Prop 7: Texas voters have chance to secure funding for non-toll roads

Link to article here.

Texas voters encouraged to support Prop 7 to secure funding for non-toll roads
By Terri Hall
September 28, 2015
Examiner.com

It’s been a long road to finding the funding necessary to shore-up the Texas State Highway Fund, but with passage of Proposition 7 on the ballot November 3, Texans will finally see a significant boost to the state’s road funding without raising taxes.  Early voting begins October 19.

Prop 7 dedicates $2.5 billion of the general sales and use tax (above $28 billion) and thirty-five percent of the vehicle sales tax (above $5 billion) to the construction and maintenance of non-toll highways. The general sales tax takes effect in 2017, and the vehicle sales tax dedication starts in 2019.

Plan to put San Antonio on a 'road diet'

Link to article here.

Alamo city transportation board approves road diet for Hwy 281
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
September 14, 2015

Today, the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) unanimously voted to approve a resolution to do the US 281 project (from Loop 1604 to the Bexar County line) in San Antonio without tolls. However, the new proposal involves converting one existing, unrestricted freeway lane into an HOV-bus lane (a restricted lane), shrinking existing capacity open to all cars rather than expanding it. While there are six general purpose (unrestricted) highway lanes today, once the conversion is completed, there will be only four.

Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials claim the current roadway is akin to a frontage road, despite maps from the U.S. Geological Survey and documents from the Federal Highway Administration showing otherwise. TxDOT argues they're not shrinking highway main lanes by crediting the addition of new frontage lanes to the outside of the existing highway in the lane count. This fuzzy math enables them to assert they're 'doubling' existing capacity.

Toll network that's California-izing Texas

Link to article here.

Michael Morris: The man behind the toll network California-izing Texas
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
August 31, 2015

Many North Texans struggle to get around the Dallas-Ft.Worth metroplex without having to pay tolls and now they’re asking, just who’s responsible for this punitive new tax? The answer is Michael Morris. Morris is the Executive Director of the Regional Transportation Council (RTC) and its parent bureaucracy, the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG).

Back in 2005, when former Governor Rick Perry had already begun his steady march to impose tolls in earnest across Texas, Morris was on board even before Perry took office. In a Texas Transportation Commission meeting that December, Morris gave a lengthy diatribe to the commission in support of the possibility of presiding over the largest toll managed lane network in America.

State agency grants permit to take Hill Country land for private developer despite judge’s ruling

Link to article here.

TCEQ grants permit to take land for private developer despite judge’s ruling
By Terri Hall
August 5, 2015
Exmainer.com

The Graham family can never seem to cut a break from big government. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the state agency that grants wastewater permits, approved a permit for the neighboring developer of Johnson Ranch in spite of the fact that Administrative Law Judge Sarah Ramos, who heard the Graham’s case in a contested case hearing, ruled that the permit should be denied. Allowing the developer to dump its treated sewage onto the Graham’s property means they’ll lose that land under the ‘waters of the state’ claimed by the state of Texas, even though the area is a dry creek bed and unnamed tributary of the Cibolo Creek. It’s a backhanded way for a developer to exploit the power of government for its own private gain.

Federal Highway bill takes center stage in waning hours of Congress

Link to article here.

Federal Highway bill takes center stage in waning hours of Congress
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
July 28, 2015

The clock is about to run out on the Federal Highway Trust Fund and Congress has considered competing bills about how to proceed. The House passed a $10.8 billion, 5-month continuation bill that would only last until May of 2016, while the Senate is poised to pass a $350 billion long-term 6-year bill, that’s only funded for three of those years. The upper chamber also added an amendment to its highway bill to revive the controversial Export-Import Bank that expired June 30. The debate on the Ex-Im Bank reauthorization raged until late into the evening Sunday, eventually passing by a vote of 64-29. Desperate House Republicans hastily filed an even shorter continuation bill Monday, kicking the can down the road for just another three months.

Accountability, reform, and transparency: Texas legislature delivers mixed bag

Source: Article

NOTE: This is the last in a three-part series on the transportation wrap-up to the 84th legislative session of the Texas Legislature.

For taxpayers, how toll roads are done are just as important as making progress in stopping them. In the 84th legislative session of the Texas Legislature that came to a close yesterday, concerned citizens are left stunned by the lack of action in holding toll entities accountable, despite a laundry list of scandal, waste, and abuse. The North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) is currently under investigation by the FBI for concerns about undisclosed conflicts of interest with some board members. A class action lawsuit was filed against the NTTA for excessive fines and fees, and the unpopularity of toll roads is reflected in the unpopularity of the unelected toll agencies that implement them. Yet, no action was taken to subject these agencies to sunset review, or even a forensic state audit.

Abbott brought different atmosphere to Texas legislature

Source: Article

NOTE: This is the second in a three-part series on the transportation & property rights wrap-up to the 84th legislative session of the Texas Legislature.

Success can be measured as much by what didn’t pass as what did pass.

While anti-toll advocates may not be wholly pleased with their lack of progress in getting their bills through the 84th session of the Texas legislature that wrapped-up yesterday, they were successful in stopping many other bills that would have sailed through in prior sessions under former Governor Rick Perry's pro-toll leadership. Incoming Governor Greg Abbott's campaign promise to fix Texas roads without raising taxes, fees, or tolls immediately changed the atmosphere at the Capitol.

Indeed, during one of his debate's with Democrat Wendy Davis he emphasized, “My plan does not involve any toll roads, period. I’m not interested in adding toll roads in my plan.”

Texas legislature leaves without stopping toll roads

Source: Article

NOTE: This is the first in a three-part series on the transportation wrap-up to the 84th legislative session of the Texas Legislature.

The 84th session of the Texas legislature just concluded yesterday, but the fallout will be felt by taxpayers for decades to come. Over 75 bills were filed to replace or curtail tolling or to make it more transparent and accountable. When factoring in property rights and efforts to restrict eminent domain abuse, the total came to 96. So with a pipeline full of bills should have sent a strong message to leadership that the taxpayers sent elected officials to Austin to significantly curb if not stop toll roads. But the momentum quickly came to a halt when only a handful of anti-toll bills got a hearing, and very few key bills passed. Of those that did, most were watered down.

Alamo city to impose bus-toll lanes on every freeway

Link to article here.

Alamo city to impose bus-toll lane network on every freeway
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
May 19, 2015

Monday, the Alamo Area Transportation Policy Board known as the AAMPO debated and eventually adopted a study to impose a managed toll lane/transit priority lane system across virtually every San Antonio highway, including Interstate 410, US 90, US 181, and more (which up until now have not been in the toll plans). The board originally voted to initiate the study back in July of 2013, taking until now to whittle down the bidders to the final winning contractor - Parsons Brinckerhoff.

Casting a cloud of cronyism and raising a possible conflict of interest, Parsons Brinckerhoff recently hired former Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) District Engineer Mario Medina, who is also a former AAMPO board member himself that introduced the toll-transit priority lane concept to the board and pushed for its adoption on the US 281 toll project in 2012. But the fate of toll roads is in doubt. A new board and a wave of anti-toll sentiment has not only swept across the Alamo City, but across Texas.

Straus blocks anti-toll amendments from being heard

Link to article here.

Leadership of Texas House forbids anti-toll amendments from being heard
By Terri Hall
May 1, 2015
Examiner.com

Yesterday, conservative lawmakers pushed to attach key toll road reforms to two transportation bills in the Texas House, but they were thwarted by Speaker Joe Straus and his parliamentarian Chris Griesel who would not allow them to present their amendments. Griesel told them the amendments weren’t ‘germane’ (or salient) to the bills, HB 13 and HB 20, and blocked Rep. Jeff Leach and Rep. Jonathan Stickland from even laying out their amendments. Straus and Griesel utilized the same technique as they did on a Stickland amendment to the open carry bill the week before. The two decided to reject the amendments by executive fiat BEFORE the member is even allowed to present them.

Toll agencies oppose traffic studies being made public

Link to article here.

Toll agencies testify to keep financial studies secret from the public
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
April 18, 2015

Fireworks erupted in the Texas House Transportation Committee Thursday as Rep. Cindy Burkett laid out her bill, HB 2620, to make toll viability studies subject to open records laws. The North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) and Regional Mobility Authorities (RMAs) testified that they want to keep the studies secret from the public until at least 90 days prior to issuing bonds. In effect, that’s well after the public and decision makers can do anything to stop a project that’s not financially viable. The NTTA cited ‘possible’ issues with bond investors and federal securities law if the information released from preliminary studies conflict with final investment grade studies.

Committee members grilled the toll agencies for nearly an hour. Rep. Ron Simmons told the NTTA’s bond counsel that the Emerging Technology Fund bureaucrats testified against transparency, too, claiming similar issues on deals with private equity firms. But Simmons would have none of it.

Texas Tribune interview with Transportation Chairmen

Watch the interview here.

On April 7, Texas Tribune's Evan Smith interviewed the Senate and House Transportation Committee Chairmen, Robert Nichols and Joe Pickett. Note that they don't seem to have gotten the message from the last election that Texans DO NOT want more toll roads. The Chairmen are not motivated to take action to reduce the number of toll roads that are already on auto pilot and set to be unleashed on Texans for the next 25 years. May Texnas are paying $200-$400 a month in toll to get to work now. The tax burden is unsustainable and threatens the Texas economic 'miracle.' If all the planned toll roads are indeed built, this new toll tax on mobility will be totally unavoidable in just 10 years. 

It's also interesting to note that Chairman Nichols is opposed to mass transit because none of the systems pay for themselves at the fare box - they need public subsidies. Yet, he's blocking Texans' efforts to end taxpayer subsidies to toll roads through bills like SB 485/HB 1734 and HB 3725 that would take the toll off the road when it's paid for and end system financing (using toll revenues from one road to pay for another that can't pay for itself - in other words spreading toll revenues around to support a 'system'. System financing is socialism for roads.).

Eminent domain by private high speed rail company draws ire

Link to article here.

Eminent domain takes center stage with high speed rail project
By Terri Hall
April 9, 2015
Examiner.com

The fight over eminent domain and who should wield it came to a fore in the Senate Transportation Committee yesterday. A public hearing on SB 1601 authored by Senator Lois Kolkhorst would prevent private companies from using eminent domain for a high speed rail project. The bill narrowly passed the committee by a vote of 5-4. Surprisingly, two grassroots senators, both considered tea party candidates, Don Huffines and Van Taylor, voted against the bill along with both senators from Houston.  Texas Central Railway (TCR), whose parent company is Central Japan Railway Company, wants to build a 240-mile privately owned and operated high speed rail line from Dallas to Houston, causing the nine counties in its path to rise up in opposition.

Aside from the obvious negative impacts from a safety, land use, and quality of life perspective, the fact that this private company can wield the power of eminent domain for its own private gain has stirred up a hornet’s nest in the long-standing struggle to protect property rights. Concerned citizen Dan Agan and the President of Texans Against High Speed Rail, Kyle Workman, expressed the disgust of many Texans who vehemently object to a private company having the power of eminent domain for a private project. The easement needed would be 100 feet wide to accommodate a double track and security fencing, and even wider near substations.

Hill country landowner wins a round in legal fight with developer

Link to article here.

Judge rules in favor of Hill Country landowner threatened by neighboring developer
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
April 2, 2015

Landowners Pat and Terrell Graham won a small victory in the battle with a neighboring developer of the Johnson Ranch in the Texas Hill Country. Administrative law Judge Cathleen Parsley has ruled in favor of the Graham and Lux families recommending that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) deny the Johnson Ranch developer, DHJB Development, its permit seeking to take over a dry creek bed on the Lux-Graham family ranch to accommodate discharge of treated sewage and storm water runoff from the Johnson Ranch Subdivision (read the decision here).

DHJB initially sought a land application with TCEQ but then sought to convert it to a discharge permit. Rather than contain the treated effluent on the developer’s own 750-acre property, it decided to amend its permit and dump 350,000 gallons a day of treated sewage onto his neighbors’ property so that DHJB could build even more houses per acre.

Grassroots unveil toll road reforms at Capitol for Toll-free Texas Day

Link to article here.

TollFree Texas graphic 300Grassroots ask lawmakers for ‘Toll-free Texas,’ unveil reform package
By Terri Hall
March 25, 2015
Examiner.com

Over one-hundred Texans fed-up with toll roads popping-up everywhere converged on the Texas state capitol Monday to unveil a package of toll road reforms, like taking the toll off the road when it’s paid for and preventing gas taxes from being used to build or bailout toll roads - a double tax. Rep. Scott Sanford (R - Collin) initiated the citizens lobby day sponsored by Texans for Toll-free Highways, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), Texas Eagle Forum, Grassroots America, Lt. Governor’s Grassroots Advisory Committee Subcommittee on Transportation, and Texas Patriots, PAC. The groups advocated fiscal responsibility first when it comes to transportation.

With the infusion of over $1 billion a year in new cash from the state’s Rainy Day Fund with passage of Proposition One last November, citizens want to see toll roads restrained as the legislature contemplates sending more money to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

Toll-Free Texas: Reform Package - 2015

TollFree Texas graphic 300Read this for a full review of how the Toll-Free Texas' Day at the capitol.

Package details and related press releases: “The citizen groundswell against toll proliferation in Texas is heartening to see. Texans unfortunately have experienced firsthand how interstate tolling can stifle economic productivity and tax-away prosperity, unfairly penalize drivers with fines for tolls they don’t owe, and restrict access to roads paid for by the public. The efforts of Toll Free Texas are commendable and reflect a broader awareness by people that tolls are the worst possible way to fund roads.”
~ Julian Walker, spokesman for Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI)

Austin’s complete streets policy a complete nightmare

Link to article here.

Austin’s ‘complete streets’ policy a complete congestion nightmare
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
March 9, 2015

Austin’s social engineering is in full bloom. In an attempt to punish drivers and force them into a bus, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) drafted a new long-range plan, 2040 Regional Transportation Plan, chalk-full of ‘complete streets’ nonsense like tearing up auto lanes and converting them into bus only lanes. CAMPO will hold a public meeting on the plan tonight at the University of Texas LBJ Auditorium starting at 6 PM.

Riverside Drive, South Congress, North Lamar, Guadalupe, Burnet Road and several other major thoroughfares, will all lose two traffic lanes. Those lanes will be turned into Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lanes. No cars allowed.

Privacy threats: Electronic invasion, license plate readers to black boxes, drivers under assault

Link to article here.

Opinion: US Senator Reports On Automobile Privacy Threat
US Senator Ed Markey condemns automobile manufacturers for privacy invasions promoted by the federal government.
The Newspaper.com
February 13, 2015

Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts) on Monday released a report on automotive privacy highlighting the failure of vehicle manufacturers to ensure the highest levels of security and privacy. The report examined the measures industry has taken to prevent electronic intrusion and the way companies gather and treat sensitive personal information. Markey concluded that government intervention may be appropriate.

"New standards are needed to plug security and privacy gaps in our cars and trucks," Markey's news release explained. "We need to work with the industry and cyber-security experts to establish clear rules of the road to ensure the safety and privacy of 21st-century American drivers."

Abbott Taps Two for Transportation Commission

Link to article here.

Abbott Taps Two for Transportation Commission
by Aman Batheja
Texas Tribune
Feb. 13, 2015

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Friday he was appointing former state Rep. Tryon Lewis and San Antonio banker J. Bruce Bugg Jr. to the Texas Transportation Commission. Both appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

Bugg will replace Commission Chairman Ted Houghton, and Lewis will replace Commissioner Fred Underwood, Abbott spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said. Abbott has not yet said who will be the commission's new chair. The five-member commission oversees the Texas Department of Transportation.

Lewis, an Odessa Republican, was a state representative from 2008 to 2015 and served a stint as chairman of the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee. Prior to that, he was a state district judge from 1985 to 2006. He is currently a partner at the Atkins, Hollmann Jones, Peacock, Lewis & Lyon Law Firm in Odessa.

Bugg is a former senior adviser to Gov. Rick Perry and a former chairman of TexasOne, a quasi-governmental agen­cy that served as Perry’s chief marketing tool to draw businesses to Texas. He is also chairman of the boards of the Bank of San Antonio and Argyle Investments Co., a private investment firm, and president of Texas Hill Country Bancshares.

“Bruce Bugg and Tryon Lewis will be effective voices for accelerating economic expansion, growing jobs and improving infrastructure without raising taxes, fees or tolls,” Abbott said in a statement. “I look forward to working with them in providing permanent solutions to our state’s transportation challenges.”

Problems with ‘market driven’ road maintenance approach

Link to article here.

Though this is a very partisan viewpoint, her points about the pitfalls of road privatization are spot-on.

Problems with ‘market driven’ road maintenance approach
By Judy Ferro
Idaho Press
February 16, 2015

Recently Sen. Jeff Siddoway helped me realize that not all Republican legislators who’ve supported measures designed to destroy the public schools want to destroy the public schools. Now I’m hoping that Idaho also has Republican legislators who don’t realize that measures they support are designed to end public ownership of roads and bridges.

Sound impossible? Check out this headline from Bloomberg.com, “CPP Investment Board to buy 10 percent of 407 Toll Road for About $878 million.” That’s right. Corporations with $2 trillion sitting in banks are seeking profitable investments. Maybe people can’t afford to buy new things, but they’ll pay for necessities like roads.

Republicans claim that we can’t take care of roads and bridges today because we can’t pay for them. Never mind that in the 1950s — definitely not boom years — we embarked on an interstate highway system that was the envy of the world. Republicans then supported building roads because such long-term investments would help both businesses and people. For Democrats, there was the added bonus of good-paying jobs. Today’s Republican leadership, however, is more interested in making the rich even richer.

Since 2008, the transportation policy of ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — has called for a “market-driven highway system” and “private investment in highway projects.”

“Tolling,” charging to use roads, is the subject of five of its seven principles. Do I need to remind you that several Idaho legislators are ALEC members? Loyola University economics professor Walter Block published a major book urging privatizing roads in 2009. Ted Stossel, Peter Samuel, David Klein and Linda and Morris Tannehill have echoed his call. Most cite “reducing congestion” as the No. 1 argument for privatizing.

Road crowded? Just charge more. Make those who can’t afford a $5 toll each day to crowd into side streets so the paying customers can cruise without delays. Economics professor Bruce L. Benson suggests privatizing even those side roads and giving the owners the power to police the environs so they can guarantee the safety of their customers.

Just how high would tolls have to be to provide a private police force? Powerful people who crusade against “one more cent” in taxes aren’t worried about your pocketbook. They have no qualms about you having to pay whatever the market will bear to corporations like Toll Road Investors or CPP Investments. And toll supporters don’t have to convince the public to support privatization. They just have to prevent us from maintaining our decaying roads and bridges long enough that fear of death or injury builds.

A collapsing bridge killing a dozen or more and embroiling the state in lawsuits would be a boon for them. And once we let our roads and bridges go, the chances of buying them back are nil. How do we retain our public infrastructure? To start off, we should follow Siddoway’s lead and give maintaining our roads and bridges a higher priority than new tax cuts. Idaho already collects the least taxes per person of any state.

Then we should spread the cost over a number of measures. Legislators are considering increasing user fees for long-haul trucks, vehicle registration fees and the gas tax. (It’s doubtful congressional Republicans can increase the federal gas tax; the Koch brothers and other oil billionaires are against it.)

There is also talk of increasing the sales tax another cent. Or we could add a new income tax bracket, perhaps charging an extra 0.5 percent for those making over $140,000 a year. None of these options is appealing. But paying tolls to visit the kids in Moscow could be a lot worse.

* Judy Ferro is the state committeewoman for Canyon County Democrats.