Waxahachie Daily Light paper had best coverage of citizen rally

Link to article here.

Protest at the Capitol
By JOANN LIVINGSTON
Daily Light Managing Editor
March 3, 200

AUSTIN - Protestors of the Trans-Texas Corridor capped two days at the state’s Capitol with a march up Congress Avenue and rally on the south steps Friday afternoon.

The event was a combined protest against not only Gov. Rick Perry’s massive transportation plan but also against a proposed mandate that would require animal identification and tracking.

“I stand here today with one message for our governor,” Peyton Gilbert said. “Help us with our education and health care, but don’t tag Texas.”

Gilbert is the teen-aged son of one of the rally’s organizers, former ag commissioner candidate Hank Gilbert of Troup.

At the conclusion of the three-hour rally, Gilbert said he was pleased with the turnout, estimating it at several thousand, and not including about 1,000 people he said had attended the previous day’s public hearing with the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security.

“I think between the Senate hearing and today, we’ll see some results,” he said. “If not, you can bet in the 2008 elections, we’ll see results.”

Participants staged south of the Capitol to march up Congress Avenue, with the march six blocks in length and including not only people, but a variety of farm animals and equipment.

“I think we had a good cross-section of the state here,” said Gilbert, noting he met with people everywhere from the Panhandle to South Texas. People also had come in from out-of-state, he said, because of their concerns as to what was happening in Texas. Linda Curtis of Independent Texans agreed that the people at the rally represented all walks of life.

“I think the legislators are getting the message,” she said. “But we can’t sit back and say that. The legislators do have a problem, and that is the governor.”

Acknowledging the governor’s veto power, Curtis said her organization would be prompting legislators to make sure their legislation is voted on in time to still have time left to override a Perry veto.

Independent Texans also has other “cards to be played,” she said, adding also that if officials don’t heed the concerns, they will “get un-elected.”

Throughout the rally, different speakers voiced their concerns on the two issues of toll roads and animal tagging, often drawing thunderous cheers and chants.

“We’re here from everywhere and we’re here to send a message,” Gilbert said in addressing the crowd. “And what’s that message?” “Don’t tag Texas,” yelled the crowd, several of who carried replicas of the Gonzalez flag bearing the words, “Come and take it.”

Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance spokesman Judith McGeary, who was among the event’s organizers, voiced her opposition to animal tagging and tracking mandate and thanked everyone for their attendance.

“You are making your voices heard by being at this rally,” she said.

Jimmie Vaughan of the Fabulous Thunderbirds said he was in opposition to the animal IDs and toll roads before singing a new song written especially about the issues.

“ ‘Down with Big Brother,’ I said, ‘Shame on Big Brother,’ always trying to track and trace me,” Vaughan said as many in the crowd joined in on the chorus.

Several legislators joined the list of those speaking, including state Reps. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston; Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde; and Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham.

“I want to thank you all for exercising your rights as citizens and telling the man (Perry) in that office right there that he’s wrong,” Coleman said, noting efforts in the previous session to make some changes and noting also legislation filed this session, several of which call for the outright repeal of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

“We can stop this because of your work,” he told the crowd, saying that Texas shouldn’t be a state where “you’re going to have to be rich to drive on our highways.”

Saying there is still “a long way to go in this process,” Coleman expressed his appreciation to state Sen. John Carona, who heads up the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security. “I want to thank him for going against the grain to make sure Texans are treated properly,” Coleman said of Carona’s holding of the public hearing. “We want to make sure that you won’t have to drive on roads that you’ve paid for twice.”

Kolkhorst discussed the legislation she has filed, and acknowledged lawmakers erred in passing the bill that enabled the Trans-Texas Corridor.

“This session will see more aggressive efforts to take the Trans-Texas Corridor out of the code,” she said. “This is just one of many things to take away our freedom.”

The issues are not Republican nor Democrat, Kolkhorst said, saying, “This is a Texas issue. It’s about the United States. ‘Don’t mess with Texas’ is right.”

She said she had met with the lt. governor and House speaker - and both were listening.

“I think you’re going to be amazed at some of the things that come out,” she said. “We’re going to take our roads back. We’re going to take our mistake back and take our nation back. No North American Union."

“You got it, baby,” Kolkhorst told the cheering crowd.

McGeary encouraged those in attendance to take the time to visit with their local legislators.

“Go in and talk to them,” she said.

Macias said it was an honor to speak at the rally.

“I stand before you here on Independence Day, and the winds of change are blowing again in Austin,” Macias said, adding, “You as Texans have chosen to stand up and speak your mind to your elected officials.”

Macias said he personally didn’t agree with the scope of the Trans-Texas Corridor or plans to toll other roadways in the state.

“Let’s work together with public, private and citizen input to solve our transportation issues, now and in the future,” Macias said.

A spokesman for Libertarian Congressman Ron Paul of Texas said the Capitol belonged to Texans.

“For those who live high on the low hill of character … we are here today to knock on their door because this is our property, too,” she said, saying the nine most terrifying words are, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.”

“When someone is stealing your rights, it’s time to follow the money,” she said. “It’s time to stop the highway robbery, it’s time to stop the Trans-Texas Corridor.”

The project has connections to NAFTA and the North American Union, she said, asking the crowd, “Are you going to pledge allegiance to the flag of the North American Union?” and urging people to contact their respective lawmakers.

During the rally, concerns were expressed by several of the speakers about possible far-reaching implications of the Trans-Texas Corridor and animal identification project, especially relating to the potential for a North American Union that would unite the United States, Canada and Mexico under one flag, currency, identification card and government, they said.

“Once you can ID something uniquely, you can track it. Once you can track it, you can monitor it. Once you can monitor it, you can control it,” said Liz McIntyre, author of “Spy Chips,” a book about the use of radio frequency identification computer chips.

“It’s all about ID-ing, tracing and controlling inanimate objects, animals and even us,” she said. “There are plans afoot to chip everything … and every highway will be a spyway if we let it happen.”

Terri Hall of Texas Toll Party noted some of the testimony given during Thursday’s Senate committee hearing, saying one expert testified that it costs the taxpayer 50 percent more to have a public/private partnership.

That expert noted it “is always better to keep these contracts in the public sector,” Hall said. “These are not a foreign country’s roads. These are our roads.”

Saying that opponents of the Trans-Texas Corridor are gaining the ear of legislators, Hall pointed out questions raised by the senators on the committee, especially in light of a recent audit released by the State Auditor’s Office.

 

“Perry is lying when he said there is no taxpayer dollars in the TTC,” Hall said. “The audit showed $90 million of taxpayer money has already been dumped into this project. A single law firm got $18 million.”

Noting questions about the Texas Department of Transportation’s coding of expenses - some of which could be illegal under law - Hall said an investigation by the State Attorney General’s Office should be conducted and any wrongdoing found should result in prosecution.

Corridor Watch co-founders David and Linda Stall said progress was being made in the fight against Perry’s transportation project.

“It’s about money, all of this is about money,” David Stall said. “It’s not about transportation. It’s about revenue-generating. We have to stop this, and we can’t stop now.”

Saying Carona had referred to TxDOT as a “rogue agency,” Stall said the Trans-Texas Corridor has become a “hot topic” and grown into a national issue.

“Texans can either stand up and show what we are about or we can become the laughingstock of the nation over the corridor,” he said.

“We have momentum,” Linda Stall said. “You have been heard. We have to keep pushing.”

Wharton County Commissioner Chris King said the Trans-Texas Corridor will change the face of rural Texas.

“It’s going to change the way we live in rural Texas, and I tell you right now, I’m not for it,” King said. “Rick Perry is not my governor.”

Former state attorney general candidate David Van Os told the crowd to “say no to corporate hogs at the trough.”

One-hundred-seventy-one years after Texas’ Independence Day, the government shouldn’t be talking about handing over commerce and transportation to private, foreign corporations, Van Os said, noting the “Come and take it” message of the several Gonzalez flags being displayed in the crowd.

“Say no to all of it,” he said. “We the people own this plot of ground. We the people own our beautiful state of Texas and we’re not going to let crooks and robber barons take our Texas away from us.”

In his closing remarks, Gilbert told those at the rally that they represent “thousands of people” back home and for each of them to have others who weren’t at the rally to also contact legislators to urge the repeal of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Make the legislators commit their support to the repealing legislation, Gilbert said. “If they wont’ support it, let them know that you will make sure this is the last session they spend in Austin representing you.”

“Don’t Tag Texas” Rally HUGE success…more than 2,000 turn out

View pictures here and here.

On a beautiful sunny Friday in our State’s Capitol and on Texas Independence Day to boot, thousands of ordinary citizens from all over Texas gathered to send a clear message…”Don’t Tag Texas!” From Collin County up north down to Wilson County and everywhere in between, ranchers, farmers, and city dwellers marched on Congress Avenue to the south Capitol steps. When those at the front arrived at the Capitol, there were still crowds of protesters turning the corner at First Street onto Congress Avenue (roughly 10 blocks down). The sea of “Stop the TTC,” “Don’t Mess With Texas Freeways,” “Perry is selling us out,” and a host of other signs aimed at Governor 39% were wall to wall with folks chanting, “Don’t Tag Texas!”

The rally kicked off with Representative Garnet Coleman (see video here) speaking about HB 998, his toll moratorium bill, and the genesis of it that started last session in 2005. He thanked the grassroots for their efforts which give his bill a better chance of passing due to the massive growth of our movement since 2005.

Then Rep. Lois Kolkhorstsharedher bill HB 1881 with the crowd which will KILL the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC). She shared a bit of Texas history and thanked the people for the strength of their support which will help her bills get passed and free Texans from this boondoggle. She said this is about the next generation as she pointed to her daughter playing behind her on the Capitol steps. She’s absolutely right. My six children were with me at the Capitol as well; it’s a sobering thought to think they’ll still be paying tolls to a foreign company if this thing gets built and these contracts get signed all over Texas. It’s what keeps me in this fight!

Penny Langford-Freeman from Congressman Ron Paul’s office inspired everyone to stay in this fight to keep Texas FREE and independent, referring to the NAFTA connection and the formation of the North American Union, stating Congressman Paul is squarely and firmly on our side fighting for us in Washington (which got the crowd chanting, “Ron Paul for President!”).

We also heard from Rep. Nathan Macias, MY NEW STATE REP who took the place of “Toller” Carter Casteel who REFUSED to listen to her constituents on tolls, whom I had the privilege of introducing. He sits on Rep. Mike Krusee’s House Transportation Committee where Krusee is bottling up ANY bills that would help our cause. That’s why Kolkhorst and others are bypassing Krusee’s Committee and getting our legislation through other committees. Nonetheless, we have many allies on the House Transportation Committee, Macias (a native San Antonian) being the champion of our cause for the San Antonio region!

We also enjoyed a blues style song written about this issue by Jimmie Vaughan who referred to tolls and the TTC as “shackles” and the tagging of Texas as “Big Brother.” How true! Among the other speakers who stirred up the crowd and led them in a variety of chants like “No TTC,” “Impeach Perry,” and “Don’t Tag Texas,” were Eagle Forum’s Gina Parker, David and Linda Stall, Founders of Corridor Watch.org, and yours truly. Special thanks to Hank Gilbert for organizing the rally and being a terrific emcee.

The rally concluded just after 5 PM with a good crowd having stayed the full 3 hours! We had statewide news coverage (Dallas Morning Newx, Austin American Statesman, San Antonio Express-News, and TV coverage in every major market an smaller ones like Waco, as well as prolific coverage on radio in all the markets even down to Corpus Cristi!), and the BIGGEST news of all was the interview David Stall landed with Lou Dobbs of CNN! So we made national news which was one of our chief goals for the rally! This IS a NATIONAL issue, not just a Texas issue and anyone who spends any length of time on our web site can read about it. This shift to privatizing our public infrastructure and the construction of NAFTA superhighways throughout the United States is now well-documented, and it’s high time Americans get informed. With the help of other national press figures, coverage of this issue will only get more frequent. The BIG money and geopolitical forces behind this shift to tolling and privatization can no longer operate under the radar screen thanks to all of your hard work, folks!

Carona’s hearing SMASHING success- Citizens: call for IMMEDIATE investigation of TXDOT!

Today’s Senate hearing was a tremendous success. Senator Carona’s office told us that aside from the redistricting controversy several years back, today’s hearing had record attendance for a Senate Hearing with 800 witnesses! I’d like to thank Senator Carona for the honor of being the very first person called to testify at today’s hearing. Considering the many experts he could have called ahead of me, he chose to hear from the GRASSROOTS first and foremost!

There’s too much to tell, but we’ll do our best to do a quick summary. But let it be known…your LOUD OPPOSITION has been heard and the message got through!

NOT TOO LATE TO SUBMIT COMMENTS!
You can still submit your opposition to Senator Carona and get on the record here.

SENATOR NO SHOW

Ask Senator This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (210) 826-7800 what was more important than attending this hearing on the committee on which he sits. Is there any more controversial project in his district right now than tolls on 281 and 1604…and yet he doesn’t show up to hear from them?

WHAT HAPPENED

BOMBSHELL OF THE DAY! State Auditor gave a summary of their audit report of the Trans Texas Corridor released last Friday, and said out of 32 invoices, 21 were allocated to the wrong project and some coded “engineering” but were actually spent on public relations!!! Remember the Governor unequivocally stated NO TAXPAYER money would go to fund this corridor and yet the Auditor revealed $90 million has already been spent with potentially billions more in the hopper!

They also found projects that were financially unsustainable with tolls that would require taxpayer subsidies to build. THIS IS THE SMOKING GUN THEY TRIED TO HIDE BY KEEPING THE CONTRACT SECRET FOR 18 MONTHS and released upon threat of a lawsuit by citizens 30 days prior to the election. Read more of the Auditor’s details on the appalling MISUSE of taxpayer money and gross abuse of power by TxDOT on the TTC here.

• Carona called an expert witness on Public-Private Partnerships (PPP, or to you and I, PPP stands for “Perfect Pick Pocket”), Dennis Enright with NW Financial, who has analyzed the recent PPPs for the toll road sales to Cintra-Macquarie in Chicago and Indiana…he UNEQUIVOCALLY STATED PPPs COST THE STATE 50% MORE than if the public/govt. operated the toll road. He also stated it was ALWAYS BEST to keep toll roads in the public’s hands.

He also said this gem: “Toll roads by their very nature are monopolies.”

Enright was asked about the deal just inked with Cintra-Zachry on 121 in Dallas and he said: “I haven’t analyzed it yet because you can’t get access to them in Texas.” TELLING! Our Dept of Transportation chooses to broker back room deals and keep its contracts SECRET from the taxpayers in order to HIDE the FAVORABLE terms they’re giving these private interests! Enright also stated there was ZERO risk to the private entity on the 121 deal and said it was a perfect investment for the developer (but horrible for the public).

The private entity also has no motive reduce congestion by maximizing cars that take the toll road since they can hike the tolls and reduce the number of cars that take it and reduce their maintenance cost. They have a economic incentive for high tolls and ghost town tollways…they only need enough travelers to cover their cost and desired profit, the rest of us can go take an access road!

If they used the same toll formula Cintra-Macquarie used for the Chicago deal, it would cost $185 to travel the 121 toll road in it’s most expensive year! Once again, all TxDOT could tout was how they’d charge whatever the market will bear. They said the market would bear 28 cents a mile on 121. Compare that to 1-3 cents a mile we pay in gas taxes and you can see this is a public fleecing!

• TxDOT grillin’ - the HOT SEAT, it’s about time! In a nutshell, TxDOT’s Chief Financial Officer, James Bass, couldn’t answer the senators’ most basic questions on what the maximum toll rates would be in the most expensive year of the 50 year contract on 121 which begs the question…if their Chief Financial Officer doesn’t have a clue about the most basic details of these contracts, then what is our Dept. of Transportation busy doing? It became abundantly clear that they’re nothing more than an extension of the corporate special interests that stand to make BILLIONS on the backs of the taxpayers!

Carona had two questions of Williamson. Why not expand I-35 and why build the Trans Texas Corridor? Then, when Williamson took the HOT SEAT, after much back and forth, Carona finally got him to agree with him that expanding EXISTING I-35 is the BEST scenario vs. erecting the Trans Texas Corridor. Carona also caught he and TxDOT in a number of misleading figures about I-35’s ORIGINAL plan calling for 16 lanes in the urban areas and the true costs. They tried to say it it would cost more today to expand I-35 by two lanes than the cost of the ORIGINAL plan that called for 16 lanes. Nobody buys it!

• Michael Stevens, who Chairs the Governor’s Business Council and who hired A&M to do the study that showed we don’t need tolls to meet future transportation needs, testified that they didn’t even study the TTC or count that as one of the State’s unmet “needs” because they determined it wasn’t a need! HE STATED THE TTC WOULD NOT RELIEVE ANY CONGESTION IN URBAN AREAS so it’s NOT NEEDED! That’s right…the TTC, though the Governor and TxDOT have repeated claimed the need for it is to relieve I-35 congestion, will do ZIP, ZILCH, NADA to relieve I-35 traffic!!!!! He finished by saying EVERY analysis of public versus private toll roads showed that public toll roads were cheaper, sometimes significantly cheaper than private ones.

CALL FOR IMMEDIATE INVESTIGATION OF TXDOT!
If our government builds the Trans Texas Corridor after that declaration, we need to call for a public flogging of our officials! Folks with testimony like we heard today, I rest my case. We’re right, this Governor and his Transportation Commission are WRONG, and we need to call for immediate investigations by our Attorney General into TxDOT cooking the books and INSIST this Legislature pass legislation to redirect TxDOT’s completely wrong-headed fiscal mismanagement of a public agency forcing the MOST EXPENSIVE options upon the taxpaying public with NO OVERSIGHT or ACCOUNTABILITY with no justification WHATSOEVER except corporate enrichment!

Find out who your representatives are here.The Attorney General needs to investigate TxDOT for cooking the books NOW, heads need to roll for this gross misuse of taxpayer money! How do we do it? Ask your representatives to ask the AG to open an investigation IMMEDIATELY!

Cintra winning bidder on Hwy 121 in Dallas…to collect tolls on EXISTING highway with no LIMIT on tol

Note how the reporter buries the FACT that 121 was already built with gas tax dollars and has now been hawked by Perry’s little council to the highest bidder…no surprise that it’s Cintra. This is DOUBLE TAXATION and Senator Carona notes it does include a non-compete clause prohibiting the government from expanding or improving any surrounding roads (for 50 years) that would “compete” with Cintra’s precious toll revenue. These sweetheart deals negotiated in SECRET outside the pubic purview will cost the taxpayers $100 BILLION over the next 50 years. (See article below where it estimates that’s the figure Cintra will make off our PUBLIC assets).
 

Tax and spend Republicans under Rick Perry’s spell crow about the $5 billion deal that gives them more play money to build roads….how is this a good deal when the taxpayers will be fleeced for $100 billion in the long run for a road they’ve already built and paid for with gas taxes??? Is it any wonder the arrogance of the Governor-appointed Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson when his boss talks like this? “‘It seems to me it’s working as advertised,’ Perry said. ‘It seems to me the power has devolved away from Austin to the local officials you see behind me. If the folks in Austin want to take away the power of the RTC (Regional Transportation Council), I will let them have that fight with y’all.’”

Link to article here and here.

Private firm to operate Hwy. 121 toll road for 50 years
By GORDON DICKSON
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

ARLINGTON — The Spanish firm Cintra has been selected to build and manage the Texas 121 toll road in Denton and Collin counties, in a $5 billion, 50-year deal that includes payment of $2.8 billion into North Texas coffers for other highway work.

Cintra is also the majority partner in Cintra Zachry, which is planning the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor.

Cintra operates toll roads and parking areas worldwide, and often uses private investment funds to make large, up-front payments to public agencies in exchange for the right to collect tolls for many years.

Metroplex officials on Tuesday stood side-by-side with Gov. Rick Perry, who visited the North Central Texas Council of Governments’ Arlington office to announce the plan.

“I think we can boil it down to five words,” said Michael Morris, council of governments transportation director. “Austin: We have a solution.”

Under Perry’s administration, decisions about where to spend much of the state’s highway funding have been transferred to a group of 40 mostly elected leaders known as the Regional Transportation Council. Those regional leaders backed the concept of using private funds to build and manage roads, to make up for a lack of tax-supported highway funds.

“It seems to me it’s working as advertised,” Perry said. “It seems to me the power has devolved away from Austin to the local officials you see behind me. If the folks in Austin want to take away the power of the RTC, I will let them have that fight with y’all.”

If, as expected, the selection by the Texas Department of Transportation’s Dallas district office is approved by the Texas Transportation Commission on Wednesday, Cintra will collect tolls on Texas 121 from Lewisville to McKinney for 50 years. The deal is also contingent upon completion of an environmental study.

The total value of Cintra’s bid is just over $5 billion, TxDot Dallas engineer Bill Hale said.

It includes:

 

• $2.1 billion up-front for regional leaders to spend as they see fit.

 

• $716 million paid in annual installments over 49 year, also for regional needs.

 

• $560 million to extend Texas 121 main lanes in Collin County.

 

• $1.7 billion to maintain and rehabilitate the road over 50 years, including any future lane additions.

 

Tarrant County will likely receive several hundred million dollars in benefit, which will help ensure that Interstate 35W, Loop 820, Airport Freeway and the Grapevine Funnel are improved, North Richland Hills Mayor Oscar Trevino said. However, the bulk of the funding will go toward projects closer to Texas 121, including improvements to Interstate 35E.

 

No additional public dollars will be used on the Texas 121 project. However, public money was already used to build the Texas 121 frontage roads in Denton and Collin counties, and main lanes in Denton County.

 

Spanish company wins North Texas toll road contract
Houston Chronicle/Associated Press
Feb 27, 2007

 

MCKINNEY, Texas — A Spanish transportation company contracted to build Gov. Rick Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor won a critical recommendation Tuesday to turn state Highway 121 into a toll road through Collin and Denton counties.

 

Officials from the Texas Department of Transportation plan to recommend Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte as the developer of the toll road during a Wednesday meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission.

If the commission approves the deal, Cintra will pay $2.8 billion to the Regional Transportation Council, a North Texas group responsible for transportation planning in the region. In exchange, Cintra will operate and collect tolls on the highway for the next 50 years.

Collin County officials hailed the deal as one solution to its traffic problems.

 

“At a time when budgets are stretched thin to meet every transportation need in North Texas, this project can be a valuable source of income to help us pay for other projects needed in this county,” Collin County Commissioner Joe Jaynes said.

 

But some state lawmakers are starting to get frustrated with the state’s pursuit of privately financed toll roads and wonder about the ultimate cost.

 

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security, said the Cintra deal includes provisions that bar the state from building its own roads in the area during the 50-year contract. That puts the state in a financial bind if it wants to build roads to help a growing population.

 

“The advantage is roads will be built sooner,” Carona said. “What you won’t hear about is toll rates will be raised unlike anything we have seen today.”

 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, who pushed the 2003 bill that helped set up the toll road initiative, said he was “asleep or not smart enough” to recognize potential problems.

 

“We are giving away a public asset and don’t have much say about it for 50 years,” said Ogden, R-Bryan.

 

Cintra-Zachry, a Spanish-American consortium, plans to build the Trans-Texas Corridor, a state-owned toll road. The consortium, made up of Spain-based Cintra and San Antonio-based Zachry Construction, would get to operate the road and collect tolls.

TX Observer: Road Kill…the build-up to Carona’s hearing

Link to article here.

Road Kill
by Eileen Welsome
Texas Observer
Feb. 27, 2007

Although the current Legislative session is only a few weeks old, Ric Williamson, the embattled chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, has already incurred the wrath of numerous state lawmakers intent on curbing the Department of Transportation’s plans to pave the state with toll roads and a network of superhighways known as the Trans-Texas Corridor.

If recent incidents are harbingers, the road warriors at TXDOT will be forced to jettison their own aggressive agenda this session and focus on protecting the new powers they were handed just four years ago to radically alter the way roads are financed and built.

The showdown began a few weeks ago when Williamson, a friend of Gov. Rick Perry and an ex-legislator himself, failed to appear at a budget hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. One senator, pointing out that it’s customary for department heads to be present when their budgets are being considered, asked Mike Behrens, TXDOT’s executive director, where Williamson was. Behrens explained that Williamson’s schedule was too full, a remark that touched off an angry round of muttering. “Make sure he’s here on March 1st,” snapped one senator.

On March 1, the Lege will hold its first public hearing ever on the Trans-Texas Corridor and the plethora of privately operated toll roads being planned for the state. TXDOT has spent millions of dollars on advertising and consultants trying to convince the public that the best solution for Texas’ massive traffic jams is allowing private investors to build toll roads. But its public relations campaign has backfired, managing to enrage not only large segments of the driving public, but also state legislators, congressmen, and scores of local officials who sit on city councils, county commissions, and transportation councils. The chickens, as Malcolm X once said, have come home to roost.

Nearly a dozen bills have been introduced to rein in TXDOT’s plans, and more are expected. Leading the effort is Republican John Carona, a Dallas businessman and chairman of the Senate’s Transportation and Homeland Security Committee. Said Carona, “The Transportation Commission and the governor’s office are so focused on short-term cures that they have not studied the long-term ramifications of what they’re doing. And I think the long-term ramifications are disastrous for this state.”

Carona has filed several bills that would severely curtail the profits that toll-road operators can make on their pay-as-you-go highways.

Under one measure, tolls could only be raised to cover the cost of repairs and maintenance. A second would ban noncompete clauses that basically prohibit TXDOT from building free roads that might reduce traffic on the tolled highways. A third would forbid TXDOT from signing contracts for more than 30 years. (Currently the department has signed deals for 50 to 70 years and wants to enter into contracts that could stretch into the next century.)

A week after his no-show before the Senate committee, Williamson did appear in front of the much friendlier House Transportation Committee. (Under the direction of the current chairman, Round Rock Republican Mike Krusee, that committee hammered out the mammoth transportation legislation in 2003 that spawned the current toll-road binge.) While Williamson was testifying before Krusee’s committee, Carona walked up onto the dais and took the seat of a member who had just left the room.

Carona listened patiently for a while. Then Krusee asked the senator if he had a question. Carona glared down at Williamson and said, “I’ve been trying to get an appointment with this gentleman, and I understand his calendar is booked up through March. I’m just wondering if I could ask you, Chairman Williamson, if we can meet this week on important transportation issues?”

Williamson, who has a boxer’s thick neck and a military-style buzz cut, gazed at Carona in disbelief. His face reddened. “You are a clever guy,” he finally stuttered.

Carona pushed on: “I think you and I recognize we have a difference of opinion. But we might find we have more in common than we realize. I’d be grateful for the meeting. And I know my colleagues in the Senate would, too.”

Williamson told Carona that he’d call him, but emphasized that he couldn’t commit to a meeting. Then Carona exploded: “You say you have one boss that you work for, but you really don’t. You’ve got the people of the state and 181 members of the Legislature. This kind of lack of commitment and artful dodging has created the hostility and friction that exists right now. The fact that you would sit there and be so arrogant as to not meet with me is very troubling.”

Williamson sunk into a stony silence. Carona pressed him again for a meeting. Williamson finally said, “I’m speechless.”

“Thank you,” responded Carona, who then got up and left the room.

Another senator gunning for TXDOT is Steve Ogden, a tall, angular Republican from Bryan Station who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. With his thick accent and white hair, Ogden seems like a good ole boy who’s got nothing more on his mind than the Friday night football game. But the U.S. Naval Academy graduate spent nine years as an officer in the nuclear submarine force. He knows how to operate in tight quarters and keep his feelings tamped down.

But when the subject of TXDOT comes up, Ogden can hardly restrain himself, in part because it was Ogden who encouraged his Senate colleagues to pass the massive transportation bill that freed TXDOT from the old rules and soon had the department’s stodgy road builders lunching with Wall Street financiers.

Ogden now feels he was duped, and said as much at the Senate Finance Committee hearing. The 2003 transportation bill arrived in the Senate two weeks before the session ended, Ogden recalled, and was sold as a way to get roads built quickly without any public money. (In reality, the toll roads that will be operated by private companies will still be subsidized by taxpayers through tax breaks, low-interest loans, tax-exempt bonds, outright grants and in some cases, the actual pavement itself.)

In 2003, there also was no talk of privatizing the roads, he added. “The fact that it wasn’t brought up and we never got an opportunity to chew on it has created a huge political problem for us.”

Ogden glared at the cluster of TXDOT operatives. In another time, he might have ordered them to walk the plank or had them lashed to the sails. As it was, the only punishment he had available was a tongue lashing. “It’s not what TXDOT tells you. It’s what they don’t tell you,” he complained. He chided the department for its sneakiness and encouraged its bureaucrats to be more open about what they’re doing. “Running your own plays and hiding them from us is no way to run state business.”

TXDOT’s not saying anything publicly about the frontal assaults. (“I never comment on what legislators do,” Williamson said of Corona’s ambush.) But it’s safe to say that they’re not happy. Just a few months ago, the department rolled out its own legislative wish list. High on the list was getting a revenue stream for the Texas Rail Relocation Fund so the state and its private partners can build several new billion-dollar-plus railroad projects, which one industry insider collectively referred to as a “huge fat pig.”

But TXDOT will have its hands full fending off Carona, Ogden, and a raft of Democratic legislators aiming to take down the imperious department and its autocratic commissioners. Joe Pickett, a Democratic representative from El Paso who once was virtually the only legislator willing to speak out against the behemoth department, welcomes the backup. “The whole agency needs a complete work-over from top to bottom,” he said.

Pickett has introduced a measure that would replace Perry’s five-member Transportation Commission with an elected transportation czar. State Rep. David Leibowitz, a Democrat from San Antonio, has drawn up a bill that would do away with Perry’s coveted Trans-Texas Corridor, a network of superhighways that will stretch from the Mexican border toward Canada. The TTC is being sold to Texans as a way to reduce congestion, but in reality appears to be a system of trade routes designed to circumvent the glutted West Coast ports and get foreign goods into the United States by way of Mexico. A third Democratic state representative, Houston’s Garnet Coleman, is sponsoring legislation that would place a two-year moratorium on the further construction of toll roads. (Coleman is fuming over TXDOT’s plan to replace the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on some Houston freeways with toll lanes, which he calls “Lexus lanes.”)

Meanwhile, Carona, a bespectacled and mild-looking businessman, is quickly gaining rock-star status on the Internet, and recently was featured on YouTube. Carona, who has the ability to speak in paragraphs and can read spreadsheets with ease, has been projecting the numbers into the future and sees a day when the state’s free roads will be potted and pitted, the billions in up-front concession fees will be spent, and Texas motorists will still be forking out millions of dollars in tolls to foreign corporations and bankers. “This is the most reckless transportation policy this state has seen in its history,” he said.

He continued, “While the Transportation Commissions likes to tell you that all transportation issues have now been decentralized and now reside in local communities, in fact that’s not the case. TXDOT allows local decisions as long as those local decisions agree with the philosophy and direction of the Transportation Commission. If local decisions made through local transportation authorities differ from what the commissioners would like to see, they simply withhold funds. They leverage the outcome by controlling the purse strings in Austin. You see that in issues like toll equity where the Transportation Commission determines what portion of money it will make available to subsidize a road project in a region. Virtually every major roadway under consideration today in Texas is being advanced as a toll project.”

The toll-road developers, Carona said, have claimed that they will need a 12 percent return on their investment. Using that figure, Carona calculates the tolls on the private roads will be 66 percent higher upon opening than what tolls on state-constructed roads would cost. What’s more, he said, the private toll operators will be able to raise their rates to whatever the market will bear. By contrast, toll hikes on state-owned roads are limited to recovering the cost of maintenance and repairs. “The reality is, we’re building roads in the most expensive fashion of all—through tolls—instead of calling it taxes,” he said.

Carona favors raising the gasoline tax so that it keeps pace with inflation. (The tax has been unchanged for the last 15 years—20 cents for the state and 18.4 cents for the feds per gallon.) That way, the state would have enough money to build all the roads it’s going to need over the next 25 years. The average motorist would probably wind up paying an extra dollar per month for fuel, but Carona said in the long run it’ll be cheaper for drivers.

Even with an increase in gasoline taxes, it’s unlikely that toll roads, and perhaps even the loathed Trans-Texas Corridor, will vanish from the map. Carona is confident, however, that the Legislature will be able to enact some meaningful reforms in the coming weeks. “We’re at a crossroads in transportation policy,” he said. “We can either get it right or get it wrong.”

Macquarie salivates over $250 BILLION in Texas toll roads

It’s one thing to build and maintain roads, it’s another to engage in sweetheart deals that enrich private corporations while infinitely sticking it to the taxpayers who own the aforementioned assets. TxDOT is clearly no longer about building and maintaining roads and facilitating getting people from Point A to Point B as quickly and safely as possible. Now they’re about how to hawk our public assets for quick cash while selling us into toll tax slavery to foreign companies who couldn’t care less about Americans, the American economy, or American quality of life.
 

There are abundant examples of how these deals fail the taxpayers and end up with toll rates causing more than a little pain and tax revolts wherever they’re tried.

Link to article here.

MIG awaits green light to take its toll on Texan roads
By David Nason
New York correspondent
The Australian
February 27, 2007

 

THE Sydney-based Macquarie Infrastructure Group will know tonight if it has garnered an early slice of the vast toll road riches up for grabs in Texas.

 

The announcement by the Texas Department of Transportation of the winning bidder for State Highway 121 - a planned 42km toll road in northern Dallas, one of the fastest growing areas of the US - shapes up as the first big test of MIG’s decision to all but jettison its Australian routes for a shot at the far larger but less developed US markets.

 

Texas, which is forecast to double its population to 50 million by 2030, is regarded as the toll road El Dorado, with the SH121 project the first in an estimated $US250 billion ($315 billion) worth of roadwork and toll road administration to be privatised in the Lone Star state over the next decade.

 

The biggest prize is expected to be the new Trans-Texas Corrider, a toll road that would stretch from the Mexican border to Oklahoma and utilise some existing freeways and toll roads.

 

An MIG-led consortium is one of five shortlisted bidders for the rights to build and operate the toll road for 50 years. The deal is expected to net Texas an upfront payment of about $US2 billion and a share of toll revenues.

 

Like many states, Texas is reluctant to raise taxes to address its chronic shortfall in transportation infrastructure and has been forced to go to the private sector.

 

All up, more than 20 states are considering the sale or lease of major highways. They include Oregon, Indiana, California, Utah, Colorado, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

 

But opposition to public-private partnerships, also known as PPPs, can be strong, especially in the case of public assets that are debt-free.

 

In New Jersey overnight the state legislature’s transportation committee was due to debate proposed legislation that would require voters to approve the sale or lease of any state asset worth more than $US100 million.

 

The legislation would also ban foreign companies from any involvement.

 

MIG has expressed interest in the state’s busy New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway which could earn the state $US15 billion for a 75-year lease.

 

At last year’s Merrill Lynch’s Australian Investment Conference in New York, MIG chief executive Stephen Allen warned that US-based competitors would exploit xenophobia to keep foreign companies from lucrative US toll-road opportunities.

 

“It is a real issue and it’s one we need to deal with,” Mr Allen said at the time.

 

“The market here is going to get more competitive. All the major investment banks are all starting infrastructure funds. In the marketing, they’ll be promoting the US side of the business.”

 

Ironically, MIG’s main opposition for SH 121 is expected to come from two foreign consortiums - one led by Sweden’s Skanska BOT, the other by the Spanish Cintra group.

 

MIG’s consortium partners are Kiewit Texas Construction LP, a division of leading US transportation contractor Kiewit Corp, and Texas highway constructor JD Abrams.

 

MIG currently has an interest in four US toll roads. In 2005 Chicago leased its I-90 Skyway to an MIG-Cintra consortium for $US1.83 billion to pay off city debt and fund non-transportation projects. In 2006, Indiana leased the partners the Indiana Toll Road for $US3.85 billion.

 

Earlier this month the Macquarie Media Group paid $US80 million for American Consolidated Media which publishes 40 community newspapers and shopping publications serving nine communities in Texas and Oklahoma - many of them along the proposed route of the Trans-Texan Corridor.

 

The sale has drawn criticism the newspapers will become propaganda vehicles for MIG.

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