Link to article here.Texans know what they like: free, open, bike-free roads
By Dug Begley
Houston Chronicle blog
September 25, 2014
There may be no such thing as a free ride, but that doesn’t mean Texas drivers can’t dream. According to a new study from Texas A&M Transportation Institute researchers, the state’s drivers would like more investment in everything from sequenced traffic lights to public transit — even if they do not want to ride the bus themselves.
What they currently don’t want, according to a survey that researchers conduct every two years, is more toll roads, or giving bicyclists a major say in how transportation is planned.
Link to article here.
Private tollway near east Dallas draws ire from record crowd
By Terri Hall
September 23, 2014
The people have spoken and their will is clear - they do not want the proposed private Blacklands Tollway-Northeast Gateway corridor through Rockwall to Greenville in east Dallas. Last night, a record capacity crowd of nearly 1,500 showed up to get their opposition to the controversial toll project on the record. Landowners and concerned citizens voiced their opinions to the Texas Turnpike Corporation (TTC) and the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) at a public meeting held in Rockwall that lasted until after midnight.
The initial public meeting took place on September 4 in Lavon, but the fire marshal shut it down due an overcapacity crowd. They planned on 250 and 500 showed up. The meeting was rescheduled for last night. So tripling the number of attendees in just a few weeks demonstrates that the public opposition to this private toll project is only gaining steam and showing no signs of petering out.
The overwhelming majority spoke in opposition, primarily because this private corporation can wield the power of eminent domain for its private toll road that company documents show is projected to net $78 million in annual profits by 2035. Yet the company claimed last night that it didn’t know how much profit the toll road was anticipated to make.
Link to article here.
Cintra, Macquarie file bankruptcy on Indiana Toll Road
By Terri Hall
September 23, 2014
Yesterday, the two private, foreign corporations that tookover the Indiana Toll Road in 2006 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels sold it to Spanish infrastructure company Cintra and Australia-based Macquarie in a $3.8 billion, 75-year lease that raised eyebrows around the world.
Few thought a road could fetch so much money. It set off a chain reaction of state governments clamoring for quick cash to shore-up shrinking highway funding. Indiana used the money to build other highway projects, forcing Indiana Toll Road users to pay for other road expansion they don’t use. The state has long since spent the money in the short-term, but now the tollway is in long-term trouble.
When Cintra and Macquarie acquired the tollway, they immediately doubled the toll rates. The troubled road has failed to attract enough traffic to repay its $5.8 billion in debt still owed on the project. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the road is in bankruptcy when they’ve doubled the cost to use it. In a true market approach, if not enough customers are buying your product, you lower the price, not increase it. The hedge fund and distressed debt investors that now own about 80% of the debt have agreed to allow Cintra and Macquarie to restructure their debt or dupe another company into buying it.
Link to article here. Update: Munoz & team did snag the contract.
Munoz' ties to 281 toll road create trail of corruption
By Terri Hall
September 17, 2014
The Express-News reported yesterday that Henry Munoz is angling to get a piece of the US 281 toll project in San Antonio by seeking a 5-year engineering contract with the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (RMA). The trouble stems from his sordid history of buying and manipulating local politicians, and he’s particularly adept at it when it comes to transportation. He's set-up his own company to now profit from the project he helped fashion while a public official.
Munoz is a former member of the Texas Turnpike Authority and a former Texas Transportation Commissioner, who resigned from the agency under a cloud of scandal for his staff abusing the state travel program and for providing inside information to a Mexican construction company in exchange for lavish accommodations, travel, and other personal pay-offs. Nearly a decade later, Munoz was appointed to the Alamo RMA and served as its Finance Committee Chair. He bolted when Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) successfully sued to halt the US 281 project in 2008. It was just no fun for him to be there anymore. No money to snag for the foreseeable future.
Link to article here.
RMA targets toll opposition in taxpayer-funded PR campaign
By Terri Hall
September 18, 2014
You’ve probably heard the radio ads with Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) Chairman John Clamp touting the benefits of the US 281 toll project. If you’re like me, you got steaming mad that a toll authority is using our tax money to convince the public that tolling our existing freeways is a great idea.
I wanted to find out just how much money they’re sinking into this public relations campaign. An open records request revealed that they’ll spend up to $371,294 for radio and television ads, extensive newspaper ads, billboards, and a massive public ‘outreach’ campaign selling their toll road to your homeowners associations, civic groups, churches, chambers of commerce, and anyone that will let them in the door.
The primary contractor, HNTB, hired Trish DeBerry for the task, whose firm previously bid on the 281 toll project as part of a design-build team before her run for Mayor. Ultimately, the RMA has retained her PR services at a cost of $25,000 a month.
Reason Foundation comes unhinged at populist revolt against tolls
By Terri Hall
August 27, 2014
Bob Poole of the Reason Foundation has decided to pick a fight he can’t win.
He just published an article personally attacking anti-toll group leaders across the nation, and he had a extra special below-the-belt attack saved just for yours truly. He’s responding to the populist anti-toll revolt taking place in America, and he can’t help but go on the attack because these grassroots efforts are finally making progress. He’s lashing out in response to a 5-page cover story in the Weekly Standard that slammed the new rage among transportation think tanks like Reason, called HOT lanes. It stands for High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. Sometimes they convert existing HOV lanes into toll lanes, other times they’re new lanes but only open to carpoolers and those who pay tolls.
The author, Jonathan Last, used many of the same terms to describe this wrong-headed policy as the anti-toll groups do - government picking winners and losers, crony capitalism, privatized profits, socialized losses, Lexus lanes, etc. If the shoes fits, and it does, it’s not hard for liberty-minded people to come to the same conclusions all by themselves. They can spot a scam when they see one. But Poole asks, ‘Where do these ideas come from?’ Or more to his point, who is promoting ideas in opposition to his libertarian ivory tower theory-world of road pricing?
Leaders, community question private meetings on toll lanes
By Jim Bradley
Wed., August 20, 2014
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Elected officials from towns north of Charlotte will have the chance to talk with the company that wants to build tolls lanes on Interstate 77 but the public won't be allowed in.
A series of private meetings have been set up for Thursday between the North Carolina Department of Transportation, Cintra and leaders in Huntersville, Davidson and Mooresville. Cintra was awarded a contract to build additional lanes along I-77 between Charlotte and Mooresville in exchange for collecting the toll revenue paid by drivers. The proposal has been controversial and so have the Thursday meetings.
"To me, it sounds like a secret meeting. When the DOT said they're going to have meetings with Cintra, they're going to be made available. I expected meetings that would involve everybody. Not just elected officials," said Huntersville Town Commissioner Rob Kidwell.
Other critics of the toll lanes jumped into the fray too. Vince Winegardner, with the group WidenI77, said the closed-door meetings raise even more questions about the project.
"If this is a done deal and the decision has been made, why do we have to have private meetings? Why can't they discuss this in public?” he said.
The DOT said the meetings with Cintra are to provide one-on-one time for local leaders to get information from Cintra. DOT said public meetings are scheduled in September.
As for Thursday's meetings for elected officials only, Kidwell said he won't attend.
"We should be able to ask those questions in the open, get the direct answers into the open because the people who put us in office deserve to know that," Kidwell said.
A caution on P3s: Let elected officials and the public beware
August 17, 2014 12:00 AM
By the Editorial Board
When it comes to public-private partnerships, so-called “P3s,” the old adage — let the buyer beware — needs to be updated for governments planning to join with private companies to do public work or assume a public function.
Let the public deal-maker beware. Let the public beware, too.
Perry’s indictment called ‘suspect,’ yet he ignored Krusee’s drunk driving arrest
By Terri Hall
August 16, 2014
The Republican Party is predictably coming to the aid of one of its own, Governor Rick Perry, who was indicted yesterday on two felony counts stemming from alleged abuses of power. Perry threatened to veto funding for the Travis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit if District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg didn’t resign due to her drunk driving conviction. She didn’t resign, and Perry vetoed the unit’s funding. A Texas Grand Jury found probable cause that the governor committed crimes of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant when it handed down two indictments. If found guilty, Perry could face up to 109 years in prison.
Perry’s attorney, Mary Ann Wiley, says he was acting within his constitutional powers to veto such legislation last year. The Democrat-controlled Travis County District Attorney’s office has been called into question before for its highly political case brought against Republican Congressman Tom Delay for allegedly using corporate money to influence elections. He was convicted in Travis County, but it was later overturned by an appellate court. So many are crying foul that Perry’s case is more of the same.
This is hogwash and lazy reporting. The number of toll transactions is NOT the same thing as the number of cars per day, nor is it the same as unique drivers per day. Just as a web site can boast thousands of hits per day, what advertisers really use to judge the site’s effectiveness is UNIQUE visitors per day. So this notion that somehow 7,000 transactions means 7,000 unique drivers is fallacious. A toll transaction is one time under a toll gantry. So on a 5-mile trip, one car can post 3-5 toll transactions (one every few miles or so). Then they post an equal number on their return trip, so one driver can post around 10 toll transactions per day for one round trip on just a 5-mile toll road.
Yet these business reporters seem to think they can talk-up the DFW toll roads as a success (as if they’re somehow well-liked) by printing whatever the private company says without one word of scrutiny. They should also compare how many drivers are using the toll lanes versus how many drivers are on the free lanes. That’ll give us a breakdown of what percentage of drivers on these multi-billion dollar tollways (built with tax money) are actually benefiting from the new capacity (for a hefty price tag). I’d also be instructive to know what the average cost per trip is during peak hours.
See how many drivers are paying tolls to drive on I-635, I-35E
By Nicholas Sakelaris
Staff Writer- Dallas Business Journal
August 15, 2014
The managed toll lanes on the LBJ Express attract about 20,000 drivers per day on the two phases that are open, according to the contractor.
Read Randy Salzman’s entire expose on P3s in the June/July 2014 Issue of Thinking Highways here.
Salzman's work is most comprehensive look at the dangers of P3s to date. It's a must read for citizens and policymakers alike.
A "Model" Scheme?
Thursday, 14 August 2014 00:00 By Randy Salzman, Thinking Highways | News Analysis
With about two-thirds of America's new transportation construction "public-private-partnerships," design-build P3s have been highly praised over the last decade. Contractors, politicians and financiers have been claiming that tiny slivers of private money bring efficiency to the formerly public process of highway building, spurring innovation and freeing taxpayer dollars for other key needs. But as Randy Salzman discovers, it's not without its problems
In the media, congress and across the political world, promoters pushing design-build public-private partnerships (P3s) are still claiming that private innovation is saving taxpayer money, creating good jobs and easing congestion.
Victor Vandergriff: Why not every North Texas highway can be tolled
By Nicholas Sakelaris
Staff Writer- Dallas Business Journal
August 14, 2014
Years ago, transportation planners made a decision that nearly all new highway capacity in North Texas would have a toll component, either tolled highways or managed lanes.
Looking back, Victor Vandergriff, Texas Transportation Commissioner, says he wondered at the time how people would react to that and how they would hold the decision-makers accountable for that once it came to fruition.
That time is now.
Conservatives introduce “TEA” highway bill that scraps federal program, but pushes tolls, P3s, & transit boondoggles
While Graves, Lee and Rubio may believe they’re offloading their federal gas tax revenue problem to the states, in reality, they’re seeking to compound the problem 50-fold; the states aren’t any better than the feds on transportation funding. We should not be encouraging more tolling of any kind, whether at the federal or state level. Tolls are a tax. The principle of “pay-as-you-go” must be applied at both the federal and state levels. Indeed, it must be legislated.
By Terri Hall | August 13, 2014
SFPPR News & Analysis
A group of conservative congressmen filed a bill to scrap the federal highway program and devolve the task of building and maintaining America’s highway system to the states. U.S. Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA), Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the bill dubbed the Transportation Empowerment Act or the TEA Act – H.R. 3486 in the House and S. 1702 in the Senate. The TEA acronym harkens back to the Agenda 21-inspired Transportation Equity Act (TEA) series of highway bills that opened the door to a multi-national highway system, so-called ‘innovative financing’ schemes, and widespread tolling – even imposing tolls on existing interstates.
Houghton knows better. MPO staff and TxDOT staff run everything. The MPO boards have no idea what they’re voting on. Plenty of elected officials complain they can’t get their projects into the MPO plans and they have no idea how the process works. The Alamo Area MPO meets during the day in a transit center downtown (not near any of the neighborhoods where toll roads will be) with NO public parking. We’ve had people get their cars towed and get parking tickets just to attend an MPO meeting. Then they gripe the public doesn’t show up. Really? When we have showed up by the hundreds, they NEVER once vote in favor of what the public says they want (which is no tolls). Not once in 10 years.
The 'P3' dilemma: How effective are public-private partnerships?
By Len Boselovic / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
August 10, 2014
The first of a four-part series.
Cash-strapped governments around the country that are reluctant to raise taxes are increasingly plunging forward with bold experiments: enlisting investment banks, pension funds and other eager investors to fund billions of dollars of highway, bridge and other infrastructure projects.
In Chicago, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley plugged a short-term budget gap in 2009 by turning over 36,000 metered parking spaces for 75 years to a private venture organized by Morgan Stanley. With little information and little time to analyze the transaction, Chicago’s city council overwhelmingly embraced the deal and its upfront payment of $1.2 billion.
At about the same time, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl had considered a $452 million plan to rehabilitate his city’s woefully underfunded pension plans by privatizing parking. City council members rejected it.
This is a taxpayer funded BAILOUT of the SH 130 foreign-owned toll road. The state of Texas needs to terminate this contract immediately and take this highway back. It's an absolute OUTRAGE that TxDOT is using tax money to give truckers discount toll rates while autos pay the sticker price. Of course, the state can artificially make the traffic appear higher than it would be otherwise with this not so veiled bailout. This sort of manipulation to prop-up a failure only prolongs the inevitable, which is bankruptcy. Terminate it and get this road back for the taxpayers.
TxDOT works to bring toll discounts back to truckers on SH 130
By Amanda Brandeis
August 1, 2014
AUSTIN (KXAN) — Interstate 35 is a major artery in our city, but is often clogged with traffic. The Texas Department of Transportation says it has a solution.
The department again wants to lower tolls for big rigs on the SH 130 toll road, hoping to push truckers off the interstate. The stretch of I-35 that runs through downtown from U.S. 183 down to SH 71 is the most congested stretch of roadway in Texas, according to TxDOT.
During a pilot program in 2013, the number of trucks on SH 130 rose 44 percent. But the program ended when the funds dried up.
Upcoming TURF Events
- Research: Texans do NOT want more toll roads
- Private Northeast Gateway tollway near Dallas draws angry crowd
- Cintra files bankruptcy on Indiana Toll Road, is SH 130 next?
- Munoz' ties to 281 toll road create trail of corruption
- RMA targets toll opposition in taxpayer-funded PR campaign
- Think tank rips 'anti-toll housewife'
- Cintra's private meetings backfire in N.C.
- Toll billing scam in New York
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Latest Press Releases
- Election victory represents power shift that will benefit anti-tollers
- Obama seeks to lift ban on tolling existing freeways
- Krier's conflicts of interest pose problem for council seat
- TURF prevails, lawsuit moves forward, allows depositions of TxDOT’s top brass
- Texas Senate votes to gouge citizens with "market based" tolls
- Anti-toll candidates sweep in many key races
- Public drain for private gain: Prop 6 rural water raid to benefit developers
- Dirty trick: TxDOT bypasses legislature to enact law using rule change