lawmakers add voices to outcry over toll road plans
By Patrick Driscoll
Express-NEWS
09/05/2007

A firestorm ignited by recent news about state officials eyeing tolls on interstates and spending $9 million to advertise toll-road plans continued to roll through San Antonio on Tuesday.

Several state lawmakers gathering at Stone Oak Parkway where U.S. 281 is slated to be rebuilt as toll express lanes with non-toll frontage roads said the Texas Department of Transportation has gone too far.
"They're arrogant in what they're doing because they're not listening to the will of the people," said Rep. Joe Farias, D-San Antonio.

Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, said TxDOT shouldn't be spending public money on ads to push its policies. He plans to seek an attorney general's opinion on the matter this week. Also, he'll ask the local Metropolitan Planning Organization, which oversees federal gas-tax dollars in this area, to pass a resolution to oppose the ads.

"It's illegal for them to be promoting toll roads with taxpayer dollars," Leibowitz said.



TxDOT officials in Austin didn't return phone calls Tuesday but said last week that the campaign addresses concerns that the agency hasn't done enough outreach and that state law allows it to spend money on marketing toll roads.

The campaign started June 1 with television, radio, print, billboard and Internet advertising to direct people to the Keep Texas Moving Web site (www.keeptexasmoving.com). It also includes direct mail and training for spokesmen to appear on talk radio.

"A $9 million dollar pain pill is what they're selling us, to buy into their plan," Farias said.

Adding to the anger of toll critics last week were reports that TxDOT was lobbying Congress for the ability to toll existing interstate lanes.

"Even if such authority is granted on the federal level, state law requires both voter and County Commissioner Court approval before any segment of an existing roadway is converted to a toll facility," said a 24-page TxDOT report, which has been on the agency's Web site since last year and was approved in February by the Texas Transportation Commission.

Reaction last week was swift on all levels.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said she'll file a bill to ban states from converting existing interstates into toll roads, and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, concurred.

U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, called for a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on converting interstates to tollways and on TxDOT's ad campaign.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and City Councilwoman Sheila McNeil, chairwoman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, both issued statements to oppose any tolling of existing highway lanes.

Mexican trucks to roll into U.S. due to NAFTA & increase excuse for new trade corridors

Mexican truckers must speak English


HARLINGEN — Interstate truck and bus drivers across America may find themselves pulled off the highway if state troopers or vehicle inspectors find they can't speak English.The requirement has been on the books for decades, but enforcement has begun before Mexican trucks are allowed in the U.S. interior as of Sept. 6.

"We have found people in violation of this for a number of years and we're working feverishly to correct it," said John Hill, head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.Since 1971, federal law has said that commercial drivers must read and speak English "sufficiently to understand highway traffic signs and signals and directions given in English and to respond to official inquiries."Hill said the language deficiency was found mostly in the commercial zone that varies from 25 miles to 75 miles north of the Mexican border.

Since inspectors there are bilingual and Mexican truckers are not allowed past that zone, it hasn't been an issue.But after more than a decade of legal wrangling, U.S. highways are opening up.The North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 called for Mexican and U.S. trucks to travel freely throughout one another's nations, but the provision was stalled by labor unions and environmental groups' arguments that the trucks are unsafe.A pilot program allowing a limited number of already approved Mexican trucks to pass the border zone was set to begin as early as today, but Hill said no trucks will pass beyond the border zone pending a final report by the inspector general. The program is now set to take effect Thursday.Mexican truckers, meanwhile, said they were prepared to leave merchandise in Mexican warehouses if U.S. authorities insisted on fines for not knowing English in the border zone.


"We have been talking with U.S. authorities," said Luis Moreno Sesma, president of Mexico's national chamber of cargo haulers."The law says that the operators should know English to cross the border, but we have said they should have special consideration for the border guys," he said.The language requirement is part of a long checklist — including criminal background and drug and alcohol tests — that carriers must pass to go into the interior.U.S. commercial drivers going into the Mexican interior, part of the reciprocal agreement, will have to speak Spanish.

Anti-corridor Duncan Hunter wins first Texas GOP Straw Poll

Hunter wins Texas' first GOP straw poll
By ANGELA K. BROWN
Sept. 1, 2007
Associated Press

FORT WORTH, Texas — California congressman Duncan Hunter won Texas' first Republican Party Straw Poll on Saturday in a low-turnout event that lacked the top-tier presidential candidates.

Hunter got 534 votes, or 41 percent of the vote. Former Tennessee senator and actor Fred Thompson, who is expected to announce his candidacy next week but was not at the event, came in second with 266 votes, or nearly 21 percent. Texas congressman Ron Paul came in third with 217 votes, or 17 percent.

Crowd support seemed split between Hunter and Paul, whose grass-roots supporters waved signs and chanted his name throughout the day. Other candidates attending were Chicago businessman John Cox, who got 10 votes; counterterrorism expert Hugh Cort of Birmingham, Ala., who got three votes; and tool-and-die maker Ray McKinney of Savannah, Ga., with 28 votes.


Each of the other absent but better-known candidates received less than 7 percent of the vote. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee came in fourth with 83 votes; former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani got 78 votes; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney received 61 votes; and Arizona Sen. John McCain garnered eight votes.

Others who didn't attend, Kansas senator Sam Brownback and Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo, each received six votes.

Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee who is serving his 14th term in Congress, said his message of strong national security seemed to resonate with poll voters. He played a leading role in the construction of a 14-mile double fence on the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego and co-authored legislation signed by President Bush that would extend the border fence to 850 miles.

"I think we go on to great things, and we're going to carry this message for a strong America," said Hunter, who won the straw poll in Arizona and came in a close third in South Carolina.

The Texas straw poll is only for party activists, and those casting ballots must have been a delegate or alternate to a recent GOP state or national convention. Last month's Iowa Republican straw poll, in which Romney won, was open to any voter who pays for a ticket.

Texas GOP officials had said they expected 2,000 people to vote Saturday, but only 1,300 did.

The low turnout and top-tier candidates' absence in Texas didn't seem to bother Debbie and Wayne Turner of Waxahachie. Wearing matching American flag shirts, the couple said they were eager to attend the historic event — even though Wayne Turner, who supports Thompson, and his Giuliani supporter wife didn't get to meet their favorite candidates.

"This group here is the cheerleaders, and we're passionate about it," said Wayne Turner, who wore a black cowboy hat with "Fred Head" around the brim and carried a sign that read, "Run, Fred, run!"

The event kicked off with large screens showing images of the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and soldiers in the war zone, as a recording of country singer Darryl Worley's "Have You Forgotten?" played.

Some speakers acknowledged that electing a Republican to the White House in 2008 would be challenging because of momentum of the Democratic presidential candidates. Several criticized one of the frontrunners, New York senator Hillary Clinton.

Texas senator John Cornyn said the best GOP candidate should be selected because "obviously we're going to be flying into a bit of a headwind on the national level." He said some Republicans have lost sight of the party's core values, such as national security, limited government and keeping taxes low.

"If we regain our vision ... we will also regain and earn the endorsement of the people," Cornyn said.

Meanwhile, war protester Cindy Sheehan spoke at a rally outside the convention center, where several hundred people gathered. Sheehan recently announced she is running as an independent for the congressional seat held by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.

"I'm here in opposition to the Republican straw poll," Sheehan said before her speech. "The war will be a big issue (in the election), and I don't see any of the major candidates talking about bringing the troops home. They're playing politics with our troops' flesh and blood and innocent Iraqis' flesh and blood."

The Texas primary will be March 4.

Hutchison comes out fighting against tolling existing interstates!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 31, 2007
CONTACT: Geoff Embler or Matt Mackowiak

Sen. Hutchison will “Vigorously Oppose” Any Effort to Toll Existing Highways

Believes Toll Plan is Double Taxation which she Cannot Support

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison today said she would vigorously oppose any effort by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to toll existing interstate highways.

“I will vigorously oppose any effort by the State of Texas to buy back existing interstates and convert them into toll roads,” Sen. Hutchison said. “Texans should never have to pay twice for a highway and I will fight any such efforts.”

TxDOT released their legislative agenda in a report called “Forward Momentum” in February which seeks changes in federal law that would allow such buybacks for the purpose of tolling interstate highways, pending approval by local governments.

Sen. Hutchison has long fought against tolling existing interstate highways, and successfully passed an amendment in the 2005 highway bill which would have prevented states from tolling interstate highways that have already been paid for, but House conferees did not agree to it.

"I intend to immediately introduce as free-standing legislation my amendment that the Senate passed in 2005 to specifically prohibit states from tolling existing interstate highways," Sen. Hutchison said.

Sen. Hutchison is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which funds the U.S. Department of Transportation, and is a member of the Senate Republican Leadership.
--END--

TxDOT plan would convert some interstates to toll roads

Link to articles here and here. Well, we ought to feel vindicated as news of what we've all known since Ric Williamson uttered this now famous quote, "In your lifetime, most existing roads will have tolls" (Houston Chronicle, Oct. 11, 2004)...the plan is to turn all our existing roads into toll roads and DOUBLE TAX, even TRIPLE TAX us to use them. What's most shocking in this media frenzy is the pretense of outrage on the part of elected officials.

Gimme a break...TxDOT has been converting our existing state highways into tollways (281, 1604, 121) all over the state, with two interstates highways slated to be tolled (I-35 and I-10 in San Antonio and Houston), and they have done NOTHING to stop it! They all hide behind tough rhetoric, then give the green light to TxDOT to play a game of semantics and pretend that if they bulldoze our existing highways and do an elaborate and ghastly expensive re-arranging of the pavement, that they are somehow not tolling existing roads. It would be laughable were it not so serious.

We posted the news of TxDOT lobbying Congress to remove all limits to tolling interstates and their proposed buy back scheme that would give private corporations tax breaks on toll income in January. The Legislature was briefed on it in February! So when you read Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Carona feign outrage, remember that. Who's he kidding? A housewife in San Antonio knows this but not the Senate Transportation Committee Chairman?

TxDOT plan would convert some interstates to toll roads
Plan includes buying interstates and charging drivers a toll
By POLLY ROSS HUGHES
Houston Chronicle & Express-News, Austin Bureau
Aug. 31, 2007

AUSTIN — The Texas Department of Transportation is pushing Congress to pass a federal law allowing the state to "buy back" parts of existing interstate highways and turn them into toll roads.The 24-page plan, outlined in a "Forward Momentum" report that escaped widespread attention when published in February, drew prompt objections Thursday from state lawmakers and activists fighting the spread of privately run toll roads.

"I think it's a dreadful recommendation on the part of the transportation commissioners here in Texas," said Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas.


"I feel confident that legislators in Austin would overwhelmingly be opposed to such an idea," he said. "The simple fact is that taxpayers have already paid for those roadways. To ask taxpayers to pay for them twice is untenable."

The report not only advocates turning stretches of interstate highways into toll roads, but it also suggests tax breaks for private company "investment" in such enterprises.

Talk Back
• Do you think Texas should toll existing lanes?
Along with that, it calls for altering the tax code to exempt toll road owners from paying income taxes.

The agency's attempt to influence Congress comes in on the heels of its multimillion-dollar advertising campaign touting the lightning-rod Trans-Texas Corridor plan and other toll roads.

With an estimated price tag of $7 million to $9 million, the "Keep Texas Moving" campaign comes even as transportation officials warn of an $86 billion shortfall for needed highway construction.

"It's less than 50 cents a Texan," Transportation Department spokesman Chris Lippincott said in defense of the ad campaign. "We could sit down and buy them a cup of coffee for that kind of money."

Lippincott said he's surprised by the reactions, noting the agency discussed the issue at four public meetings and sent a link to the draft report last December to all members of the Texas Legislature.

Besides, he said, state law would prevent the conversion of interstate highways into toll roads unless such a plan gained votes of county commissioners and taxpayers in a referendum.

Anti-toll road activist Sal Castello, the Austin-based founder of the TexasTollParty.com, said he's frustrated by the "schemers and the scammers" who "never stop" divisive toll road proposals despite widespread opposition and fretted that a required referendum could be creatively worded to disguise the nature of toll road conversions.

Carona said he objects to the agency's attempts to persuade Congress to allow federal highways to turn into toll roads because the interstate system was built as part of the national defense.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said the report appears to recycle ideas that led the Legislature this spring to pass a moratorium on construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor, a mammoth toll plan that's the cornerstone of Gov. Rick Perry's highways building proposal.

"This is not only double taxation, it is a violation of the trust that should exist between citizens and government," she said. "Existing Texas highway lanes built with our tax dollars should not be converted to toll roads and taxed again."

Perry spokesman Robert Black said the report in no way contradicts Perry's repeated promise on highways that "if it's free today it will be free tomorrow."

That still holds true, he said, unless local voters say otherwise.

Meanwhile, "Texas will work to educate Congress of the importance of including reasonable and efficient funding solutions, such as tolling, in the next (highway funding) reauthorization bill," the department's report promises.

Next week Democratic state Reps. Joe Farias and David Leibowitz of San Antonio will join Rep. Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde, at a condemned gas station in San Antonio to air objections to the transportation department's tolling ideas and ad campaign.

"TxDOT has crossed the line on a number of fronts in recent weeks, and elected representatives are prepared to fight," said Terri Hall, founder of Texans United for Reform and Freedom, a grass-roots group to promote nontoll solutions to Texas' transportation needs.

MORE OUTRAGE: The rich get FREE toll tags in Dallas!

View the news report here.

If this doesn't demonstrate that these toll plans are special lanes for the rich and powerful, then I don't know what does. Considering that tolling authority board members who decide on toll rates (ie - TAX HIKES) to be imposed on all of us exempt themselves, the self-interest is obvious! You can bet that the lawmakers who voted to allow these taxes will also be exempt from living under the toll taxes they impose on us, just like they get the best health plan in the world, and the best retirement plan in the world. What's good for the goose ought to be good for the gander, but not when it comes to politics. Are you angry enough to vote them out? Because until you are, you're going to keep getting fleeced under this insidious good ol' boy system.

Some Drive On Tollway For Free

Click here for a .pdf file listing people who have a free TollTag.
Click here for a .pdf file listing the NTTA's rules about who gets a free TollTag.
ImageBennett Cunningham
Reporting
(CBS 11 News) DALLAS Some very rich and powerful people are getting free TollTags – for life -- with virtually no limits on how many times they can ride for free.
A CBS 11 investigation found Dallas resident Jere Thompson with a free TollTag. He lives in a $1.4 million house, is CEO of a local electric company, and years ago served on the board of the North Texas Tollway Authority [N.T.T.A.]. According to records obtained by CBS 11, Thompson had more than 1200 transactions on the Dallas North Tollway in a recent 12 month period.

All of them were free.

Mr. Thompson told us he believes he's entitled to it for his years of service as a former NTTA board member.


The NTTA is a quasi-governmental agency and is funded with money from bonds and tollway revenue. But ask some people who don't get a free TollTag, like Dallas grandmother Margaret Diehl, and they’ll say, “I don't see any reason why they can’t pay like the rest of us.”

According to Clayton Howell of the NTTA, the reason Thompson doesn’t pay is because it's board policy that every former and current NTTA board member gets a free TollTag for life.

In addition, elected officials such as Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and State Representatives Burt Solomons and Jim Jackson each get one too - but only until their terms are up.

The NTTA also issues a free TollTag to all of its roughly 800 employees.

Certain NTTA retirees also get a free TollTag for life.

If you have a free TollTag, there appears to be no set limit on the number of times you can use it. The NTTA says it monitors each tag to ensure there is no abuse, but would not define what constitutes abuse. Also, the NTTA does not audit the free TollTags to ensure each tag is being used only by the authorized user.

To get a free TollTag, you only need to fill out a form. One person makes the decision based on board policy.

In a recent 12 month period, the NTTA allowed one million free transactions. About 350,000 of those were for emergency vehicles. The rest were not.

Randy Johnson, who fought the tollway expansion, believes free TollTags for former board members and public officials is a “courtesy… you give them a free pass and they might help you out down the road.”

When CBS 11 analyzed tollway records, we found the three public officials who received toll tags--Congresswoman Johnson and State Representatives Solomons and Jackson--all worked on matters involving the tollway. Only Congresswoman Johnson called us back, saying, “I don’t have to tell you my business.”

We also found Dallas resident David Laney with a free TollTag. He has a home and rental property in Dallas worth more than $3 million. Laney is a former NTTA board member, former chair of the Texas Transportation Commission, and is currently the Chairman of the Board of Amtrak. Laney had 856 Tollway transactions in a recent 12 month period. When we asked if he deserves a free TollTag, he said “Yes.”

After persistent questions from CBS 11, the NTTA revoked former State Senator Robert Cain’s free TollTag. CBS 11 discovered the NTTA was violating its own policy by allowing Cain to have one. Cain left office in 2003, but remained on the list of people with free TollTags.

The NTTA also announced it is raising tolls, so those of us who do pay for tolls will soon pay more.

In June, the Harris County Toll Road Authority in Houston area took away the free TollTags it provided for employees, saying the policy no longer made sense.

Want to see the list of people who have a free TollTag? Click here to see it in .pdf format.

We asked the NTTA for a copy of its policy that governs free TollTags. Click here to download it for yourself as a .pdf file.

WOAI Talk Radio Interstate Toll Exclusive Prompts Outrage, U.S. Senate Action

Link to WOAI stories here and here.

WOAI radio in San Antonio has shut us out for many months but this week they launched the Joe Pags afternoon talk show and had Joe Krier, President of the San Antonio Greater Chamber of Commerce, San Antonio Mobility Coalition, and a pro-toll group Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation, on the air promising no existing lanes would be tolled, then days later they "break" a story about a secret plan where TxDOT lobbied Congress to do just that.

Not sure where they've been all year, but we reported the news of TxDOT lobbying Congress to remove all limits to tolling interstates and their proposed buy back scheme that would give private corporations tax breaks on toll income in January. The Legislature was briefed on it in February! So when you read Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Carona feign outrage, remember that. Who's he kidding? A housewife in San Antonio knows this but not the Senate Transportation Committee Chairman?

Well, we ought to feel vindicated as news of what we've all known since Ric Williamson uttered this now famous quote, "In your lifetime, most existing roads will have tolls" (Houston Chronicle, Oct. 11, 2004)...the plan is to turn all our existing roads into toll roads and DOUBLE TAX, even TRIPLE TAX us to use them. What's most shocking in this media frenzy is the pretense of outrage on the part of elected officials.


Gimme a break...TxDOT has been converting our existing state highways into tollways all over the state, with two interstates highways slated to be tolled (I-35 throughout the state and I-10 in San Antonio and Houston), and they have done NOTHING to stop it! They all hide behind tough rhetoric, then give the green light to TxDOT to play a game of semantics and pretend that if they bulldoze our existing highways and do an elaborate and ghastly expensive re-arranging of the pavement, that they are somehow not tolling existing roads. It would be laughable were it not so serious.

"Outrage" is Reaction to 1200 WOAI News Toll Exclusive
Local, state officials vow never to allow TxDOT to toll existing highways
By Jim Forsyth
Friday, August 31, 2007
Reaction to the 1200 WOAI news exclusive report Thursday that the Texas Department of Transportation has a secret plan to turn all of the state's Interstate highways into toll roads has been immediate and statewide, with 'outrage' being the least impolite word that is being heard to describe the reaction of officials and lawmakers.

"I was disappointed to be once again blind sided in having to learn about this idea through the media, instead of from TexDOT," said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, one of several local officials who has been assuring citizens that existing roads would 'never' be tolled. The entire officials 1200 WOAI news spoke with said they had never heard of the TexDOT memo until 1200 WOAI's report brought it to their attention yesterday.

"Going back and trying to toll already existing highways, in this case interstates, is outrageous," Senator John Corona, (D-Dallas), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said when asked about the 1200 WOAI news report. "People have already paid for that."

The 1200 WOAI news exclusive has now been copied by newspapers across the state.

Joe Krier, President of the Greater Chamber of Commerce and a leader in the toll road battle, said he had never heard about the report until 1200 WOAI news brought it to his attention, but it doesn't change his basic support for toll roads.

"If other people have a better way to fund these roads in the short term, we'd be glad to hear it," Krier said.

But toll road opponents jumped on the 1200 WOAI news report as evidence that TexDOT 'cannot be trusted.'

"They want to shift all of our current highways into tollways, and double tax us for the rest of our lives," said Terri Hall of TexasTURF, an anti toll road group.

"You can't trust them," Hall said. "One minute they're telling you, 'no, we have no intention of tolling existing roads,' and then the next minute they're sending reports to Congress asking for that very thing. I don't think you can trust the agencies that are trying to toll our roads at this point. You can't believe a word they say."

The internal memo suggests that Texas state tax dollars could be used to 'buy back' the toll roads from the federal government, getting around a federal law that prohibits putting tolls on roads paid for with federal dollars. Not only would tolls then be collected on existing Interstates, but the companies that would collect the tolls would get tax breaks from Texas taxpayers.

"The deception of going back and trying to toll already existing, already paid for highways is wrong headed," Carona told 1200 WOAI news.

Many local officials pointed to state laws which prohibit any tolls being added to existing roads without a vote of the local county commissioners court, and the voters.

"That TexDOT would now pursue the tolling of existing interstate lanes is unwise, unreasonable, and poor public policy," Wolff said.

_________________________________

1200 WOAI Interstate Toll Exclusive Prompts U.S. Senate Action

Hutchison vows to introduce a bill to prohibit tolling of Interstates, entire TexDOT tolling plan in jeopardy
By Jim Forsyth
Friday, August 31, 2007
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison today vowed to 'immediately' introduce a measure that would prohibit states from tolling existing Interstate highways under any circumstances.

It's in response to that 1200 WOAI news exclusive Thursday, which has now been copied by other media statewide, revealing a secret Texas Department of Transportation plan to 'buy back' the federal equity in Interstates to get around a federal prohibition against tolling any highway paid for by federal tax money.

"I intend to immediately introduce as free standing legislation my 2005 amendment that the Senate passed to prohibit tolling of existing Interstate highways," Hutchison said.

The 1200 WOAI news report is sparking an anti TexDOT fervor across Washington D.C.

Congressman Charlie Gonzalez called TexDOT's toll plan 'alarming.'

"The public should never be charged to use public highways which were built with their tax revenue," Gonzalez said. "Toll roads create an unnecessary fiscal burden on citizens, and I will oppose any federal plan to facilitate their construction by utilizing the federal highway system."

The 1200 WOAI news report appears to have possibly fatally damaged TexDOT's toll road initiatives, especially the already controversial Trans Texas Corridor.

Even the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the group that makes long term transportation plans, said today it has done all of it's work 'under the premise' that tolls will only be assessed on new lanes.

"The MPO has not supported the tolling of existing highways or existing lanes," MPO Policy Board Chair Sheila McNail said. "Such a measure will not be implemented in the MPO planning area."

Many citizens who have called or been interviewed by 1200 WOAI news indicated they were on the fence about the toll issue, but now feel strongly that toll road should be opposed.

Obituary: Trans Texas Corridor

Link to article here.

Obituary: Trans Texas Corridor
By Roy Bragg
Express News
August 31, 2007

The Trans-Texas Corridor, a plan so flimsy and badly conceived that it attained the believability of an urban legend, died of its own greed and hubris Thursday.

Death came quietly to the ballyhooed plan — which had proposed spending billions of tax dollars to convert existing, state-built highways to toll roads and augment them with unnecessary superhighways — with the revelation that highway officials just wanted more money.

The stated goal of the TTC was to handle imaginary gridlock 50 years in the future. The case for the TTC, however, was argued with faulty data, questionable reports, inexplicable anecdotes, and diversionary arguments.


Death not reported immediately

The boondoggle actually died in December, when the Texas Department of Transportation came up with a cockamamie plan to buy back existing federal interstate highways and turn them into toll roads. The move would require Congress' approval, and the agency was lobbying for it.

News of the plan didn't surface until recently.

The December plan didn't call for new roads. Rather, it unmasked the real goals of the TTC — squeeze money out of a citizenry whose lives revolve around highway travel. Drivers, in other words, were a captive audience. Tolls don't require voter or legislative approval, and are essentially taxes without oversight.

TTC's timely death comes after the controversy over the $9 million "Keep Texas Moving" advertising campaign. Polly Ross Hughes wrote about it today on MySA:

"It's less than 50 cents a Texan," Transportation Department spokesman Chris Lippincott said in defense of the ad campaign. "We could sit down and buy them a cup of coffee for that kind of money."

As of this writing, Lippincott hasn't bought coffee for me or anyone I know.

Truth Be Tolled documentary filmmaker, Bill Molina, featured in Trinity's Alum Mag

Bill Molina ’84
Getting the Show on the Road

By Donna Parker

Bill Molina ’84 is an award-winning Hollywood cinematographer who toiled on film and episodic television shows such as Beverly Hills 90210, but now he is focused on ZIP codes closer to his Texas roots.

A recent winner of the Worldfest Houston Film Festival Platinum Remi Award for his feature documentary Truth be Tolled, Bill tellsthe story of foreign companies poised to make a fortune off the Trans-Texas Corridor and by charging tolls on existing Texas roadways already paid for by taxpayers.

“I never saw myself as a political activist. I just got really tired of seeing the direction our country is taking. When this issue of tolling our existing roads without a public vote came up, I got involved – not as a filmmaker – but as a concerned taxpaying citizen. There is a story to be told here not only about the double taxation of our roads but more importantly the TTC and the largest forcible eminent domain acquisition in U.S. history.”


Last year, Bill attended a public meeting on a proposed San Antonio toll road and noticed no one from the TV press was reporting on the debate or the other obvious toll issues.

“I picked up a video camera and started shooting these public meetings and became more annoyed that there was little or no press coverage. At one meeting, there were 800 people and I was the only one documenting the event with a camera. I ended up producing a documentary in order to share the truth with the public.”

Bill is currently retooling the film for a premiere in San Antonio later this month.

“My entire focus right now is this documentary. I’ve put my career on hold to produce this film. This is something for which people need to wake up and get involved. What’s at stake is far more than just a toll road.”

Always passionate about filmmaking, Bill also minored in speech and drama while at Trinity and credits several professors who served as mentors and jump started his career path.

“Steve Gilliam, department of speech and drama, was a great influence because he was very concerned about his students and gave us artistic freedom to be ourselves and accomplish what we could. Also, my advisor, David Thomas, department of communication, was instrumental in encouraging me to finish my first student film, Revelation, which was honored by the AMPAS (Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences) student competition, leading the way to University Film and Video grant for my next film project.”

Bill says the turning point in his professional life in Hollywood was directing his first feature film Where Truth Lies, starring his idol, Malcolm McDowell.

“That was a trip in itself…to have Alex sitting in my car discussing Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange.”

The other star was Kim Cattrall (of Sex and the City fame) and Bill almost blew that first meeting when he got caught in traffic, showed up late, and then couldn’t produce his wallet to pay for the dinner.

“I walked out of the restaurant thinking my career was over, but Kim called back within an hour and agreed to do the movie,” laughs Bill.

“Although I’m still star struck by Hollywood, I know that there are so many other important issues in the world and I just needed to produce a film that would actually make a difference.”

You may contact Bill at the following email address:
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For more information on his documentary, Truth be Tolled:
http://www.truthbetolled.com/

More Bexar County residents living in poverty...toll roads will only make it worse

The data out today further demonstrates what we already know, Bexar County can't afford toll roads. Forbes Magazine listed San Antonio in the Top 10 cities hardest hit by high gas prices. The toll viability studies show toll roads aren't viable at $3 a gallon for gas. It's inexplicable why politicians continue down the road of unsustainable transportation policies. Tolling our roads will make too many residents second class citizens priced off our FREEways, though they still pay gas tax for highways. Read more about it here and here.


Poverty pinches South Texas


By Nancy Martinez
Express-News
08/29/2007

While the nation's poverty rate declined for the first time in 10 years, new census figures released Tuesday reinforced what many here have known for years: Residents in Texas, especially South Texas, are among the country's poorest.About 3.7 million Texans were living in poverty last year. Brownsville, College Station and Edinburg were among the top U.S. cities of 65,000 or more with the highest rate of poverty, between 35 percent and 40 percent, according to estimates in the report, part of the 2006 Census Bureau's American Community annual survey.

The figures are important for Texas, which ranked ninth in the highest rate of poverty and first for the highest percentage of people in the nation without health insurance, since they are used to decide eligibility for things like federal housing, health, nutrition and child care benefits.


 
In fiscal 2007, nearly $419 million in federal money was doled out to states for such social services, among other things, according to Federal Funds Information for States, an arm of the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"Despite five years of economic growth, Texas' poverty rate has stagnated," said Frances Deviney, Senior Research Associate at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, based in Austin. "It's encouraging that conditions haven't gotten worse, but 3.7 million in the state are poor, and it's no different than two and five years ago."

Meanwhile, more Bexar County residents were living in poverty last year — 16.7 percent compared to 13.9 percent in 2005, according to the survey.

More coverage
U.S. Census Bureau report
This is the first year the American Community Survey included other groups, such as prisons, military bases, college dormitories and assisted-living homes, in its calculations.

Because of the change, it's difficult to determine the reasons behind the local increase in poverty, Deviney said.

"We're not comparing apples to apples," she said.

The Bexar rate compares to the national poverty rate, which dropped to 12.3 percent last year, or 36.5 million Americans, down from 12.6 percent in 2005, according to the survey.

That means about 251,864 people in Bexar County were living below the poverty level last year, according to estimates in the report.

The poverty threshold depends on the number of children in a household. For a family of three with two children, it's an annual income of $16,242, and for a family of four with two children, it's $20,444.

"There seems to be a growing disparity," said Shannon Nisbet, Director of Development at the Family Service Association, which provides a host of services to the needy. "Those who have money are getting more of it. Those who don't are getting poorer. There doesn't seem to be much of a middle class."

Last year, 81 percent of the 48,000 local people the association served had incomes of less than $15,000. One of those people was Janie Cardenas.

Cardenas, 34, and her four children, ages 15, 12, 6 and 1, slept in the same bedroom Monday night on the Northwest Side.

Living on a tight budget means the bedroom was without air conditioning, which broke earlier in the day.

Cardenas works full time as an attendance secretary at Clark High School and makes $1,300 per month. She gets $248 per month in food stamps and sometimes gets assistance to pay her utility bill. She could be getting disability benefits — a result of a fall when she was 2 years old that temporarily paralyzed her — but chooses to work.

"My life is a roller coaster," she said. "I try to manage and do the best I can."

Still, Cardenas is grateful that at least her family is insured — a safety net that many cannot claim.

The number of people without health insurance in the U.S. also increased, to 47 million.

A three-year average for years 2004 to 2006 found Texas had the most uninsured in the country, 24.1 percent of residents. The national rate of uninsured is 15.3 percent.

Nationally, Hispanic children were about three times as likely to be without health insurance, compared with Anglo children in 2006, according to the Census Bureau.

The real median household income in Texas rose between 2005 and 2006 to $44,900.

But Texas also had the two lowest median household incomes among counties with 250,000-plus population in the country: Cameron and Hidalgo counties.

Karl Eschbach, interim director of the Texas Institute for Demographic and Socioeconomic Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio, noted long-term trends found across the country.

"Incomes have tended to rise at the top of the distribution and declining stay at the bottom. Knowledge and skills are being rewarded, and if you don't have knowledge and skills, there are lots of pressures," he said.

The Associated Press, News Researcher Julie Domel, Director of News Research Michael Knoop and Database Editor Kelly Guckian contributed to this report.

SPP puts U.S. under UN in health crisis

Link to article here.
The Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) signed by Bush, the Prime Minister of Canada, and President of Mexico in March of 2005 is the framework for the NAFTA Superhighways, known as the Trans Texas Corridor in Texas. For more on the SPP go here.

U.S. under U.N. law in health emergency
Bush's SPP power grab sets stage for military to manage flu threats
August 28, 2007
By Jerome R. Corsi
8/23/06
© 2007 WorldNetDaily.com

The Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America summit in Canada released a plan that establishes U.N. law along with regulations by the World Trade Organization and World Health Organization as supreme over U.S. law during a pandemic and sets the stage for militarizing the management of continental health emergencies.The "North American Plan for Avian & Pandemic Influenza" was finalized at the SPP summit last week in Montebello, Quebec.

At the same time, the U.S. Northern Command, or NORTHCOM, has created a webpage dedicated to avian flu and has been running exercises in preparation for the possible use of U.S. military forces in a continental domestic emergency involving avian flu or pandemic influenza.

With virtually no media attention, in 2005 President Bush shifted U.S. policy on avian flu and pandemic influenza, placing the country under international guidelines not specifically determined by domestic agencies.

The policy shift was formalized Sept. 14, 2005, when Bush announced a new International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza to a High-Level Plenary Meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, in New York.

The new International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza was designed to supersede an earlier November 2005 Homeland Security report that called for a U.S. national strategy that would be coordinated by the Departments of Homeland Security, Health and Agriculture.
The 2005 plan, operative until Bush announced the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, directed the State Department to work with the WHO and U.N., but it does not mention that international health controls are to be considered controlling over relevant U.S. statutes or authorities.

Under the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, Bush agreed the U.S. would work through the U.N. system influenza coordinator to develop a continental emergency response plan operating through authorities under the WTO, North American Free Trade Agreement and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

WND could find no evidence the Bush administration presented the Influenza Partnership plan to Congress for oversight or approval.

The SPP plan for avian and pandemic influenza announced at the Canadian summit last week embraces the international control principles Bush first announced to the U.N. in his 2005 International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza declaration.

The SPP plan gives primacy for avian and pandemic influenza management to plans developed by the WHO, WTO, U.N. and NAFTA directives – not decisions made by U.S. agencies.

The U.N.-WHO-WTO-NAFTA plan advanced by SPP features a prominent role for the U.N. system influenza coordinator as a central international director in the case of a North American avian flu or pandemic influenza outbreak.

In Sept. 2005, Dr. David Nabarro was appointed the first U.N. system influenza coordinator, a position which also places him as a senior policy adviser to the U.N. director-general.

Nabarro joined the WHO in 1999 and was appointed WHO executive director of sustainable development and health environments in July 2002.

In a Sept. 29, 2005, press conference at the U.N., Nabarro made clear that his job was to prepare for the H5N1 virus, known as the avian flu.

Nabarro fueled the global fear that an epidemic was virtually inevitable.

In response to a question about the 1918-1919 flu pandemic that killed approximately 40 million people worldwide, Nabarro commented, "I am certain there will be another pandemic sometime."

Nabarro stressed at the press conference that he saw as inevitable a worldwide pandemic influenza coming soon that would kill millions.

He quantified the deaths he expected as follows: "I'm not, at the moment at liberty to give you a prediction on numbers, but I just want to stress, that, let's say, the range of deaths could be anything from 5 to 150 million."

In a March 8, 2006, U.N. press conference that was reported on a State Department website, Nabarro predicted an outbreak of the H5N1 virus would "reach the Americas within the next six to 12 months."

On Feb. 1, 2006, NORTHCOM hosted representatives of more than 40 international, federal and state agencies for "an exercise designed to provoke discussion and determine what governmental actions, including military support, would be necessary in the event of an influenza pandemic in the United States."

NORTHCOM and other governmental websites document the growing role the Bush administration plans for the U.S. military to be involved in continental domestic emergencies involving health, including avian flu and pandemic influenza.

NORTHCOM participated in a nationwide Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed exercise – code-named Exercise Ardent Sentry 06 – to rehearse cooperation between Department of Defense and local, state and federal agencies, as well as the Canadian government.

A pandemic influenza crisis was one of the four scenarios gamed in Exercise Ardent Sentry 06, involving a scenario of a plague in Mexico reaching across the border into Arizona and New Mexico.

As has been customary in SPP documents and declarations, the Montebello, Canada, announcement of the North American Plan for Avian & Pandemic Influenza acknowledges in passing the sovereignty of the three nations.

The announcement says, "The Plan is not intended to replace existing arrangements or agreements. As such, each country's laws are to be respected and this Plan is to be subordinate and complementary to domestic response plans, existing arrangements and bilateral or multilateral agreements."

Still, the SPP plan argues the risk from avian and pandemic influenza was so great to North America that the leaders of the three nations were compelled "to work collectively and with all levels of government, the private sector and among-non-governmental organizations to combat avian and pandemic influenza."

Moreover, the SPP plan openly acknowledges, "The WHO's international guidance formed much of the basis for the three countries' planning for North American preparedness and response."

WND previously reported NORTHCOM has been established with a command center at Peterson Air Force Base, tasked with using the U.S. military in continental domestic emergency situations.

WND also has reported President Bush signed in May two documents, National Security Presidential Directive-51 and Homeland Security Presidential Directive-20, which give the office of the president extraordinary powers to declare national emergencies and to assume near-dictatorial powers.

Following the Montebello summit last week, the SPP North American Plan for Avian & Pandemic Influenza was published on a made-over SPP homepage redesigned to feature agreements newly reached by trilateral bureaucratic working groups.

NYT: Pennsylvania’s war over tolling existing interstate, I-80

Link to article here. The Director from the University of North Texas is rather clueless to what's happening in his own state! The article claims "experts" have never heard of another existing interstate being converted to a toll road, but such a plan is alive and well all over the U.S., with Texas being ground zero.

Existing interstate I-35 is slated to be tolled from San Antonio to Dallas, along with portions of I-10 in Houston very soon with San Antonio to follow. Portions of state highways 121 in Dallas and 281 in San Antonio are also going to be converted if Governor Perry and his un-elected Transportation Commission have their way. A pilot program in the 2005 federal highway bill, SAFTEA-LU allows existing interstates to be tolled. The Texas Department of Transportation actually requested that Congress grant them the right to buy back (hence takeover) existing interstates in Texas so they can toll them and remove them from federal responsibility (Read more here.).

Texas is also the home of the highly controversial Trans Texas Corridor, frequently referred to as a NAFTA Superhighway until it became popular for the Bush Administration to deny their existence. This will be a 4,000 mile network of trade corridors to benefit multi-national corporations at the expense of Texas taxpayers, landowners, and commuters.

The New York Times owes it to its vast readership to find out what's unfolding all across the country, especially in Texas where Bush and his sidekick Texas Governor Rick Perry have literally led us as lambs to the highway lobby slaughter. They recently cooked-up "market-based" tolling which allows the government to charge the highest possible tolls using their government-sanctioned highway monopolies. Read this excellent commentary by one Texas journalist, William Lutz, here.

Pennsylvania Political War Over Planned Tolls on I-80
By Sean Hamill
New York Times
August 26, 2007
BROOKVILLE, Pa., Aug. 23 — Anthony Foote spends a lot of time driving his Kenworth T-600 truck on Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania. He prefers it to the state’s other east-west highway, the Interstate 76 turnpike, which can cost him $140 in tolls.

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 Interstate 80Map
Interstate 80


Lisa Kyle for The New York Times
Traffic was heavy this week on I-80 in Pennsylvania. Some 21 million vehicles travel annually, 70 percent from out of state.

 
So the news that the state plans to impose tolls on I-80 was as upsetting to Mr. Foote as finding an ugly scratch in the purple paint on his rig.

 
“I hate paying tolls,” he said. “It eats up my profit. If this goes through, you’ll have a lot of truckers avoiding Pennsylvania — including me.”

 
Pennsylvania officials plan to build up to 10 toll areas along the 311-mile stretch of Interstate 80 in the next three years to help pay for road, bridge and mass transit projects and subsidies.

 
The move has sparked a political war between the bipartisan coalition of state legislators who approved the plan and two Republican congressmen who say it is a “shell game,” taking revenue from rural Pennsylvania to bail out the state’s urban areas.

 
“It’s absolutely horrendous for my district,” said one of them, Representative John E. Peterson, whose Fifth Congressional District covers about half of I-80 in north central Pennsylvania. “Every major bill like this should be measured by whether this will make people less likely to come here. And if this stays active, we’ll never get another distribution center or similar business again in my district.”

 
Paying for new roads with tolls, or adding tolls to sections of older urban roads, is common across the country. But experts say that imposing tolls on an entire interstate highway that had been free may be unprecedented, in part because the federal government typically bans tolls on highways paid for with federal money, as I-80 was.

 
“I haven’t heard of another one,” said Bernard Weinstein, director of the Center for Economic Development and Research at the University of North Texas, which has done a half dozen studies on the impact of toll roads. “But I think most states will eventually have to move to the user principle. Tolls are going to be the wave of the future.”

 
Pennsylvania’s plan is to generate about $950 million a year through the sale of bonds backed by tollway revenue and other state sources over the first 10 years, with about $500 million going to road and bridge projects throughout the state, and the remaining $450 million going to subsidize mass transit in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and other cities.

 
State officials say that about 70 percent of the 21 million vehicles that travel I-80 annually are from out of state, and 40 percent are commercial trucks.

 
After the State Legislature and Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat, included the toll plan in their July budget deal, Mr. Peterson and Representative Phil English surprised state officials on July 24 by quietly slipping an amendment into the House’s version of the federal transportation bill to prevent it.

But hardly anyone outside of Mr. English and Mr. Peterson’s offices believe it will still be there after the House-Senate conference committee meets on the transportation bill. Pennsylvania’s senators, Bob Casey and Arlen Specter, have both said they do not want to interfere in the state’s decision-making and will not help the two congressmen.

Even so, Mr. English and Mr. Peterson are not giving up, and they believe they have public opinion, and federal law, on their side.

The plan requires the approval of the Federal Highway Administration, a process that state officials hope will be completed in a year. Under a program called the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program, states can add tolls to interstates paid for with federal money.

“It will fly only if the Federal Highway Administration decides it will fly,” said Mr. English, whose Third Congressional District covers about 30 miles of the western edge of I-80. “And this plan doesn’t fit the pilot program as proposed by Congress.”

Mr. English argues that the pilot program was intended to let states use new toll revenue for road maintenance and improvements, not mass transit.

But Joseph G. Brimmeier, chief executive for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, said he was confident Pennsylvania’s program would pass muster.

“We put together a package that helps solve the funding crisis in Pennsylvania for the next 50 years,” he said. “It solves the crisis without raising one cent of taxes. And here we are four weeks into this debate, and I don’t hear any plans from them to help solve these problems.”

Both Mr. English and Mr. Peterson said they liked the financing idea that Governor Rendell first proposed: leasing Interstate 76 to a private company to generate revenue. But state officials could not garner support for it, and the tolling plan, which includes raising rates on the rest of the existing tollway system as well, was approved instead.

Mr. Brimmeier said what upsets him the most about the representative’s efforts is that they “try to pit one part of Pennsylvania against another.”

When asked about the toll plan, many drivers on I-80 sounded resigned.

“I’d have to pay it, and I’d still go on 80, but I wouldn’t be happy about it,” said Dawn Toporcer, a fourth-grade teacher from Lordstown, Ohio, who was shopping with her two daughters for school at the Prime Outlets at Grove City, a regional outlet mall on Interstate 79, about three miles south of I-80.

Grove City was specifically chosen as the site for the mall 15 years ago because of its location near the intersection of the two interstates, said Michelle Czerwinski, a mall spokeswoman. The mall attracts millions of customers who get there by traveling I-80, and imposing tolls on the highway would hurt, she said.

“It’s just going to be a negative,” Ms. Czerwinski said. “Any kind of toll plan would slow down the traffic.”

TxDOT ad campaign draws ire


Link to article here.

Jaime Castillo: TxDOT's 'outreach' plan reaches deep into taxpayers' pockets
By Jaime Castillo
San Antonio Express-News
08/21/2007

Even if it's just for a moment, let us give credit where credit is due.

The Texas Department of Transportation has realized — finally — that it has an image problem when it comes to convincing Texans of the need for a vast network of toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The realization, however, comes with a price tag of $7 million to $9 million that, rather than going to build highways, will fuel an advertising campaign centered around a memo titled, "Keep Texas Moving: Tolling and Trans-Texas Corridor Outreach."

This is where I get off the track. Outreach?

The nerve of state highway officials to use such a term after years of helping fan the flames of skepticism among Texans for a tolled highway system.


The time for outreach would have been, say, two years ago, if not more.

Take, for example, the Trans-Texas Corridor, the 50-year plan favored by Gov. Rick Perry to build a superhighway of toll roads and rail and utility lines.

For more than a year and a half, Cintra, a Spain-based company, and its minority partner, Zachry Construction Corp. of San Antonio, fought tooth and nail in court to keep certain things — like how it would be financed — out of the public eye.

During that time, Texans also were expected to swallow other problematic revelations concerning the deal.

Those included the news that Dan Shelley, Perry's onetime liaison to the Legislature, left the governor's office to become a lobbyist for Cintra, where he had worked as a consultant prior to joining Perry's staff in the first place.

Then, 40 days before the Nov. 7, 2006, general election — a campaign which saw Perry vilified for his support of toll roads — TxDOT suddenly released the details of the Cintra/Zachry pact as if to say all's well that ends well.

To put the whole situation into perspective, TxDOT now wants to spend millions of dollars of public money to make you feel better about the public information it fought to keep you away from two years ago.

But TxDOT is hardly the king of hypocrisy in this situation.

Consider state Rep. Warren Chisum, chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee.

Not that I disagree with Chisum's summation of the need for a public relations blitz.

"I wonder what for?" he was quoted in Tuesday's Express-News as saying. "So people wouldn't hate 'em so bad?"

But Chisum went on to say that the money would be better spent fixing roads.

What a great idea! Surely Chisum used similar logic when he helped write the state's latest two-year budget.

Right?

Wrong.

Continuing what has become a biennial shell game, Chisum participated in crafting a budget that diverts one-tenth, or $1.6 billion, from the state highway fund to pay for things that have nothing to do with building and maintaining roads.

Sadly it's nothing new.

From fiscal year 1986 to 2005, nearly $8.7 billion of the fund was spent on non-highway items, including state historical and arts commissions and law enforcement functions with the Department of Public Safety.

In other words, Chisum, a Pampa Republican who was first elected in 1989, has been there nearly every step of the way as the Legislature as a whole became all too accustomed to robbing money from the state highway fund.

The state has grown by leaps and bounds, while the gas tax — the main source of revenue for highway building — has remained stagnant since 1991.

But thanks to the decisions of top elected officials, it's doubtful whether all the advertising pros in the world can put this Humpty Dumpty together again.

Help wanted: sound transportation policy; Rick Perry is raising taxes to benefit road contractors

OPINION: Help wanted: sound transportation policy
by William Lutz
Lone Star Report
August 27, 2007

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) says it needs to spend $9 million in taxpayer money to sell its vision of transportation policy to the public.

Maybe if TxDOT pursued rational transportation policies, the public support would follow, and it could spend that $9 million building and maintaining roads.

Listening to the state's transportation officials, including Gov. Rick Perry and Commissioner of Transportation Ric Williamson, talk is like reading a cheap imitation of a George Orwell novel.

Borrowing money and deficit spending are called "innovative financing techniques." The term "public-private partnerships" is used to describe mortgaging public property. Tax hikes are called "market-based" or "value-based" tolling or "market valuations." Government-sanctioned monopolies are referred to as "introducing competition to transportation financing."


Here's why Texans ought to be concerned.

Borrowing carries a price tag. The Texas Constitution has traditionally eschewed deficit spending and required existing revenue to pay for existing spending. Now, the state wants to build most of its roads by borrowing, either publicly or by getting a private firm to agree to borrow money, build a road, and collect tolls.

There's no such thing as free money, and often bond lawyers request concessions in exchange for the money fronted to the state. Many of these private financing arrangements prohibit the state from building free roads near a toll road, or require it to pay a stiff penalty if it builds a competing free road or wants out of the deal.
Secrecy. A 2005 transportation bill exempts draft copies of many road deals from public disclosure - even in the face of criminal subpoenas.

Prior to 2007, the terms of these deals weren't even public until after the contracts were signed, and the terms set in stone. In 2007, the Legislature provided some additional transparency, but more sunshine is still needed to ensure informed consent from the public.

No checks and balances. The ability of TxDOT to rent state highways to private vendors without a legislative appropriation basically gives TxDOT a license to print money, without going though the usual appropriations process. The Constitution wisely gives the Legislature the power of the purse, and state assets should be pledged only in response to a public legislative appropriation.

The state also takes some highway spending "off-budget" by allowing the creation of regional mobility authorities to build state highways. Even the state auditor cannot precisely calculate how much the state spends on roads.

No fiscal restraint. TxDOT officials often claim that it would require a $1.20 increase in the gasoline tax to build needed infrastructure without tolling. This figure is a cost estimate of every project that a region might want to build in the next few years. Both the Governor's Business Council and the State Auditor have taken issue with TxDOT's calculations.

It also shows a lack of priorities at the agency. Most Americans would love a longer vacation, a fancier home, and a nicer car. But their wallets get in the way. Every day, Texans take their limited resources and differentiate between wants and needs. The government should do so also.

Tax hikes. Remember when Bill Clinton referred to taxes paid by the well-to-do as "contributions," as if payment of taxes were somehow voluntary? Remember how much fun Republicans had lampooning all the rhetorical games Clinton played to avoid referring to his "deficit reduction" plan as a tax hike?

Well, it's happening again. In the 2007 transportation compromise, Perry insisted on "market-based tolling," whereby the tolls for new highways are set above the cost to build and maintain the road. Perhaps one could call a toll a "user fee" if the amount of the toll reflected the cost of building and maintaining the road (though even that's debatable). But when money is taken from a government-sanctioned toll road monopoly and used to build other free roads, that's a tax.

Simply stated, Perry is raising taxes.

These bad transportation policies are being promoted not only here but also by the U.S. Department of Transportation and in other states like Indiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. But just because George W. Bush likes something doesn't make it right or conservative.

There is a better alternative. It starts with the recognition that building roads is a legitimate function for government, as recognized by the U.S. and Texas constitutions.

Further, user-based fees such as gasoline taxes and auto registration fees are appropriate ways to fund that service, provided that all revenue from those fees goes to roads.

Then, the state should do for transportation what it is already doing in health, education, and welfare policies - look at costs. Why has the cost of building roads increased so quickly? Is this legitimate? Are there ways to reduce these increases?

Registration fees should be adjusted so that overweight trucks pay their fair share. The relationship between damage to a road and weight is exponential, and the registration fees and taxes should reflect that. The gas tax should be adjusted to acknowledge that, on a per-car basis, the gas tax has declined due to improved fuel economy in cars and trucks.

Once the state has gone though that process, then and only then should discussion of tolling begin.

It's time to stop pushing public policies that primarily benefit a select few highway contractors and investment bankers at the expense of the motoring public.

Instead, let's put a spirit of public service back into TxDOT and enact transportation policies that provide accountability and frugality. Those policies wouldn't take a $9 million PR campaign to sell to Texas voters.

Despite threats from the feds, TxDOT forced to abandon Cintra bid for Hwy 121

State Highway 121 was wrested from the grip of a foreign company, Cintra, and it's now in the hands of the North Texas Toll Authority (NTTA), despite threats of sanctions from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Talk about brazen! However, 16 miles of this 26 mile project are already built and PAID FOR WITH GAS TAXES (it's INEXCUSABLE that it's now converted to a toll road!). To make things worse, SB 792 allows even our public tolling entities to charge the HIGHEST POSSIBLE TOLLS! The FHWA's behavior, repeated threat letters of withholding our federal highway revenue, then backing off thanks to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, then threats of sanctions, it's clear the Bush Administration is a wholly-owned subsidiary of corporate hogs at the trough!

The FHWA is charged with protecting the public interest, and not only have they flouted that responsibility, they rabidly PROMOTED a foreign interest OVER the public's, ON OUR DIME! James Rae at the FHWA let the cat out of the bag a few months ago, that the FHWA, Texas Transportation Commission, Perry, and Bush truly believe in state run capitalism (which is really fascism). This is beyond appalling...this has to be a criminal dereliction of duty!

Texas officials say they were forced to abort the Cintra concession
Toll Road News
August 23, 2007

SH121
Texas

Texas officials have revealed that in the past few days they discussed with the FHWA canceling the past approval of NTTA taking over SH121, together with canceling the Cintra concession. They got an assurance the cancelations would get Texas back in compliance with federal procurement law. They have sent us copies of two letters on the SH121 crisis both dated Tuesday Aug 21 TxDOT-FHWA, and FHWA-TxDOT.The first TxDOT-FHWA letter responds to Richard Capka's blistering Aug 16 attack on Texas' handling of the SH121 procurement which he cited as clear violations of federal law and regulations.

Addressed to Janice Brown, FHWA rep in Austin TX the letter is signed by TxDOT deputy Amadeo Saenz and foreshadows actions taken today by the governing Texas Transportation Commission (TTC). It says they will consider canceling the Cintra procurement and canceling the decision (called a minute order) previously approving NTTA for SH121.

The letter then says: "We request FHWA concurrence that (these) actions...will be sufficient to bring TxDOT into compliance with federal law and not be subject to (sanctions)..."

The letter adds that further FHWA action on environmental clearance of SH121 is "critically needed" to move forward on SH121.

The response from FHWA rep Brown to TxDOT's Saenz says that the two proposed cancellations would indeed bring TxDOT into compliance with federal law and remove the basis for federal sanctions. It also says FHWA is working for "timely completion" of the environmental review.

TxDOT unpersuaded NTTA bid better but decision was local

Texas officials say it was their assessment Cintra provided the sounder proposal but that they had agreed to devolve responsibility to the Dallas-Ft Worth area council of governments' Regional Transportation Council (RTC) which preferred the late proposal by the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA). Under Texas law SB792 they say they are required to defer to the RTC despite their doubts about the choice of NTTA's proposal.

At the Texas Transportation Council meeting today the two cancellations were made:

Agenda item 8a passed as a new minute order notes that a RFQ for SH121 was issued March 2005 and after shortlisting a formal RFP was issued mid Aug 2006. Feb 28 the commission "conditionally awarded" the concession or comprehensive development agreement to Cintra.

However the instructions to proposers authorized TxDOT to suspend or terminate concession contract negotiations at any time - providing for cancellation of the procurement.

The resolution passed today says simply: "The commission has determined that it is in the best interest of the state to terminate the CDA negotiations with Cintra..." and "It is therefore ordered that the procurement... is canceled."

Agenda item 8b outlines the origins of the NTTA move with the RTC asking on Mar 26 if NTTA wanted to top the Cintra bid. NTTA submitted a huge document (almost entirely fluff and puff - TRnews) May 18, but the RTC accepted it. June 28 the TTC set the RTC to negotiate some substance with NTTA giving them 60 days to produce a project agreement plus another 45 days for financial close.

Today's minute order cancels those requirements giving the parties more time, saying environmental clearance is likely to take longer than the 60 days. The department has to come back to the commission with additional agreements to enable NTTA to take over SH121 for a period of up to 50 years.

Deal not done until the money arrives

Texas officials say the deal is far from done yet. One official said he has doubts that NTTA can come through with the financing promised the RTC. They think NTTA has stretched its borrowing power to, and perhaps beyond, prudent limits.

But caught between FHWA protests and the RTC-NTTA, and the requirements of SB792 they say they had no other alternative.

The officials say the RTC has taken a gamble with NTTA now that the Cintra procurement has been cancelled.

"If the NTTA doesn't come through it is back to square one. We have to start a procurement all over again."

The three bids back in February

We were given the bids by the three finalists in the procurement won by Cintra in February, socalled Form Ks. Cintra's offer more than doubled the next from Skanska with Macquarie a bit further behind in third place. See table nearby.

Cintra says accept TTC decision

José Lopez, Cintra’s Austin-based director issued a statement after the Commission meeting:

"While we believe our proposal – with its guarantee of $7.3 billion in new and additional revenue to the Metroplex for SH121 and other transportation projects – was the better option for the state and Dallas-Fort Worth, we respect the commission’s decision.

"We want to thank the commissioners and the staff at TxDOT for the time and consideration they have devoted to this issue. We know they are working diligently to address the serious mobility challenges facing Texans, and we wish them, NTTA and the Regional Transportation Council only the best as they move forward with SH 121 for North Texas drivers.

"...we look forward to continuing our work in Texas, the U.S. and around the world assisting officials meet the increasing demands on infrastructure by improving roadways, relieving congestion and enhancing driver safety in the most cost-effective and efficient ways possible."

Agreement reached NTTA, Regional Council and Dallas District TxDOT

NTTA, the regional council and Dallas District of TxDOT say they have finalized an interagency project agreement for SH121. Jorge Figueredo the new executive director of NTTA signed the draft agreement and submitted it to TxDOT. After it is signed by the executive director of TxDOT NTTA will have 45 days to financial close and delivery to TxDOT of over $3.3b - $2,500m plus $833m representing 49 future annual payments. In return they get a 50 year lease of SH121 and the rights to the toll proceeds in a kind of public sector concession.

Bill Hale of TxDOT Dallas office and Michael Morris of the RTC said in statements today that fuel tax funds are not doing the job of generating revenues needed. They see monetization of toll projects like SH121 as the only way to build needed new roads.

SH121 is 42km (26mi) long running northeast-southwest in the northern part of the greater Dallas area from US75 toward Dallas Ft Worth Airport. It crosses the Dallas North Tollway at about its midpoint and somewhat parallels the Pres Geo Bush Turnpike some miles to its north. It runs through Collin, Denton and Dallas counties.

SH121 is being built as a 12 lane highway with 2x3 toll lanes in the center as expressway and a pair of 3-lane one-way frontage roadways on either side which hit cross streets at signals. Slip lanes will connect the toll expressway roadways with the frontage roadways for access and egress from the tolled lanes in a common Texas configuration.

Tolling will be all-electronic at highway speed - no cash collection.

The vast passions and political energy invested in controlling SH121 should give it a place in tollroad history.

Feds threaten sanctions if don't give Hwy 121 back to Cintra!

Richard Capka federal highway administrator has sent a blistering letter to Texas authorities saying the US Government will subject it to extra scrutiny for a period of two years - read: long delays - if it persists with procurement on SH121 in violation of federal contracting laws. FHWA legal counsel Robert Rae several weeks ago made criticisms of the proposed cancellation of the toll concession with Cintra in favor of the North Texas Tollway pointing out the legal problems posed. But Capka's new letter turns up the heat substantially threatening serious sanctions against Texas.

Texas DOT's procurement for the 121 project in accordance with Texas law SB792 "violates federal law" the letter says bluntly.

The letter dated Aug 16 spells out two breaches of federal law involved in the state's handling of SH121:

- acceptance of the NTTA bid after the competitive procurement process had selected Cinta

- acceptance of a public sector bid in competition with private bids

TxDOT's procurement process in SH121 "works against the very foundation" of federal provisions for competitive procurement, Capka writes. This is because NTTA was permitted to bid after the terms of Cintra's bid had been public released - at the time TxDOT said it had selected Cintra.

"Allowing a bid submission after closure of a project's selection is an egregious violation of the basic requirements of a fair and competitive process. Here the final bid submitted by Cintra, along with many other proprietary details of Cintra's submission had been disclosed and were publicly available at the time NTTA submitted its proposal."

This contravenes 23USC112.

The letter accuses of TxDOT in its implementation of SB792 of having introduced "uncertainty and doubt" into the procurement process.

TxDOT's second violation of federal law, the Capka letter says is allowing a public entity to bid against a private entity: "Federal regulations specifically prohibit a public entity from bidding again a private entity," says Capka citing 23CFR636.112


FHWA regulations do not allow federal aid funds to participate in any violation of federal law, therefore a variety of sanctions will be imposed.

The letter announces:

- withdrawal of the special exceptions program (SEP-15) waiver granted to expedite SH121 and two other unnamed highway projects for accelerated environmental clearance

- withdrawal of approvals for TIFIA federal loan and Private Activity Bonds support

- a request for reimbursement of the US Government for its expenses in incurred in considering and evaluating the TIFIA loan associated with SH121

- no future federal funds for SH121

- additional oversight and approval requirements for future Texas applications so long as Texas breach of federal law is not remedied

- more "far reaching compliance measures" if Texas violates federal law again

The letter ends on a conciliatory note saying that FHWA believes that TxDOT can come into compliance with federal law even at this late date - an apparent allusion to the Texas Transportation Commission not having signed off on the NTTA deal for SH121. The letter appears to be saying Texas can still be in compliance with federal law if it calls off aborting the Cintra procurement, and rejects the proposed long term lease to the NTTA.

That very subject is up for discussion at the Texas Transportation Commission today.

The letter leaked in Texas and is the subject of a Texas newspaper report this morning.

TxDOT uses gas tax money to lobby for toll roads

Link to article here.
Texas Department of Transportation Uses Gas Tax Money to Lobby for Toll Roads
Activists urge investigation of Texas Department of Transportation lobbying on behalf of toll roads.
The Newspaper.com
August 24, 2007

Keep Texas Moving logoThe Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has been spending millions on a public relations project designed to lobby the public and the legislature on the benefits of toll roads. The San Antonio Express News reported Monday that an internal TxDOT memo entitled "Keep Texas Moving: Tolling and Trans-Texas Corridor Outreach" suggested the agency would spend $7-9 million promoting the tolling concept. In February, the state auditor's office chided TxDOT for hiding lobbying expenses behind other, legitimate expenses.

"A total of $4.5 million associated with the 21 invoices described above was charged to the incorrect activity," the audit report stated (view excerpt). "For example, $52,000 of a $628,000 invoice that was charged to engineering was actually for public relations expenses."

The multi-million dollar public relations campaign began in June with paid advertisements and a slick website called Keep Texas Moving, which promotes the 4000-mile Trans-Texas Corridor proposal. Expected to be up to 1200 feet wide, the toll road will cost between $145 and $183 billion to construct and require acquisition of 9000 square miles of land. Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, opposes the Trans-Texas Corridor and today sent a letter to Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle urging him to open an investigation.

"It's not only an inappropriate and wasteful use of our gas tax dollars by an agency perpetually claiming it's out of money for roads, but it's illegal for a public agency to take a policy position and use the public's tax money to sell them something using an under-handed PR campaign," Hall wrote.

Source: Dont like toll roads? TxDOT is talking to you (San Antonio Express News (TX), 8/24/2007)

Three amigos, erasing borders?

Link to article here

The Three Amigos, Erasing Borders?
Wesley Pruden / The Washington Times:
Published: 08-22-07
Some of the folks who gave President Bush a country lickin' on his immigration "reform" are spoiling for another round with him. The reason why is on display at the "Three Amigos" summit in Canada. Mr. Bush and President Felipe Calderon of Mexico are guests of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for another workout of a vaguely described scheme called the Security and Prosperity Partnership, which the White House says is nothing more than three amigos getting together to swap yarns, pull a cork and talk about NAFTA writ large.

But a remarkably diverse group of skeptics, including congressmen of both parties, critics of unrestrained global trade, conservative activists and left-wing academics and trade unionists, say it's free trade run amok.

The mysterious partnership is known only to the few by the acronym SPP. Most of the reporters at the Canadian summit can barely hide their languor, treating SPP as just another boring economic story White House reporters can't be expected to understand. The Associated Press describes SPP merely as "a way for the nations to team up on health, security and commerce."

Twenty-one Republicans and one Democrat have written to President Bush to tell him of "serious and growing concerns" in Congress about the "so-called" Security and Prosperity Partnership, and the House has adopted legislation barring U.S. transportation officials from even participating in meetings of the partnership.

The congressmen mostly seem miffed that the White House is undertaking far-reaching agreements with Canada and Mexico without telling them about it. The conservative skeptics say these agreements chip away national sovereignty — that the aim is to establish a North American Union, like the European Union, with unelected bureaucrats empowered to form a super-government to dispossess everyone but the elites. The liberal skeptics argue that "the super-government" would be a tool of the multinational corporations, eager to drive down wages and make wetbacks of everyone without a corporation big enough to plunder cheap labor.

The Mexican government, eager to export penniless Mexicans, is the most enthusiastic about the partnership and the billions of expected yankee dollars. Just two days after his election in 2000, Vicente Fox talked of his vision of a North American common market, a customs union, a common tariff, joint monetary policy and the "free flow of labor" across borders. It's difficult to imagine what Mr. Fox calls a "free flow" of labor if what we've had for decades hasn't satisfied him.

Bush chooses to ridicule opposition rather than deny charges of NAFTA Superhighways


...that tells me something. When the President was directly asked if he denies there is a plan in place to merge the 3 countries, he DID NOT DENY IT, but rather tried the ol' distraction method...look over here, aren't my opponents a bunch of wild-eyed nut jobs? Read this article and look at the comprehensive areas where they seek to "harmonize," "streamline," and "integrate." Notice who IS at the table, since we already know the public isn't...Corporations!

This sort of elitist snobbery is an insult to Americans and the citizens of the other countries as well. Something else I noticed they agreed upon in the closed door meeting, to obligate the American taxpayer to fight Mexico's drug war for them (rather than secure our border and get the Mexican government to do its job of rooting out their own drug cartels..Mexico is now the home of the richest man in the world, they have the resources, they just choose to allow their citizens to live in abject poverty while the wealthy ruling class ask the United States for hand outs). This provision showed up in the immigration bill under SPP. The grassroots defeated it, so what does Bush do? He unilaterally incorporates it into SPP policy AGAINST the will of Congress and the citizens of the United States.

What's the pricetag? To what does it obligate the U.S. taxpayers? Was this provision EVER debated by our elected representatives in Congress?....NO! We live under the Bush-Perry elitist oligarchy (it's no coincidence Perry gets a hit piece on the opposition in the Houston Chronicle today doing the same, ridiculing concerned citizens), and it's high time we start calling for impeachment while we still have a country!

Link to article below, here.

PREMEDITATED MERGER
Bush doesn't deny plans for N. American Union
President avoids question, ridicules 'conspiracy theorists' who believe it
Posted: August 21, 2007
© 2007 WorldNetDaily.com

The leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico conferred over the Security and Prosperity Partnership
MONTEBELLO, Quebec – President Bush today sidestepped a direct question about whether he'd be willing to categorically deny there is a plan to create the North American Union.

Instead, he ridiculed those who believe that is taking place as conspiracy theorists.

The exchange came at a news conference held by Bush, Mexico's President Felipe Calderon, and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who met at a resort in the rural woods outside of Ottawa, Quebec, to discuss their latest work on the Security and Prosperity Partnership.

After the trio presented their prepared statement about the SPP, several reporters who had been selected in advance were allowed to ask questions.

When it came time for a question from a Fox News reporter, Bush was asked if he would be willing to categorically deny that there is a plan to create a North American Union, or that there are plans to create NAFTA Superhighways.

"As you three leaders meet here, there are a growing number of people in each of your countries who have expressed concern about the Security and Prosperity Partnership. This is addressed to all three of you. Can you say today that this is not a prelude to a North American Union, similar to a European Union? Are there plans to build some kind of superhighway connecting all three countries? And do you believe all of these theories about a possible erosion of national identity stem from a lack of transparency from this partnership?" was the question, according to a White House transcript.

Reporters at the news conference said he sidestepped, instead adopting the tactic that those who are arguing the European Union model of integrating nations into a larger continental union is being used in North America should be ridiculed.

He called it an old political scare tactic, to try to create a wild conspiracy and then demand that those who "are not engaged" prove that it isn't happening.

Bush's answer was:

"We represent three great nations. We each respect each other's sovereignty. You know, there are some who would like to frighten our fellow citizens into believing that relations between us are harmful for our respective peoples. I just believe they're wrong. I believe it's in our interest to trade; I believe it's in our interest to dialogue; I believe it's in our interest to work out common problems for the good of our people.
"And I'm amused by some of the speculation, some of the old – you can call them political scare tactics. If you've been in politics as long as I have, you get used to that kind of technique where you lay out a conspiracy and then force people to try to prove it doesn't exist. That's just the way some people operate. I'm here representing my nation. I feel strongly that the United States is a force for good, and I feel strongly that by working with our neighbors we can a stronger force for good.

"So I appreciate that question. I'm amused by the difference between what actually takes place in the meetings and what some are trying to say takes place. It's quite comical, actually, when you realize the difference between reality and what some people are talking on TV about."

Harper joined in. There's not going to be any NAFTA Superhighway connecting the three nations, he said, and it's "not going to go interplanetary either," he said.

Harper said the SPP discussions that were held concerned such pressing issues as jelly beans. He said the business interests expressing their desires for progress on the SPP noted there were different standards in the United States and Canada, and there was a discussion about whether those standards could be made uniform for the U.S. and Canada.

Bush's comments echoed the comments published just a day earlier in the Ottawa Citizen by David Wilkins, the U.S. ambassador to Canada.

"While conspiracy theories abound, you can take it to the bank that no one involved in these discussions is interested in, or has ever proposed, a 'North American Union,' a 'North American super highway,' or a 'North American currency,'" he wrote.

"The United States, Canada and Mexico are three distinct, sovereign countries that practice democracy differently," he wrote. "Each proudly defends its own interests. But our leaders also recognize that we share a continent in this post-Sept. 11 world, where terrorism is but one threat. We have a vested interest in working together to prevent potential threats outside North America – like those posed by pandemic flu or improperly labeled foods, for example – from penetrating our borders.

Wilkins wrote that the nations also are "exploring ways to detect radiological threats and coordinating emergency efforts along our borders in the event of a man-made or natural disaster. It just makes sense when you share thousands of miles of common border to share a common emergency-management plan."

He said another goal is to reduce the cost of doing business across national borders.


"The Late Great USA," which was criticized by President Bush at the conclusion of the SPP summit in Quebec
However, Jerome Corsi, a Harvard Ph.D. whose newly published book, "The Late Great USA," uses the government's own documentation to show the advance of a North American Union, said ridicule is the "last resort of someone who is losing an argument."

Such tactics, Corsi said, "underestimate the intelligence of people listening, and people realize that the argument wasn't answered."

At the news conference, he noted, Bush failed to respond to the Fox News question with a denial of the plans for a North American Union.

And, Corsi said, "Bush did not address the fact that Texas Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a two-year moratorium on the Trans-Texas Corridor project," believed to be the starting point for an eventual continent-wide grid of NAFTA Superhighways.

"Just to ridicule the idea, when he had a chance to categorically deny it, raises doubts in peoples' minds, especially when these meetings aren't transparent," Corsi added.

The meeting this week, which focused on economic issues, was attended by representatives of dozens of multinational corporations anxious to have their manufacturing and sales processes smoothed.

However, Corsi said, "not one person who objects is permitted inside the room."

At the same time, Bush did affirm that there is a plan under consideration for the United States to provide military assistance to Mexico's military in its battles in the drug war, although officials were not ready to announce what that plan includes.

The three national leaders simply affirmed that drug trade is a continental problem and would demand a continental solution.

The formal statement from the three leaders referred to the "opportunities and challenges facing North America and [the need] to establish priorities for our further collaboration."

They said the three nations already have agreed to a North American plan for avian and pandemic influenza, a "Regulatory Cooperation Framework," an intellectual property action strategy and a "Trilateral Agreement for Cooperation in Energy Science and Technology."

"The North American Competitiveness Council (NACC), announced last year in Cancun, has provided us with thoughtful recommendations on how we could strengthen the competitive platform for business," the statement said.

The statement said the Regulatory Cooperation Framework will allow various rules to be streamlined across borders.

"In the coming year, we ask our ministers to consider work in areas, such as the chemicals, automotive, transportation, and information and communications technology sectors," the statement said.

And the Intellectual Property Action Strategy "also gives us an invaluable tool for combating counterfeiting and piracy, which undermine innovation, harm economic development and can have negative public-health and safety implications," the three said.

Food safety and border security also were discussed. "Our governments will continue to address the safety of food and products imported into North America, while facilitating the significant trade in these products that our countries already have and without imposing unnecessary barriers to trade," the leaders said.

"It is sometimes best to screen goods and travelers prior to entry into North America. We ask our ministers to develop mutually acceptable inspection protocols to detect threats to our security, such as from incoming travelers during a pandemic and from radiological devices on general aviation," the statement said.

But protesters who staged events in Ottawa as the meetings were moving forward, warned of the integration and harmonizing the SPP seeks.

"The SPP is pursuing an agenda to integrate Mexico and Canada in closed-door sessions that are getting underway today in Montebello," Howard Phillips, the chairman of the Coalition to Block the North American Union, told an earlier press conference in Ottawa.

"We are here to register our protest," Phillips added, "along with the protests of thousands of Americans who agree with us that the SPP is a globalist agenda driven by the multi-national corporate interests and intellectual elite who together have launched an attack upon the national sovereignty of the United States, Canada and Mexico."

Connie Fogel, head of the Canadian Action Party, agreed with Phillips.

"Canadians are complaining that the SPP process lacks transparency," Fogel told the press conference. "Transparency is a major issue, but even if the SPP working groups were open to the public, we would still object to their goal to advance the North American integration agenda at the expense of Canadian sovereignty."