Federal Highway bill takes center stage in waning hours of Congress
By Terri Hall
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.
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.
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.”
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.
(San Antonio, TX - Tuesday, June 2) At a recent stakeholders meeting on the I-35 bypass study, it came to light that a consultant hired by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) used a Bluetooth reader to collect the trip origination and destination data involuntarily from innocent travelers. Such data mining by government invades a motorist's privacy and violates one's Constitutional rights.
"Whether it was TxDOT or its consultant doesn't matter, it's all being done with taxpayer dollars and for a government agency. Didn't they learn from the NSA wiretapping scandal how much Americans detest government spying on the private lives of innocent, law-abiding citizens?" notes Terri Hall, Founder and Director of Texans for Toll-free Highways and Texas TURF.
Alamo city to impose bus-toll lane network on every freeway
By Terri Hall
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.
Leadership of Texas House forbids anti-toll amendments from being heard
By Terri Hall
May 1, 2015
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 testify to keep financial studies secret from the public
By Terri Hall
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.
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 takes center stage with high speed rail project
By Terri Hall
April 9, 2015
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.
Judge rules in favor of Hill Country landowner threatened by neighboring developer
By Terri Hall
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 ask lawmakers for ‘Toll-free Texas,’ unveil reform package
By Terri Hall
March 25, 2015
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).
Austin’s ‘complete streets’ policy a complete congestion nightmare
By Terri Hall
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.
Opinion: US Senator Reports On Automobile Privacy Threat
US Senator Ed Markey condemns automobile manufacturers for privacy invasions promoted by the federal government.
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."
Terrific article on MPOs, their importance, and why they need to be fixed.
Transportation Reform: Restore Local Control, Accountability
By Ross Kesceg
February 16, 2015
Before throwing more tax money at a misunderstood transportation crisis, the legislature should first maximize the effectiveness of existing funds. But in addition to placing restrictions on how tax dollars are used, the legislature should also restrict the ability of regional governments to undermine sound policy.
The culprits behind most of Texas’ non-road transportation waste are Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). They are federally mandated planning bureaucracies that have taken control of “voluntary” regional governments created by the legislature, such as the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG). COGs claim to help local governments coordinate projects, but in reality, they are an unnecessary layer of government one-step removed from voters that takes power away from locally elected officials.
Government outsourcing goes horribly wrong more often than not. Here are a few representative horror stories
For decades we’ve been subjected to constant propaganda that government is inefficient, bureaucratic and expensive. We’re told that the answer is to “privatize,” or “outsource” government functions to private businesses and they will do things more efficiently and everyone comes out ahead. As a result we have experienced decades of privatization of government functions.
So how has this wave of privatization worked out? Has privatization saved taxpayers money and improved services to citizens? Simple answer: of course not. If a company can make a profit doing something the government had been doing, it means that we're losing out one way or another. It’s simple math. And the result of falling for the privatization scam is that taxpayers have been fleeced, services to citizens have been cut way back and communities have been made poorer. But the companies that convinced governments to hand over public functions have gotten rich off of the deal. How is this a surprise?
To read the rest of the story, click here.
3 lawmakers from Collin County take aim at toll roads with 9 new bills
By Brandon Formby
February 27, 2015
Dallas Morning News
North Texans with toll road fatigue have found champions in the Texas House. Reps. Jeff Leach, Scott Sanford and Matt Shaheen are pushing a series of nine bills that aim to dismantle the bureaucratic and financial mechanisms that have paved the way for a litany of toll projects in the state.
In North Texas alone, most highway projects under construction or in the works include some sort of tolling component. And because many involve private developers expecting profits, drivers are slated to continue paying tolls long after construction costs are recouped.
Despite overwhelming opposition by the citizenry, this county judge reverses himself to side with special interests over his own constituents.
Grimes County Judge Expresses New Support For Highway 249 Toll Road
By Clay Falls
February 20, 2015
GRIMES COUNTY, Texas - Grimes County Commissioners are continuing to oppose plans for a future toll road but the County Judge is now seeing more reasons to support the project.
Last week county commissioners voted four to one in support of a resolution opposing the Highway 249 also known as the Aggie Highway.
County Judge Ben Leman told us Friday he does think a future highway like this is inevitable.
He says TxDOT's new plan to spend $2 million on feeder roads for the project would be a benefit to Grimes county.
He told us he's disappointed but not discouraged by the commissioners' resolution.
Just do a simple graph that plots the rise in education spending versus road spending and you can’t even begin to make the argument Dick Lavine made during his testimony before the Senate Transportation Committee. Hands down, education and public health eat up over 80% of the budget. Roads ranges between 4%-10%. There is no ‘underinvestment’ in schools.
There’s an overzealous, loud and demanding education bureaucracy that eats up the dollars that should be sent to the classroom. There are 3 staffers for every teacher. But by starving the classroom (the part parents and students see), they can continue to claim that more money is needed for schools. Teachers should demand an end to the bureaucrats stealing their money and refusing to put money into teacher salaries and directly into the classroom (not the buildings) - but sadly, they’d rather use teachers as a political prop as an excuse to keep eating up the budget and starving other core functions of government, like roads.
State senate panel advances road funding plan
By Dug Begley | February 25, 2015
A state senate committee moved forward Wednesday with a plan to use half the revenue from motor vehicle sales taxes for road improvements, but some senators expressed concern about unintended consequences.
The plan, sponsored by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and with support from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, passed the Senate Transportation Committee 8-1 after two hours of discussion. Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, cast the lone dissenting vote.
Upcoming TURF Events
- Federal Highway bill takes center stage in waning hours of Congress
- Accountability, reform, and transparency: Texas legislature delivers mixed bag
- Abbott brought different atmosphere to Texas legislature
- Texas legislature leaves without stopping toll roads
- Alamo city to impose bus-toll lanes on every freeway
- Straus blocks anti-toll amendments from being heard
- Toll agencies oppose traffic studies being made public
- Texas Tribune interview with Transportation Chairmen
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Latest Press Releases
- TxDOT tracks drivers to mine data without their consent
- Commissioners approve tolls for northside of San Antonio
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- Anti-toll candidates snatch key positions in Texas
- Citizens ask cities & counties to oppose Blacklands private toll road
- Election victory represents power shift that will benefit anti-tollers
- Obama seeks to lift ban on tolling existing freeways