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

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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.

Transportation Reform: Restore Local Control, Accountability

Link to article here.

Terrific article on MPOs, their importance, and why they need to be fixed.

Transportation Reform: Restore Local Control, Accountability
By Ross Kesceg
Empower Texans
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.

5 ways privatization is fleecing American taxpayers

5 ways privatization is fleecing American taxpayers
Salon.com
February 2015

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.

Collin County lawmakers file 9 anti-toll bills

Link to article 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.

County judge flip flops on Hwy 249 toll road in Grimes County

Link to article here.

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
KBTX.com
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.

CNN: Secret world of toll collection, focuses on Harris County, Texas

The secret world of government debt collection
By Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken
CNN Money.com
February 17, 2015

Government agencies across the country are hiring private debt collectors to go after millions of Americans over unpaid taxes, ancient parking tickets and even $1 tolls.

It’s a good deal for cash-strapped states, cities and other local governments. By outsourcing this dirty work and letting private companies charge debtors sky-high fees, government agencies can get these collection services free of charge.

And it's a great deal for debt collectors. In an industry already known for bad behavior, debt collectors that work for government agencies usually don’t have to work within the confines of consumer protection laws – opening the door for higher fees and even more aggressive tactics.

Their government bosses can give them the power to threaten debtors with the suspension of their driver’s license, garnishment of their wages, foreclosure and arrest to get them to pay up.

To read the whole story, click here.

Road funding bill moves to Senate floor

Link to article here.

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
Houston Chronicle

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.

Phillips denigrates anti-toll movement

Former House Transportation Committee Chair, Larry Phillips, went on a rant attacking the anti-toll movement in Texas, blaming it on a few 'activists' who are 'lighting a fire' and stirring up trouble for pro-toll-tax loving lawmakers like Phillips. Well, we've got news for you, the anti-toll sentiment doesn't need any fomenting by activists, it happens organically on its own when taxpayers instinctively know they're being DOUBLE TAXED into poverty by this runaway tax on driving. TURF and Texans for Toll-free Highways are simply helping organize the grassroots tax revolt to pressure lawmakers to stop tolls across Texas.

Phillips berates TURF for seeking accountability

Rep. Larry Phillips tried to blast Terri Hall of TURF for daring to seek accountability from unelected toll agencies known as Regional Mobility Authorities (or RMAs). RMAs are fraught with abuses like taxpayer-funded lobbying, steering contracts to former board members, and cronyism. Yet Phillips defends RMAs and castigates the grassroots for demanding accountability. He also tries to get TURF to advocate for a gas tax hike to shore-up shortfalls in the state highway fund, rather than demand our lawmakers properly fund this core function of government from EXISTING road taxes and fees first. As long as they keep diverting vehicle sales tax to non-road purposes, it's crazy to expect taxpayers to choke down a tax hike. Phillips says, "I'm all for spending more money," rather than discipline the use of our existing taxes first.