End to exorbitant toll fines in sight? AG may decide

Link to article here.

RELIEF COMING? Ending exorbitant toll fines and fees may be decided by Texas Attorney General

By Terri Hall
September 15, 2017

It’s been a long time coming, but Texas commuters may finally cut a break when it comes to relief from exorbitant toll fines and fees. Texas State Rep. Joe Pickett, former House Transportation Committee Chair, fired off a request for an official legal opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton this week to see if the caps on toll fines and fees in Senate Bill 312 apply to other toll entities besides the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Pickett’s House colleagues Rep. Ina Minjarez, Rep. Tom Oliverson, and Rep. Tony Dale joined him in signing the letter.

The Texas legislature passed SB 312 in May during the 85th legislative session, and it contains a strong toll collection reform capping the administrative fees imposed on drivers to just $48/year and $250/year in criminal penalties. But one section of the bill references another section of the transportation code that says an entity operating a toll lane has the same powers and duties regarding toll collection as TxDOT. That’s the hook anti-toll advocates are hoping will force the law to apply to all toll agencies, not just TxDOT when it comes to taming the out of control, excessive fines and fees being tacked onto toll bills across the state.

Victory! Tolls come off several Texas highways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where the chicanery usually happens, and it did.

Killing the private toll road bill made national news!

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

Watch the Bloomberg story on it here

HB 2861 Record Vote

FB post bootOut Phillips crew

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

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


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

Source: House Journal Recorded Vote

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

Trump floats gas tax hike after tolls get cold shoulder

Link to article here.

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

By Terri Hall
May 5, 2017

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

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

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

Victory for Texas landowners along the Red River

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

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

Schertz fights back against Cibolo's private toll road scheme

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

Revolt: Sister city fights back against Cibolo private toll road

By Terri Hall
April 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to Op/Ed here.

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

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

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

Editorial: 'Tolls are necessary, deal with it'

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

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

Court victory for Texas property rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note to Trump: Key states tossed pro-toll incumbents

Link to article here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to article here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to editorial here.

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

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

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

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