Dollar continues to slide, make way for the Amero

Former Federal Reserve Chief, Alan Greenspan, indicates the Federal Reserve may shift its reserve currency to the Euro due to the decline of the dollar. As Jerry Corsi warns in his book, The Late Great USA, the Coming Merger with Mexico and Canada, that the collapse of the dollar is coming in large part due to "free trade," which has undermined American wages and our national wealth which will subsequently open the door to the Amero. The excuse will go something like this. See, we can't compete with the strong European Central Bank and the Euro, so we need to join with our regional North American partners, Canada and Mexico, to remain competitive in the "global market." For a guy who criticizes Bush for abandoning smaller government, Greenspan's rush to the Euro and centralized banking and governments is interesting if not hypocritical.

Greenspan: Euro Gains As Reserve Choice
Report: Former Fed Boss Says Euro Could Replace U.S. Dollar As Favored Reserve Currency
Monday September 17, 2007
Associated Press

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- Former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan said it is possible that the euro could replace the U.S. dollar as the reserve currency of choice.
According to an advance copy of an interview to be published in Thursday's edition of the German magazine Stern, Greenspan said that the dollar is still slightly ahead in its use as a reserve currency, but added that "it doesn't have all that much of an advantage" anymore.

The euro has been soaring against the U.S. currency in recent weeks, hitting all-time high of $1.3927 last week as the dollar has fallen on turbulent market conditions stemming from the ongoing U.S. subprime crisis. The Fed meets this week and is expected to lower its benchmark interest rate from the current 5.25 percent.

Greenspan said that at the end of 2006, some 25 percent of all currency reserves held by central banks were held in euros, compared to 66 percent for the U.S. dollar.

In terms of being used as a payment for cross-border transactions, the euro is trailing the dollar only slightly with 39 percent to 43 percent.

Greenspan said the European Central Bank has become "a serious factor in the global economy."

He said the increased usage of the euro as a reserve currency has led to a lowering of interest rates in the euro zone, which has "without any doubt contributed to the current economic growth."

Was bill distraction from Hutchison/Cornyn's support for Mexican trucks?

We applaud Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison for attempting to begin the long process of reining-in our rogue state agency, TxDOT, with an amendment added to an appropriations bill to ban tolling existing interstates. But the news of this amendment appeared in the press the same day Hutchison and Senator John Cornyn cast a controversial vote in support of Mexican trucks beating up our State’s highway system and putting our air quality (teetering at non-attainment in all of our urban areas already) at risk.

And that doesn’t even tackle the national security and jobs controversy swirling around the pilot Mexican trucking program. With Cornyn also feeling the political heat, he came out on Dallas TV Friday saying he’s against tolling I-35. Is this an attempt to shore-up the angry public with a politically popular position against DOUBLE TAXING drivers to use our existing interstates? (Read the pro-tollers' take on it here).

Let’s look at the bill to find out. This amendment does little overall to stop any current toll projects in the works throughout Texas. The State can still bulldoze our existing interstates to their heart's content and re-arrange the pavement to make way for toll lanes down the middle. They call them "new lanes" but they're using our existing right of way already paid for with gas taxes. So it's still a DOUBLE TAX. The State can also continue to toll existing STATE highways, all or in part, unabated event though they, too, were built with federal dollars.

Consider TxDOT's tricks to replace "existing lanes" with frontage roads or to narrow the width of the existing lanes (after they destroy them, then re-build them, taking twice the construction time as a freeway at more than double the cost), it will narrow the free lanes to slow down or manipulate traffic in such a way as to maximize the number of people on the tollway. Or they’ll outright steal the entire existing freeway tolling all the expressway lanes like they plan to do on US 281, making second class citizens out of those who cannot afford tolls by relegating them to frontage roads.

So it begs the question, if politicians fell all over themselves to be the first to repudiate tolling existing interstates (like Texas State Senator John Carona, State Representative Lois Kolkhorst, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, San Antonio Councilwoman Sheila McNeil), then why won’t they stop TxDOT and the tolling entities from tolling ALL existing highways?

The people of Texas are tired of tough talk and no action. They’re tired of politicians playing games with the plain meaning of words. TxDOT is tolling EXISTING STATE HIGHWAYS and rights of way, which is no different than tolling existing interstates, which they claim to object to. So why don’t we stop the tomfoolery and end this. If they want to build toll roads, make them completely NEW roads, but stop tolling our existing corridors (whether federal or state highways).

So this amendment is a start, but doesn't come close to addressing the fundamental concerns of taxpayers outraged by what’s happening in this state. On the flip side, after Hutchison and Cornyn (and Congressmen Charlie Gonzalez and Ciro Rodriguez for introducing a permanent ban in the House) kicked Ric Williamson’s teeth in with a public spanking, Williamson showed his usual arrogance by thanking Hutchison for likely hastening the addition of toll lanes to our existing roads since her amendment didn’t prohibit it and took away one of their tools in the infamous “toolbox” by prohibiting buying back segments of interstates in order to toll ALL existing lanes.

When the Texas A&M Study says we don't need a SINGLE toll road in Texas to meet our future transportation needs, it's confounding that some politicians either pander or press ahead over the people's objections. In any case, if ANY of these politicians want to curry favor with an incensed public, we need to see a REAL bill become LAW and FAST that puts a PERMANENT stop to tolling existing corridors in ALL of TxDOT’s machinations of them.

Overall, the privatization of our public infrastructure is far from over. The U.S. Department of Transportation just announced it will spend $66 million in YOUR GAS TAXES to attract private partners for several tolled trade corridors, many of which happen to be existing or future interstates. Notice they’re not spending the little gas tax money they claim to not have to actually build badly needed roads, rather your hard earned cash will be used to jet set bureaucrats to Europe seeking someone to foot the bill for America’s second mortgage on its highway system. Interstate10 from CA to FL and I-69 from TX to Michigan are eligible to become privately financed, tolled trade corridors called “corridors of the future.” Ominously resembles the NAFTA superhighways Bush and Perry are so fond of denying. If it looks like a duck…

The battle against unbridled toll taxation is not over either, and Senator Hutchison vows to continue to fight this DOUBLE TAXATION in its many forms. We surely hope so, but after getting repeatedly burned by the Texas Legislature, we’ll trust but verify!

Williamson's arrogance: Hutchison's ban will hasten adding "new" toll lanes to existing hwys

Link to article here. Talk about spin...Williamson arrogantly claims Hutchison's ban on tolling existing interstates will actually hasten TxDOT's scheme to add "managed" toll lanes to existing interstates. Why? Because that makes him look better when he just got kicked in the teeth...the amendment does prevent TxDOT from buying back interstates for the purpose of tolling them. TxDOT lobbied Congress to make that legal in a TRIPLE TAX revenue generating scheme more akin to a thief than the Chair of a State agency who's supposed to be serving the public. This from the man who said it's not his job to make transportation affordable! In yet another brazen comment, he thinks fiscal accountability, like not paying for the same thing two and three times over, is "outdated." Anyone still think Governor Perry and his highway Chair are still tax averse conservatives?

Hutchison adds toll ban to Senate bill
1-year freeze on old Texas interstates may speed fee on new lanes
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
Dallas Morning News
Thursday, September 13, 2007
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed an amendment that imposes a one-year ban on adding tolls to existing lanes of interstate highways in Texas.

But state and local highway officials say the amendment, sponsored by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, could make it easier to impose tolls on new lanes added to highways in Texas.

The amendment would affect only Texas and would expire in one year unless Congress reauthorizes it.

By exempting tolls on new interstate lanes, the moratorium could lead to new federal rules making it easier to impose tolls on new lanes – even those added to existing highways.

"We see what Senator Hutchison has done as a great step forward," said Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission.

Ms. Hutchison added the amendment to the Senate version of the housing, urban development and transportation 2008 appropriations bill – which is expected to pass later this week.

She said she opposes putting tolls on existing lanes of interstate highways because taxpayers already pay to build and maintain them.

"Today we protected Texas taxpayers from paying twice for a highway," Ms. Hutchison said in a statement. "I will continue pushing for a permanent prohibition of tolling existing highways."

Despite Mr. Williamson's praise for the amendment, Ms. Hutchison has said she filed it to defeat his department's long-standing efforts to persuade Congress to give states more latitude in imposing tolls, including tolls on existing interstate lanes.

Mr. Williamson said Wednesday that as the cost to maintain the interstate network continues to rise, the notion that the nation's highways have already been paid for has become outdated.

Still, he said he welcomes the Hutchison amendment because it helps clarify which tools his department can use to pay for badly needed new roads – and which have been taken off the table.

"I am not the elected senator from Texas, and I am not the elected governor of Texas," said Mr. Williamson, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry.

"My guy, who appointed me, has asked me to present a series of solutions for dealing with the $86 billion gap" between available funds and Texas' road needs. "So that's what I am doing, presenting options," he said.

It's up to Congress, and Texas elected officials, to decide which solutions to adopt, he said.

Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said the ban on adding tolls to existing lanes won't have much effect in North Texas. He said current policy has for a decade been to reject such tolls locally.

Hutchison’s bill just pandering to anti-tollers?

Link to article here. Considering this bill does nothing to stop TxDOT's trickery of bulldozing and rebuilding highways so they can toll them and allows them to continue to bend the plain meaning of words, for once I agree with Peter Samuel on something...

Hutchinson flip flop - says toll prohibition bills don't really prohibit tolling
Toll Road News

Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (Repub) has now issued a statement claiming that none of her "toll prohibition bills" really prohibit tolling! A statement of Sept 12 from her office says: "Efforts to toll newly constructed lanes or new highways would not be prohibited in Sen Hutchinson's amendment (S AMDT 2825 to HR3074), or in S2109 or HR3510."

"I’ve long believed that if local communities and the state want to come together and build a toll road, they should be able to do it," she is quoted.


The main purpose of the ambiguous Hutchinson bills seems to be to reassure every constituency - pro and anti toll and in-between - that Senator Hutchinson is on their side.

It's a giant pander.

When is road new and when is it existing - Clintonian parsing used to obfuscate

We are told the reference in Hutchinson's S2019 to prohibiting tolls on existing interstates does not preclude toll financing of the reconstruction of an existing interstate since the toll would be on a new highway in the sense of new pavement and bridges not on the existing pavement and bridges.

All the bill would do, under this interpretation, would be to prohibit imposing a toll on old pavement while doing nothing to reconstruct it. In other words it would outlaw imposing tolls and then abandoning the highway - something no highway operator would do anyway. Every real world state DOT, public toll authority or concessionaire will have plans for reconstruction as the road deteriorates and needs improvements.

The road oncer myth too

The confusion may not be entirely a pandering effort to make friends with opposites and to have it both ways for political purposes, but also a failure to understand roads. Widespread is the oncer myth, the false notion of a road as something that is built and paid for - the ribbon-cutter's perspective.

In reality roads are being constantly rebuilt so they go on costing and the earlier payments were for capital structures now being lost to the rigors of weather, the pounding of trucks and obsolescence. Motorists don't pay just once or twice for a road but repeatedly over the years.

"Protected from paying twice"

Hutchinson's statement claims the amendment of hers to a US appropriations bill "protect(s) Texas taxpayers from paying twice for a highway." Her statement contains peans of praise from state senator Robert Nichols hailing her as "a hero to every Texas driver."

And state rep Lois Kolkhurst who led the moratorium so-called in the Texas legislature is quoted: "I deeply thank Sen. Hutchison for being a voice of reason on this issue. Asking Texans to pay twice for the same road violates the trust that should exist between people and government."

This is blather.

Texas DOT already had a policy in place which rules out tolls on existing lanes. It has been TxDOT policy to only toll new lanes on existing roads, and Hutchinson now insists her bills place no obstacles in the way of that.

Strawman there.

And federal law already limits tolling of interstates to approved reconstruction or congestion pricing projects.

The Hutchinson amendment (2845/HR3074) merely prohibits the use of federal FY2008 funds from being used to consider imposition of tolls on existing "federal highway facilities" in Texas. Her initial amendment covered the whole of the US but she quietly added a phrase limiting the coverage of her bill to her own state, apparently because opposition was developing (especially from Pennsylvania over I-80).

Federal highway facilities are defined in Hutchinson's bills as interstates (in S2019) and also in the appropriations amendment 2845 also as "any United States highway," apparently a reference to US routes.

All these "federal highway facilities" are in reality state owned, state operated and state maintained roads, though they have received varying amounts of federal funding, environmental permits and route designations.

In the 2845 amendment an exemption is specified for Sec 1216 (b) of TEA21 which provides for tolling under an Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program.


The posturing moves soon to the US House of Representatives.

TOLLROADSnews 2007-09-13

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Chronicle: Gov. Perry's massive toll road boondoggle

Link to article here.

Though Mr. Casey seems fine with toll revenues subsidizing everyone else's free roads (versus the tolls going to that highway only then ceasing when the road is paid for) and for making those who cannot afford the tolls second class citizens relegated to frontage roads, he's exactly right on Governor Perry's push privatize our highways in what can only be described as a MASSIVE boondoggle to benefit his campaign contributors and road contractor friends. However, even the Houston model (or traditional turnpike model) has now been replaced with the "Perry public tolling model" called "market valuation." No longer will tolls be kept as low as possible, now the tolling entity has to BY LAW charge market-based tolls which includes "profit" (except this is government profit) just like Perry's privatized dream. Mr. Casey and Houstonites need to realize this MAJOR shift in policy is coming to a road near them thanks to SB 792...

For whom the toll bills
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
Sept. 12, 2007
With all the madness in the world, I meditated Tuesday on two matters of great gratitude.

One is that through vigilance and good fortune we have, so far, gone six years without another major attack on U.S. soil.

The other is that I wasn't one of the Texas officials who was forced to attend a workshop in Austin in which PR flacks would try (under a $20,000 contract) to teach me techniques for selling Gov. Perry's massive toll road boondoggle.

It was a small part of a $7 million to $9 million campaign that will include feel-good ads pushing Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor.

Magic word didn't work

Given the growing uprising in both the Legislature and the public, that may not be enough.It would have been much wiser for Perry just to consult Harris County officials on how to do toll roads right.

It looks like Perry was caught by surprise by the hostility to his plan. He seems to have thought that by invoking the magic word "privatization" he could lull Texans into thinking we were getting something for nothing.

Under Perry's plan, private corporations, including at least one from Europe, will build the roads at little or no cost to Texas taxpayers.

It's a politically powerful idea, playing on the popular notion that the private sector is always more efficient than the public sector.

Harris County's better way

That's such a tantalizing tenet of current political theology that Harris County last year paid for a set of studies that looked at whether it should sell its toll roads.Based on the results of the studies, commissioners voted unanimously not to sell.

The two Democrats and three Republicans agreed that privatization isn't always better. And this is one of those cases.

The Houston approach is superior to Perry's in at least three ways:

• Despite recent hikes in tolls, drivers will pay considerably less per mile than they would on a privatized road.
The reason is simple. The private sector can't build or maintain the roads appreciably more cheaply, and their operating costs are higher.

For one thing, corporations must pay federal taxes. For another, they must pay their shareholders.

What's more, their job is to maximize their profits. Unlike the Harris Toll Road Authority, they will make substantial political contributions and hire the best lobbyists to persuade state officials to let them charge whatever the traffic will bear.

TxDOT's Web site promoting the governor's plan offers this as reassurance: "If it is too expensive, motorists will not use the road."

• Private sector profits go to shareholders and highly paid executives. Harris County toll road profits are used to pay for nontoll streets and roads.
Currently, $40 million a year in tolls go to non-toll road projects. In effect, those who are able and willing to pay for the speed and convenience of toll roads are subsidizing the "free" streets.

I'd much rather have part of my toll go to other streets I will drive than to wealthy Spaniards, or to wealthy Texans, for that matter.

• Before they will invest hundreds of millions in building roads, private companies want and get noncompete provisions. You would, too.
By contrast, Harris County has consistently built free access roads parallel to its toll roads.

If you don't have an EZ Tag to get on the Westpark Tollway, you can do pretty well traveling Westpark Drive.

"That's the way we've made toll roads politically acceptable here," said Art Storey, Harris County infrastructure director.

Elected officials have to worry about such things.

Hutchison amendment bans tolling some existing interstates

We applaud Senator Hutchison for attempting to begin the long process of reining-in not just our rogue state agency, TxDOT, but also many of her colleagues who told her stopping managed lane projects (adding new toll lanes to existing corridors to "manage" congestion, which is also a DOUBLE TAX) was a non-starter.

That said, this amendment does little overall to stop any current toll projects in the works throughout Texas. The State can still bulldoze our existing interstates to their heart's content and re-arrange the pavement to make way for toll lanes down the middle. They call them "new lanes" but they're using our existing right of way already paid for with gas taxes. So it's still a DOUBLE TAX. The State can also continue to toll existing STATE highways, all or in part, unabated.

Then when you consider TxDOT's tricks to replace those "existing lanes" with frontage roads or to narrow the width of the existing lanes (after they destroy them then re-build them, taking twice the construction time as a freeway and more than double the cost), it will slow down or manipulate traffic in such a way as to maximize the number of people on the tollway, this amendment is a start, but doesn't come close to addressing the fundamental concerns of taxpayers. When the Texas A&M Study says we don't need toll roads, it's confounding that some politicians still march ahead over the people's objections! This battle is far from over and Hutchison vows to continue to fight this DOUBLE TAXATION in its many forms. We surely hope so!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 11, 2007

Sen. Hutchison Protects Texas Taxpayers From Double Taxation on Existing Highways

Senate Passes Hutchison Amendment to Ban Tolling Existing Highways in Texas for One Year

WASHINGTON -- Texas’ senior Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R–TX) today passed an amendment to H. R. 3074, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill, that protects Texas taxpayers by placing a one-year moratorium on tolling existing highways in Texas. The FY 2008 THUD bill, which passed the Senate today by a vote of 88-7, would be effective through September 30, 2008. The Senate version will now need to be reconciled with the House-passed bill in a conference.

“Today we protected Texas taxpayers from paying twice for a highway,” Sen. Hutchison said. “I will continue pushing for a permanent prohibition of tolling existing highways.”

If enacted, Sen. Hutchison will have protected Texas for one year, but she is committed to addressing this issue on a more comprehensive basis in the 2009 Highway Reauthorization bill. Sen. Hutchison’s amendment preserves the Texas State Legislature’s authority over this issue in Texas.

During the 80th session of the Texas Legislature the state House and Senate approved a measure that would place a two-year moratorium on building toll roads in Texas.

“Sen. Hutchison is a hero to every Texas driver,” State Sen. and former Texas Transportation Commissioner Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) said. “Her amendment is the right thing to do and I strongly support her position.”

Last week Sen. Hutchison filed S. 2019, a bill to prohibit the tolling of interstate highways that have used federal funds in their construction, and the next day four Members of Congress filed companion legislation, H.R. 3510. The House bill was filed by Reps. John Peterson (R–PA), Phil English (R–PA), Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX) and Ciro Rodriguez (D–TX). Sen. John Cornyn (R–TX) cosponsored Sen. Hutchison’s bill.

Efforts to toll newly constructed lanes or new highways would not be prohibited in Sen. Hutchison’s amendment that passed the Senate, or in S. 2019 or H.R. 3510.

“I’ve long believed that if local communities and the state want to come together and build a toll road, they should be able to do it,” Sen. Hutchison said.

Earlier this year the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) declared they will lobby Congress to allow for the “buy back” of existing federal highways in Texas for the purpose of tolling. In February TxDOT released their legislative agenda in a report called “Forward Momentum,” which seeks changes in federal law that would allow such buybacks for the purpose of tolling interstate highways, pending approval by local governments.

“I deeply thank Sen. Hutchison for being a voice of reason on this issue,” State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R–Brenham) said. “Asking Texans to pay twice for the same road violates the trust that should exist between people and government.”

Sen. Hutchison passed a similar amendment as part of the 2005 Highway Bill, which passed the Senate but was stripped in conference by the House of Representatives.

“The purpose of having an interstate system is so that we could have seamless and free transportation into every State of our Union,” Sen. Hutchison said.

The text of Sen. Hutchison's amendment can be found here:
Sen. Hutchison is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which has jurisdiction over all of the Appropriations bills, including THUD.


Texas Toll Ban Added to Transportation Bill

WASHINGTON (AP) - The transportation spending bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday includes a ban on tolls for existing Texas roadways.

The Texas toll ban is attached to the $106 billion spending bill approved by the Senate 88-7. The bill also includes an amendment banning Mexican trucks from U.S. roadways, which was passed late Tuesday.

The toll ban amendment authored by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is in addition to a two-year moratorium imposed on construction of new toll roads by the Legislature during this year's session.

Building new toll roads or lanes in Texas would not be prohibited by the amendment.

The Senate bill now heads to conference committee to be reconciled with the House version.

President Bush has threatened to veto the final bill because of its cost.
©2007 Associated Press.

U.S. House files companion bill to Hutchison’s to stop the tolling of existing interstates

The bill is HR 3510 with identical wording to Hutchison's amendment attached to an appropriations bill yesterday. This is a stand alone bill (versus an amendment that will end when the appropriations bill ends next year) to put a permanent end to a total conversion of an existing interstate into a toll road. The bill would also keep TxDOT from buying back an existing interstate from the feds with the intent of tolling it.

That said, it does little to stop any current toll projects in the works throughout Texas. The State can still bulldoze our existing interstates to their heart's content and re-arrange the pavement to make way for toll lanes down the middle. They call them "new lanes" but they're using our existing right of way already paid for with gas taxes. So it's still a DOUBLE TAX. The State can also continue to toll existing state highways all or in part unabated.

Then when you consider TxDOT's tricks to replace those "existing lanes" with frontage roads or to narrow the width of the existing lanes (after they destroy them then re-build them, taking twice the construction time as a freeway), it will slow down or manipulate traffic in such a way as to maximize the number of people on the tollway, this bill is a start, but doesn't come close to addressing the fundamental concerns of taxpayers. When the Texas A&M Study says we don't need toll roads, it's confounding that some politicians and bureaucrats still march ahead over the people's objections!

House bill would block highway tolls
By Gary Martin
Express-News, Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — House lawmakers from Texas and Pennsylvania filed a bill to block proposals in their respective states to toll federal highways to provide revenue for repair and construction, officials said Tuesday.
The House bill is a companion to legislation filed in the Senate by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who has vowed to stop efforts in Austin to "buy back" federal highways and levying tolls on state taxpayers.

"Tolling existing freeways — the lifeblood of moving goods and services — is bad public policy, and states like Pennsylvania and Texas would incur irrevocable economic damage," said Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa.

Rep. Ciro Rodriguez and Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, both San Antonio Democrats, joined Peterson and Rep. Phil English, R-Pa., in co-sponsoring the House bill.

Rodriguez signed on one week after meeting with Ric Williamson, the Texas transportation commissioner, in Washington.

Williamson met with federal lawmakers, urging them to relax current laws that prohibit tolls on U.S. highways.

The state is seeking revenue to make up an $86 billion shortfall preventing Texas from improving highways.

Williamson, a Republican, has proposed buying back federal highways and turning them over to private entities to levy a toll that would produce money to improve and expand infrastructure.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Williamson say a decision to toll an existing highway or road should rest with the local taxpayer, not federal officials.

Decisions on how to use existing highways "would be better made in San Antonio and San Angelo than in Washington," said Chris Lippincott, a Texas Department of Transportation spokesman.

Pennsylvania also is eyeing plans to toll Interstate 80, as well as other revenue enhancing measures being studied by Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat.

"The real problem is, we don't have sufficient resources and our infrastructure is falling apart across the country," Rodriguez said.

But Rodriguez said the state should not penalize Texas taxpayers and make them pay twice for federal roads that were built with public funds.

"Those roads have already been paid for," Rodriguez said.

Hutchison and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, are opposed to the state's tolling existing federal highways. Hutchison vowed to block any effort to lift current prohibitions to the practice.

The entire South Texas congressional delegation opposes the state plan.

Rodriguez said he asked Williamson to list the state's most dire transportation needs.

If those issues cannot be addressed in supplemental spending bill, the state could be forced to wait until Congress takes up the reauthorization of the transportation bill next year, Rodriguez said.

Texas governor, Mexico agree to extend Trans-Texas Corridor

Link to article here.

NAFTA Superhighway plans advance south
Texas governor, Mexico agree to extend Trans-Texas Corridor
By Jerome R. Corsi
© 2007
September 10, 2007

Official Mexican government reports reveal Mexico has entered discussions with the state of Texas and top officials in the Bush administration to extend the Trans-Texas Corridor into Mexico, with a plan to connect through Monterrey to the deep-water Mexican ports on the Pacific, including Manzanillo and Lazaro Cardenas.

The official website of the Mexican northeastern state of Nuevo León contain multiple reports that José Natividad Gonzáles Parás, governor of the Mexican state of Nuevo León, has actively discussed with numerous U.S. government officials, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the extension of the Trans-Texas Corridor into Mexico to create what's called a "Trans North America Corridor."

In an August trip to Mexico, Perry made news in U.S. media by calling the idea of building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border "idiocy."

Largely unreported in the American press were meetings Perry held in Mexico with Gonzáles Parás in which the two discussed extending the corridor into Mexico.

In their private meetings, the pair thoroughly discussed extending TTC-35 into Mexico, according to a report on the government's site.
In an interview prior to Perry's visit, Gonzáles Parás made it clear the extension of TTC-35 into Mexico would be a discussed during Perry's time there.

"We have had interaction with the governor of Texas," Gonzáles Parás said. "We have had a very productive relationship with Rick Perry, who is also interested in what we can do to continue that which is known as the Trans-Texas Corridor, that in reality is the corridor of North America, the Trans North America Corridor, that includes railroads, bridges, passenger automobile highways, and truck highway lanes."

Gonzáles Parás further explained the extension of TTC-35 into Mexico would connect through Monterrey, a city which he suggested would function as a hub for truck-freight traffic. Monterrey is the capital of Nuevo León.

"One of the themes that merited the most attention on the part of the two governors was the development of the infrastructure needed for the competitive development of the region as it relates to developing the Trans-Texas Corridor in connection with the project we call the Corridor of Northeastern Mexico," the Nuevo León government website reported Gonzáles Parás saying Sept. 1, at the conclusion of Perry's visit.

Gonzáles Parás is reportedly pursuing plans to establish Monterrey as an "inland port" where international container freight cargo, largely delivered into Mexico via the Mexican ports on the Pacific, could be transported via a Trans North America Corridor into the United States via Laredo, Texas.

Once on I-35, the Mexican trucks transporting the Chinese containers could travel north, heading toward U.S. inland ports, such as WND has previously reported are being established by the Free Trade Alliance San Antonio in San Antonio and in Kansas City by the Kansas City SmartPort.

NASCO's original homepage in June 2006 opened with a map highlighting the I-35 corridor from Mexico to Canada.
On May 24, Gonzáles Parás announced during his recent meetings in Austin, Perry had agreed the envisioned Trans North America Corridor would pass through Laredo and connect with San Antonio, just as Mexico ultimately planned to extend the superhighway south into Colombia.

"We have also worked in Monterrey to create an inland port, a metropolitan center for moving rapidly the commercial traffic from Monterrey to the inland port at San Antonio," Gonzáles Parás said in the state-published interview."For this strategic project to be accomplished, we have been working with the federal government in Mexico and well as holding discussions with the secretary of transportation and the secretary of state in the United States."

WND has previously reported similar comments made by Gonzáles Parás at a Feb. 22 press conference in Mexico that first announced Transportes Olympic had been selected as the first trucking firm to cross the border in the Mexican truck-demonstration project.

In speaking to the group assembled at the company's headquarters, Gonzáles Parás announced the Trans-Texas Corridor was not just the NAFTA Superhighway, but "the Logistical Trans-Corridor of North America," uniting Mexico, the United States and Canada.

He next announced the time had arrived to declare a North American Economic Community.

Gonzáles Parás explained the Trans-Texas Corridor was more accurately known in Mexico as the "Logistical Trans-Corridor of North America."

"I want to let you know how much we in this border state of Nuevo León have been working with our neighbor state of Texas," he said, "making agreements which permit us to enrich what in Texas is called the 'Trans-Texas Corridor,' but what we in Mexico know as the 'Logistical Corridor of North America.'"

"We – Canada, the United States and Mexico – have to perfect this Logistical Trans-Corridor of North America for our mutual benefit," Gonzáles Parás continued.

He expanded his vision of a Logistical Corridor of North America to include the construction of a train and truck corridor that would cut through the heart of North America.

WND has previously described as a new NAFTA Superhighway, the first segment of which is the planned four-football-fields-wide Trans-Texas Corridor which the Texas Department of Transportation plans to build parallel to Interstate 35.

WND has also reported that at the recent Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP) third summit held in Montebello, Quebec, President Bush and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper ridiculed the idea that SPP might result in the creation of a North American Union or NAFTA Superhighways.

These reports in Spanish published on the Nuevo León government website suggest that discussions about extending TTC-35 into Mexico are much further advanced that have been admitted by the Bush administration or reported upon in the U.S. mainstream media.

Schlafly: U.S. self-government in peril due to SPP, NAFTA superhighways

U.S. self-government is in peril

By Phyllis Schlafly, Eagle Forum
Monday, September 10, 2007

It's now leaking out that there was more going on than met the eye at the Security and Prosperity Partnership Summit in Montebello, Canada, in August. The three amigos - President George W. Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon - finalized and released the "North American Plan for Avian & Pandemic Influenza."

The "Plan" - that's what they call it, with a capital P - is to use the excuse of a major flu epidemic to shift powers from U.S. legislatures to unelected, unaccountable "North American" bureaucrats.

This idea was launched on Sept. 14, 2005, when Bush announced the "International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza." He was then speaking to the United Nations General Assembly.

We might have thought that idea had some merit because the influenza partnership called for "transparency in reporting of influenza cases in humans and in animals" and the "sharing of epidemiological data and samples." That's very different from the Security and Prosperity Summit, where transparency has always been conspicuously avoided like the plague.

This year's Security and Prosperity Summit in Canada morphed the Influenza Partnership into the North American Plan. Now we discover that the Plan is not only about combating a flu epidemic but is far-reaching in seeking control over U.S. citizens and public policy during an epidemic.

The Plan repeatedly features the favorite Bush word "comprehensive" - it calls for a "comprehensive, coordinated North American approach." The Plan would give authority to international bureaucrats "beyond the health sector to include a coordinated approach to critical infrastructure protection," including "border and transportation issues."

The Plan is a wordy 44-page document, much of which sounds innocuous. It is helpful to exchange information about disease and take precautions against letting foreign diseases enter the United States.

However, self-government and sovereignty are at risk when control over these matters is turned over to a newly created North American body headed by the representative of another country. It's an additional problem when the entire Plan is a spin-off of the Security and Prosperity Partnership, an arrangement created in secret solely by White House press releases, without Congressional approval or even oversight.

The 2007 Plan acknowledges that it is based not only on the Influenza Partnership, but also on the guidelines, standards and rules of the World Health Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health, the World Trade Organization, and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The Plan sets up a "senior level coordinating body to facilitate the effective planning and preparedness within North America for a possible outbreak of avian and/or human pandemic influenza under the Security and Prosperity Partnership." The Plan identifies this Security and Prosperity Partnership coordinating body as "decision-makers."

The Plan then (ungrammatically) states: "The chair of the Security and Prosperity Partnership coordinating body will rotate between each national authority on a yearly basis." Thus, a foreigner will be the "decision maker" for Americans in two out of every three years.

What powers will this foreign-headed coordinating body exercise? The Plan suggests that these include "the use of antivirals and vaccines; ... social distancing measures, including school closures and the prohibition of community gatherings; ... isolation and quarantine."

Will this foreign-headed coordinating body respect the First Amendment "right of the people peaceably to assemble"? Or will the rules of the Plan, Security and Prosperity Partnership, World Health Organization, World Organization for Animal Health, World Trade Organization and NAFTA take precedence?

In evaluating the Plan, it is instructive to recall the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act, an anti-epidemic plan launched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Oct. 23, 2001. Designed to be passed by all state legislatures, the model bill was primarily written by Lawrence O. Gostin, a former member of U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's discredited Task Force on Health Care Reform, and was promoted by the Bush administration during its first year.

The proposed Emergency Health Powers Act would have given each governor sole discretion to declare a public health emergency and grant himself extraordinary powers. He would have been able to restrict or prohibit firearms, seize private property and destroy it in many circumstances, and impose price controls and rationing.

Governors would have been given the power to order people out of their homes and into dangerous quarantines. Children could have been taken from their parents and put into public quarantines.

Governors could even have demanded that physicians administer certain drugs despite individuals' religious or other objections. The Emergency Health Powers Act was based on the concept that decision-making by authoritarian bosses and unelected bureaucrats is the way to go in a time of crisis.

The proposed Emergency Health Powers Act roused a nationwide storm of protest because it was an unprecedented assault on the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens, as well as on the principle of limited government, and so it never passed anywhere in its original text. Will similar totalitarian notions now bypass legislatures and be forced upon us by Security and Prosperity Partnership press releases?

Tolls in Comal County? Commish says no, but toll plans say yes!

Link to Herald-Zeitung article where Comal County Commissioner claims there will be no tolls on his watch, but toll plans say otherwise. here.

See Herald-Zeitung article below.

No tolls in Comal County? Think again. The Trans Texas Corridor TTC-35 Development Plan discloses that the State plans to toll I-35 from San Antonio to Dallas. Considering both I-35 and US 281 will be tolled in the near term in Bexar County and shortly thereafter through Comal County, county residents will not be insulated from toll roads. Interstate 35 is one of the primary arteries Comal County residents depend on to get to work as is US 281. As much as we'd like to think tolls stop at the county line, drivers who depend on these corridors will still pay BIG!

The article below entitled, Toll lanes in county? ‘Not on our watch,’ states that SB 792 exempted 281 and 1604 from the PRIVATE toll moratorium. This is inaccurate. SB 792 specifically includes 281 in the private toll moratorium and since the contract linked 281 and 1604 together in the same bid, both projects CAN NO LONGER BE HANDED TO A PRIVATE FOREIGN COMPANY. That is a HUGE victory for the taxpayers! However, the PUBLIC tolling entity in Bexar County is moving ahead with 281 & 1604 as a toll project.

Overall, the privatization of our public infrastructure is far from over. The U.S. Department of Transportation just announced that I-10 from California to Florida and I-69 from Texas to Michigan are eligible to become privately financed, tolled trade corridors (see it on TxDOT's web site).

They have the plan, the money, and the clearance to fix 281 WITHOUT tolls

Secondly, in the article, TxDOT Engineer Greg Malatek falsely claimed he hasn’t heard any non-toll options coming from toll opponents. Even a cursory glimpse of the web site shows a prominent tab called “Non-toll Solutions.” On the home page of it also displays a section “Non-toll Alternatives” and the animated presentation focuses almost entirely on an alternative to converting existing freeway US 281 into a tollway. TxDOT has the funding for a non-toll improvement plan for overpasses and the expansion of US 281.

It's inexplicable that they delayed the desperately needed fix out there when they had the money in hand and the environmental clearance to begin building those overpasses in 2003. TxDOT could plainly see that the stop lights gave them the opportunity to hi-jack an existing highway and turn it into a toll road replaced by frontage roads with permanent stop lights. It fools the public into thinking it’s an apples to apples trade-off. Instead, it’s a ghastly expensive re-arranging of pavement that tolls an existing freeway.

TxDOT’s failure to even acknowledge the gas tax plan and their failure to inform the public about this option has allowed them to deceive people into thinking the ONLY way to get the fix is to toll it. TxDOT is pushing the plan that puts money in their pocket while remaining silent about the gas tax plan which wouldn't.

Why should anyone have to pay a toll when they have the plan, the clearance, and the money to fix US 281 as a freeway? There is no justification for tolling that freeway other than greed and to tap the vein of 281 users to fund other road projects politicians won't fund through the gas tax. Over 90% of the public feedback in their own environmental studies showed people opposed tolling, and citizens insisted the gas tax plan alternative be used in it’s place.

Texas does not need a single toll road to solve congestion

Then, a study by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M released last year revealed Texas does not need a single toll road to solve congestion. While TxDOT clings to false figures saying they’d have to raise the gas tax by as much as $1.40 a gallon, in contrast, the TTI Study showed all that’s needed is indexing the gas tax to inflation. Mr. Malatek and TxDOT also know this, but they continue to use scare tactics and ultimatums to push the MOST EXPENSIVE OPTION…toll roads. How expensive? Compare 1-3 a mile we pay now in gas tax to 30 cents or more a mile in tolls (per TxDOT’s studies and toll roads in Austin). Just a 20 mile, one-way commute would mean over $3,000 a year in new toll taxes PER COMMUTER!

State Auditor says can’t trust TxDOT’s figures

Twice this year, the State Auditor caught TxDOT lying about their figures. The first report showed they cooked the books and purposely miscoded expenditures “engineering” when in fact they had spent it on public relations! The second report found that nearly half of TxDOT’s “funding gap” is pure FICTION and cannot be substantiated with a single sheet of paper!

Given the fact that TxDOT has adamantly claimed they’re not tolling existing freeways, only to find out that they lobbied Congress to do just that (as evidenced in TxDOT’s report “Forward Momentum”), our highway department’s repeated and brazen misstatement of facts has shredded any credibility they had left.

It’s time to clean house at TxDOT and remove every single politician who voted to toll and that failed to rein-in this agency run amok!
Toll lanes in county? "Not on our watch"
By David Saleh Rauf
The Herald-Zeitung
September 9, 2007

State transportation officials moving forward with toll road projects in San Antonio have no plans to build toll lanes on U.S. 281 in Comal County.

The Texas Department of Transportation was recently given the green light by Federal Highway Administration officials to continue with an ambitious U.S. 281 toll road project that stretches from Loop 1604 to Comal County. But the U.S. 281/1604 toll project ó which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars ó and TxDOT's push to convert existing highways into tolled lanes, will not cross into Comal County, officials said.

“Not going to happen,” said Pct. 2 Commissioner Jay Milikin. “Not on our watch.”

State transportation officials announced their plans to move forward with toll lanes on U.S. 281 in San Antonio just five days before local TxDOT representatives held a public hearing on a project slated to improve 6.8 miles of U.S. 281 in Comal County.

Less than two weeks later, reports surfaced that TxDOT had been pushing Congress to pass a federal law allowing them to purchase portions of existing interstate highways and turn them into toll roads, which has put a spotlight on the U.S. 281 issue in Comal County. Since then, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX, has filed legislation that would block TxDOT's move to acquire existing roads and convert them into tolled lanes.

The possibility of tolled lanes to fund construction of new roads, such as the proposed outer loop around the city, still is a possibility in Comal County, said TxDOT area engineer Greg Malatek. But local TxDOT officials said they will not turn existing highways into tolled lanes in the County.

“Right now, commissioner's court has made it loud and clear … they don't want to see toll roads on any existing roadway,” Malatek said.

Milikin said the county has reached an agreement with local TxDOT officials that will prevent them from pursuing toll road projects on existing highways in Comal without Commissioners' Court approval.

Commissioners have rejected prior attempts by TxDOT to toll existing highways to help fund road improvement projects within the county, Milikin said.

In turn, Commissioners' Court reached an agreement with TxDOT to front a portion of constructions costs to help improve U.S. 281 and a segment of Texas 46. As part of the pass-through agreement, the county has agreed to loan the state $16 million for each respective project. Milikin said the state will pay back the principle of the loan over a four-to-five-year period, but the county will “eat the interest.”

“I don't like using county tax payer money to subsidize the state, but that's exactly what we're doing,” Milikin said. “Without the pass-through agreement, we were looking at 15 to 20 years before those improvements would be made on 46 and 281.”

While commissioners in Comal have guaranteed that no toll roads will pop up on existing highways within the county anytime soon, in San Antonio and other portions of the state toll road projects are moving forward, despite a so-called two-year moratorium on private toll road contracts.

Senate Bill 792, over which Gov. Rick Perry threatened to call a special session at one point, left exemptions for nearly every toll road project that had already contracted with private developers, including the U.S. 281/1604 project in San Antonio.

Several state lawmakers who voted against the measure, including Rep. Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde, have since banded together to oppose TxDOT's latest $7 to 9 million public relations campaign aimed at promoting toll roads. The “Keep Texas Moving: Tolling and Trans-Texas Corridor Outreach,” which began in June, has drawn criticism from some state lawmakers and anti-toll road activists for wasting valuable gas tax dollars to promote toll roads.

“They're trying to use a $9 million blitz campaign to sell toll roads,” said Rep. Joe Farias, D-San Antonio, who along with Macias and Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, held a press conference last week calling for an end to TxDOT's press campaign.

“If anything, the biggest thing is that as far toll roads go, the folks oppose who toll roads we're really not hearing any other options to stop congestion in San Antonio,” Malatek said.

U.S. 281 Expansion in Comal County

• What: Upgrading 6.8 miles of U.S. 281 in Comal County from 2-lane, undivided sections to 4-lane divided roadway.

• Where: Between FM 311 and FM 306 on U.S. 281.

• When: Construction to begin in 2010; could take up to 3 years.

• How Much: $55.4 million

Letter to Editor: Toll plans put special interests over public good

No toll roads
Houston Business Journal
Letter to Editor
If there's an ounce of dignity and integrity, and the need to do the right thing, we must speak out against the Central Texas and Trans-Texas Corridor toll road plans.

Contrary to Gov. Rick Perry, the Capital Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Texas Department of Transportation and other special-interest entities, the toll plan is not in the best interest of Texans.

The majority of Texas residents do not want toll roads. But officials -- elected and otherwise -- continue to push aside the will of the people they serve. Any reasonable person must be able to see that toll roads merely are another form of regressive taxation.

While we're told that there are options in place for those who do not want to pay the tolls, the reality is quite different.

All Texas consumers will pay tolls, whether they use the toll roads or not. We will all pay tolls many times over in purchasing goods and services from businesses that will use the toll roads.

Inevitably, businesses pass along such costs to their consumers. In addition, many of the roads slated for tolls already have been paid for with tax dollars. How many times should we pay for the same road?

Toll roads are nothing more than special-interest profiteering.

Toll plans should be eliminated because they are not cost-effective, not necessary, and the people of Texas don't want them.

Special-interest officials must not determine the direction of our transportation needs.

Texans must decide what is in their own best interests -- or at least the plan should be part of a public referendum.

Peter Stern, Driftwood, Tx.

Bush funds NAFTA highways, so who's lying to whom? I-10 & I-69 through TX declared trade corridors

Considering VP Dick Cheney and others repeatedly deny that NAFTA Superhighways are in the works, here's yet more evidence that they're alive and well and being funded by the Bush Administration. When 19 state legislatures have passed resolutions against them, and the U.S. House overwhelmingly passed an amendment de-funding them, it's abundantly obvious who's lying to whom. George Bush, Rick Perry and their corporate, globalist cronies have sold out their fellow Americans, eroded our sovereignty, stolen representative government with backroom deals, all in the name of international trade to benefit Wall Street. See a similar announcement about I-10 & I-69 becoming trade corridors (aka - NAFTA highways) on TxDOT's web site.

Bush administration allocates $66M to 'NAFTA highways'
The Business Journal of Phoenix
September 10, 2007

The Bush administration announced Monday it is granting $66.2 million to reduce congestion and improve freight flow on several so-called NAFTA highways.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is allocating the money so it can work with state and local governments and the private sector on six interstate highways, with projects including the addition of bypasses and trucks-only lanes. Five of those highways connect to or run near the Mexican or Canadian borders:

* Interstate 15, which runs from San Diego through part of northwest Arizona all the way to the Canadian border.
* Interstate 10, which runs near the Mexican border from California through Arizona to Florida.
* Intestates 95, which runs from Florida through the northeastern U.S. to Canada.
* Interstate 5, which runs from the California-Mexico border through Oregon to the Washington-Canada border.
* Interstate 69, which free-trade backers hope to turn into a NAFTA superhighway, connecting an existing freeway between Indianapolis and Canada to a proposed highway running south into Texas and splitting to connect with Mexican border crossings at Laredo, Brownsville and McAllen.
The only nonborder highway getting grant money from the Bush administration is Interstate 70, which runs mostly through the Midwest.

The USDOT said Monday the money will be used to study transport options, such as bypasses of major cities and trucks-only lanes.

Supporters say improving such routes will enhance North American trade and commerce. Critics worry that such border-to-border corridors will make it easier for foreign goods to get into the U.S. unchecked and that increased truck traffic will damage animal habitats and air quality.

"These routes are unlikely to alleviate congestion for the long term and will result in further habitat fragmentation and degradation, as well as increased air pollution in areas in or near the proposed expansions and especially where they propose new roads," said Sandy Bahr, state coordinator for the Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group.

TxDOT under fire…from the concerned citizens of TURF!

Link to article here.

TxDOT under fire
Daily Light Managing Editor
Saturday, September 8, 2007

12th in a series

Transportation was a hot subject during the recent legislative session - and it continues to be so in the interim.

This week, several Texas lawmakers, Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson and state Reps. Joe Farias, David Leibowitz, Nathan Macias and others held a press conference in San Antonio in protest against current transportation policy and the Texas Department of Transportation.

Key among their concerns are recent reports the state agency has launched a public relations plan to promote the Trans-Texas Corridor and to lobby for toll roads. Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom founder Terri Hall is among those criticizing TxDOT for using tax dollars to promote the TTC and tolling.

During the San Antonio press conference, the group also called for TxDOT to install the original gas tax-funded improvement plan for U.S. Highway

281 and drop plans to convert that roadway into a toll road, with Hall saying citizens on hand called for the “immediate resignations of TxDOT leadership.”

Hall said TxDOT intends to make some interstates into toll corridors, including Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Dallas and Interstate 10 between Houston and San Antonio and also is looking at highways 281, 1604, Bandera Road and others around San Antonio.

“If TxDOT and the politicians who enable them have their way, it won’t stop there,” she said, saying, “TxDOT plans to take every single lane on existing highway U.S. 281 and convert them into toll lanes. The only free lanes will be frontage roads, not highway lanes.”

According to, TxDOT’s Web site relating to toll roads, Texas’ population has increased 57 percent in the past 25 years, with road use up by 95 percent.

That’s a problem, the agency said, when state road capacity grew only 8 percent. TxDOT further notes on its Web site that the state’s population is estimated to increase another 64 percent during the next 25 years, with road use to increase 214 percent.

“Without new funding methods, state road capacity will only grow 6 percent,” the agency says on its Web site.

According to a TURF press release, Adkisson, who sits on the San Antonio Metropolitian Planning Organization, said, “TxDOT should begin (improving its relations with the public) by installing the overpasses and improvements at an estimated cost of $100 million and already paid for by our gas taxes instead building the hugely intrusive $400 million toll plan for U.S. 281 at four times the cost (and double the number of lanes).”

Adkisson said the state’s transportation policy has failed in several areas by not indexing the gas tax and by not accelerating other forms of transportation. Creative solutions such as contraflow should be implemented and Texas should cease being a donor state that gives away more of its gas taxes than is returned, he said, saying the state is bearing the burden of NAFTA-related traffic.

Macias, Farias and Leibowitz discussed their work during the legislative session relating to control over the toll road and TTC issues - and how that work was subsequently altered. All three encouraged voters to seek accountability at the ballot box in the next election so as to affect needed changes.

During the press conference, Macias characterized tolling of an existing highway as the same as double taxation - and questioned TxDOT’s cost escalations for certain projects.

Farias said amendments he tried to put into the two-year private toll moratorium bill, Senate Bill 792, were stripped out, adding that he’s concerned with the economic impact of tolls on economically-disadvantaged constituents.

Leibowitz, who also sits on the San Antonio MPO, said he is calling for that board to pass a resolution against TxDOT’s public relations campaign and said he will ask state Attorney General Greg Abbott for an opinion on the issue.

“I have never voted for a single toll road bill in my time in the Texas House,” said Leibowitz, who also shared his concerns that Texas is paying a disproportionate share of the NAFTA cost.

Hall noted more lawmakers are becoming involved with the transportation issues.

“The citizens support lawmakers’ efforts to put accountability and sanity back into transportation policy,” Hall said. “With U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison introducing a bill to prevent the tolling of existing interstates this week, calls from U.S. Congressman Ciro Rodriguez to investigate the tolling of existing interstates report, and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Congressman Charlie Gonzales adamantly opposed to it, the people may get relief on the federal level first.”

Hall said she supports a move back to the gas tax-funded plan for improvements to 281 and a stop to the tolling of other existing highways.

“TxDOT has breached the public trust and it cannot be repaired short of cleaning house at that agency. They’ve repeatedly sworn to our faces they’re not tolling existing roads and then lobbied Congress to do just that,” Hall said.

TURF calls for investigation

In another development this week, TURF has called for Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle to investigate the Texas Department of Transportation relating to a public relations campaign it is mounting.

“Unaccountable, eminent domain abusing, runaway toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor,” TURF founder Terri Hall said. “It’s not just smarmy, it’s illegal.”

In a recent press release, TURF criticizes the agency for disregarding input from Texans, including more than 13,000 people who spoke during hearings on the TTC.

“Apparently they lack the intellectual capacity to understand one of the most basic words in the English language (‘no’),” the release reads, with Hall adding, “To add insult to injury, they patronize us further by thinking we just haven’t gotten the message or that we somehow don’t understand their cash-cow, land-grabbing, double-taxing toll road policies, therefore they need to spend our money to further indoctrinate us into submission.”

TURF’s disagrees with TxDOT’s plans to spend up to $9 million on its public relations campaign - which started June 1 - to promote the TTC.

“The politicians who are ramming this down our throats need to realize they can’t escape the long arm of the law, especially Ronnie Earle’s. Tom Delay couldn’t and neither will they,” Hall said.

“The citizens of Texas believe the Texas Department of Transportation is illegally using taxpayer money to wage a cleverly cloaked public relations campaign to push the wildly controversial Trans-Texas Corridor and toll road proliferation,” the complaint reads as filed by TURF, which notes the agency’s public relations campaign includes direct mail, billboards and employee training.

“It’s not only an inappropriate and wasteful use of our gas tax dollars by an agency perpetually claiming it’s out of money for roads, but it’s illegal for a public agency to take a policy position and use the public’s tax money to sell them something using an under-handed PR campaign,” the complaint reads.

TURF’s complaint also notes that a state auditor’s report issued earlier this year found “mismarking” of funds on expenditures relating to the TTC, with some expenditures marked as engineering instead of as an actual expense of public relations.

“Please open an investigation and prosecute this agency for its repeated illegal activities,” the TURF complaint reads. “The people of Texas want justice. When Ken Lay cooked the books at Enron, he was sent to jail. The same needs to happen with those guilty of breaking the law at the highway department.”

Hutchison’s response

In response to the tolling controversy, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, has filed legislation that would prohibit the tolling of existing federal highways across the country.

“My bill will protect drivers from paying tolls on roads that were already paid for by taxpayers,” Hutchison said in a statement about her legislation, S. 2019.

The legislation’s intent is to “prohibit the imposition and collection of tolls on certain highways constructed using federal funds,” by blocking the U.S. Secretary of Transportation from approving tolls on existing federally-funded highways. Under current law, states can apply to the U.S. Department of Transportation to place tolls on existing federal highways.

In a press release from her office, Hutchison said she would “vigorously oppose” any effort by Texas Department of Transportation to toll existing interstate highways through the use of buy backs.

Earlier this year, TxDOT officials said they intended to lobby Congress to allow for the buy back of existing federal highways in Texas for the purpose of tolling. Hutchison’s legislation specifically disallows states to place tolls on any federal highways they buy back from the DOT.

“I will work with members of the Texas Congressional delegation and the state legislature to ensure that Texans are never asked to pay a toll of an existing interstate highway,” said Hutchison, who serves as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which sets the budget for the federal Department of Transportation

In February, TxDOT released its legislative agenda in a report called “Forward Momentum,” which seeks changes in federal law that would allow such buy backs for the purpose of tolling interstate highways, pending approval by local governments.

S. 2019 is similar to a previous effort by Hutchison to block the use of tolls on existing interstate highways as part of the 2005 Highway Bill.

The amendment passed the Senate but was stripped in conference by the House of Representatives.

Cities fight to stop TTC

The cities of Bartlett, Holland, Little River-Academy and Rogers recently formed the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission to fight the TTC.

“This is one issue all four cities are united behind to save our rural way of life,” said newly elected president Mae Smith, who is mayor of Holland. Other members of the board include Arthur White, mayor of Bartlett; Ronnie White, mayor of Academy; the Rev. Billy Crow, mayor of Rogers; and Ralph Snyder, a business owner from Holland.

“The purpose of this commission is to give us a voice in this process. It’s our land that the Texas Department of Transportation and our governor want to take and we are not going to let them pave us over and ignore the concerns of our communities,” Snyder said.

The commission reports the TTC would take from 5,000 and 7,500 acres in Bell County alone, while taking in another 50,000 acres of farmland between San Antonio and the Texas-Oklahoma border. The Texas Legislature created the TTC in 2003 “and ever since, landowners have been fighting to protect their rights,” according to a press release from the commission.

The commission was formed using Texas Local Government Code, Chapter 391, which allows cities and counties to form regional planning commissions to work together to develop plans for their local region and to force the state agencies to coordinate with their activities.

Under Chapter 391.009(c), TxDOT is required to coordinate with commissions to ensure effective and orderly implementation of state programs at the regional level.

“TxDOT must coordinate with us before they can implement their plans in our region,” said Ronnie White, commission vice president. “The TTC is driven by greed and has no respect for our rural way of life.”

The commission says that under state law, TxDOT will be required to work with it and coordinate the agency’s plans with the local group before any land is taken or any construction begins.

“If not, they are in violation of the state statute and we are prepared to take them to court if necessary,” Smith said.

The individual cities have also requested that the Environmental Protection Agency reject the Draft Environmental Impact Statement submitted by TxDOT, because the agency did not coordinate with local government as required under the federal law.

Waller County rejects proposal

Waller County commissioners announced at a meeting in early August that they had been approached by TxDOT officials and Gary Bushell, a lobbyist for the Alliance for I-69 and the Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition, with a plan to route the TTC along the proposed path of the Prairie Parkway, which had been recently discussed as a thoroughfare from Highway 290 between Waller and Prairie View (James Muse Road), to I-10 and Woods Road.

Waller County commissioners rejected the proposal, according to a press release from Citizens for a Better Waller County.

“For folks that think that the Trans-Texas Corridor is not going to happen - this is a major wake up call,” said Don Garrett, president of the citizens group. “Not only does it show that TxDOT and Gov. Perry are going forward with the plans for the TTC-69, but that they still have Waller County dead in their sights for the path of this 1,200-feet wide mobility monster.

“Although there is a two-year moratorium that prevents TxDOT from signing a contract with a private company to build the TTC-69 under Senate Bill 792, that doesn’t mean that they can’t proceed forward with selecting a pathway for it,” he said.

Garrett said he encourages people living in Waller County to stay aware of TxDOT’s plans.

“An express toll road that is a 1/2 of a mile wide going through the dead center of Waller County would devastate it. It will change life as we know it in Waller County for generations to come,” Garrett said. “This move by TxDOT shows that they are still trying to route this thing through the middle of our county, despite the fact that nobody in Waller County wants it here.

“We are not opposed to a rational approach to solving our future transportation needs, but are adamantly opposed to a system that primarily benefits Wall Street and foreign investors,” he said, saying the organization has confirmed TxDOT representatives have met with Fort Bend County officials in regard to routing TTC-69 through Fort Bend County toward Waller County.

According to information from the organization, Prairie Parkway has been on the county’s thoroughfare plan since 1985 and has been updated because of development to Houston Executive Airport and expansion plans for I-10 and Highway 290. The route also will provide additional hurricane evacuation capabilities for coastal residents.

“TxDOT saw an opportunity with the proposed Prairie Parkway to piggyback the TTC on top of it. It’s now up to the citizens of Waller County to let TxDOT know what they think about that,” Garrett said.

A final route for TTC-69 is pending release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and additional hearings.

“It is more important now than ever that people pay attention to what is going on around here,” Garrett said. “The TTC is alive and well and TxDOT is hoping that folks are asleep at the wheel when they show up with bulldozers.”

Denver inks deal with Portuguese firm, contract includes non-compete clause

An agreement has been reached with foreign investors to take over operations of the Denver area's Northwest Parkway transportation corridor, but one critic says the contract includes a no-compete clause that will impose mandatory traffic congestion – for the next 99 years.

"It's bad enough that the Northwest Parkway Public Highway Authority and its member governments sharply increased the tolls for today's drivers, but to intentionally impose a century of congestion on future generations in exchange for this short-term bailout is shockingly shortsighted," said Golden Mayor Pro Tem Jacob Smith.

The Northwest Parkway runs around the northwest corner of the Denver metropolitan area, and connects to several other segments of a transportation corridor that is being developed about 20 miles outside of the Denver downtown. The metropolitan area has been identified as an ultimate target for construction in several different NAFTA Superhighway configurations.

Golden has been battling the plans, because the proposals have been for a new highway to bisect the historic Colorado foothills town.

Officials with the highway authority, who report daily road usage totals ranging from 1,891 to 16,451 vehicles, recently announced a 99-year lease agreement with Auto-Estradas de Portugal, S.A., which is known as Brisa.

The Northwest Parkway outside of Denver is a 70-mile per hour toll road that is a part of a transportation corridor circling the metropolitan area. It is being leased to a company that obtained a no-compete clause.
Officials in Portugal noted that it is the company's first adventure in leasing and running a toll road in the United States, although it already runs hundreds of miles of toll roads in Europe and South America.

Brisa reports it has 90 percent of the contract, while its Brazilian subsidiary Companhia de Concessoes Rodoviarias has 10 percent. The Colorado project already has about nine miles of roadway built and open for use, with another two miles yet to be constructed.

The company estimates it will invest about $543 million in the project. A different estimate came from Northwest Parkway officials, who said the company will pay off the $503 million in bonded indebtedness, and allow another $100 million for other costs.

But Golden officials, fearing the encroachment of transportation megaprojects, warned that Article 14 of the lease to privatize the Northwest Parkway operations "requires payments to the foreign corporation if certain roads or facilities are built in the area that would compete with the toll road."

"The lease provides that 'the construction of a Competing Transportation Facility' constitutes an action that gives the foreign corporation the right to terminate the lease and seek significant damages from the Highway Authority," the city said in a statement.

Such competing facilities, the city noted, would include the extension of several major arterials in the vicinity of the Northwest Parkway, certain other road projects within five miles of the highway, as well as even some mass transit projects.

"Because such damages would likely return the Authority to a financially perilous position, it will create a large impediment to future transportation projects in the area," the city said.

"This noncompete agreement intentionally ties the hands of local and regional governments and the state to address transportation needs in this area, which can only serve to further congest area roads over the 99-year term of the lease. The beneficiaries of this agreement are the Portuguese and Brazilian companies that will collect the tolls. Even then, it's unlikely they'll be able to generate sufficient traffic on the road," Smith said.

"If demand existed or was expected to materialize for the Northwest Parkway or potential extensions of the toll road, there wouldn't be a need for such a noncompete agreement. However, all the traffic studies to date show there is very little demand for a major tolled highway between Broomfield and Golden, and tolling could only pay for a small fraction of what would be needed to build such a road. The only thing that could make the noncompete agreement worse would be if taxpayers were forced to subsidize extensions of the toll road and then be forced to pay to use them," Smith said.

City officials noted that noncompete clauses on toll roads have produced difficulties in other parts of the region, and nation. In the 1990s, communities in the corridor northeast of Denver, which now includes Denver International Airport, agreed no roads would compete with the E-470 toll road there. So Commerce City was required to lower the speed limit and install traffic lights on another publicly funded corridor, Tower Road.

"According to a 2004 report from the U.S. Government Accounting Office, 'The language in the noncompete clause for the SR91 Express Lanes in Orange County, Calif., effectively prevented the state from improving the nontolled freeway lanes of SR91 until 2030 – the term of the franchise agreement – and was the subject of litigation and considerable public outcry,'" the city said.

The result there was that the Orange County Transportation Authority bought the road back from the private operator.

The contract also allows the tolls to rise from the current $2 for the nine miles to $3 over the next year, and then at least 2 percent every year thereafter.

The consortium will handle road maintenance, traffic enforcement and making improvements, and in return will take all of the tolls.

WND previously reported that North America's SuperCorridor Coalition, Inc., or NASCO, also has figured out a way to cash in on the Chinese containers passing along the NAFTA Superhighway from the Mexican ports of Manzanillo and Lazaro Cardenas to U.S. and Canadian destinations.

WND has obtained a copy of a draft preliminary joint venture contract between Savi Networks and NASCO, specifying that NASCO will get paid 25 cents for each "revenue-generating intermodal ocean cargo container" registered by the RFID sensors the communist Chinese are now installing along Interstate 35.

Pro-tollers criticize Hutchison's bill to protect taxpayers from tolling existing highways

Link to article here. The word from the tollers on Hutchison's bill to prevent tolling of existing highways. They don't even try to hide their elitist snobbery. Tolling gas tax funded roads is a DOUBLE TAX, period. Everyone knows there's ongoing maintenance needed for highways, that's why we pay ongoing road taxes. If gas taxes are becoming insufficient, then let's fix it. Even that is arguable given lawmakers' penchant for raiding gas taxes for non-transportation purposes. The A&M Study takes away the tolling argument anyway...all that's needed is to index the gas tax to inflation to meet all of our future transportation needs. So stop trying to DOUBLE TAX us with the MOST EXPENSIVE solution to benefit your road building friends.

Wild anti-toll bill filed in US Senate by Sen KB Hutchinson
Fri, 09-07-2007
Toll Road News
US Senator from Texas Kay Bailey Hutchinson (Repub) has filed a bill S2109 (download text here) which purports to prohibit tolls on existing untolled interstates. The bill is so poorly drafted it is difficult to know whether to take it seriously.

Section 1 is titled "Prohibition on imposition and collection of tolls on certain highways constructed (NOTE: past tense) using federal funds". Then under definitions "The term 'federal highway facility' means any highway, bridge or tunnel on the Interstate System that is (NOTE: present tense) constructed using federal funds."

The garbled tenses make it unclear whether S2109 means to ban tolls on interstates built in the past with federal funds (the title's past tense) or to prevent tolling of highways being built now with some federal funds (the definition's present tense).

The present tense used in that definition in the Hutchinson bill seems to emasculate it. It could be interpreted to exempt all the existing facilities already constructed from a toll ban.

The bill's use of the term "federal highway facility" for interstates is very odd too.

No "interstate" highway facility we can think of is owned or operated by the federal government. The interstate highways are all state highway facilities because states hold legal title to them and operate them, even though most of the untolled interstates were built with federal aid as well as state funds, and had to obtain federal permits.

Most true "federal highway facilities" are 2-lane roads within federal property such as national parks and US military bases. We can't think of any of these federal highway facilities that are interstates. The Baltimore Washington Parkway owned and operated by the National Park Service is one federal highway facility that approaches interstate standards - 2+2 lanes, limited access and grade separations. But it is not designated an interstate! It is MD295. The same is true of the Dulles Airport Access Road. It too is not an Interstate, but part of a state route - VA267.

The Hutchinson bill says under a heading "Prohibition" that on interstates misdescribed as federal highway facilities the secretary of transportation shall not permit tolls on roads "in existence" on the date of enactment and which have no tolls on them on the date of the enactment.

When a road comes into "existence" is left to the imagination or to litigation - when it is studied, planned, permitted, given a designation, under construction, open to traffic?


Then there are the Hutchinson exemptions. Texan politicians are adept at striking a pose with a prohibition then throwing in a heap of obscure exemptions. Exempt from the tolling prohibition in S2109 are interstates on which tolls are being collected on the enactment date under "a tolling provision." The "tolling provision" definition lists some of the various existing programs for tolling in federal law.

This is a mess too, maybe deliberately so.

The first exemption refers to section 129 of title 23USC which is virtually the whole of federal law on transportation! Does she mean that?

Then several but not all of the federal tolling programs are listed as exempt.

Current federal law allows a lot of tolling

Under current law (23 USC Section 129) the Feds can financially support many types of toll activities:

(1) initial construction of non-Interstate tollroads, bridges, and tunnels

(2) reconstruction, resurfacing, restoring, and rehabilitation work on any existing toll facility

(3) reconstruction or replacement of free bridges or tunnels and conversion to tolling

(4) reconstruction of a free non-Interstate federal-aid highway (except on the Interstate System) and conversion to a toll facility

(5) feasibility studies on toll financing of these facilities

(6) TIFIA loan funds

(7) private activity bonds giving approved privately financed (PPP) toll projects tax exemption

Most toll facilities do not make use of this funding, but many do.

When Federal-aid funds are used for construction of or improvements to a toll facility or if a free highway, bridge or tunnel previously constructed with Federal-aid funds is to be converted to a toll facility, federal law requires a toll agreement between the state and the feds limiting the use of revenues to operations and upkeep, reasonable return to service capital (Section 129(a)(3) must be executed.) There are dozens of these agreements and no limit to their number.

Also federal law supports several programs for tolls on roads including interstates:

(1) value pricing or variable toll rates or congestion pricing on interstates and non-interstates alike has been supported by the US Government under all the five yearly laws passed since ISTEA in 1991 and there are scores of these in operation, or being studied and planned

(2) HOV to HOT lane conversions with tolls

(3) Express Lanes Demonstration projects [Section 1604(b)] proides for up to 15 projects for tolling express lanes with tolling varied in order to manage traffic and reduce congestion

(4) Interstate System Construction Toll Pilot Program [Sec 1604(c)] provides for up to three interstates to be tolled to fund new capacity

(5) Grants under the Urban Partnerships program all of which are required to have tolling to manage traffic and reduce congestion
(6) toll express lanes that provide for free flowing bus transit are eligible for Federal Transit Administration grants

A freeze on all future tolling on interstates?

Hutchinson's bill might be interpreted to outlaw any further use of these toll programs if taken literally, though it doesn't specifically repeal any of them! It attempts to freeze all these programs when tolls are not actually being collected on the date of enactment.

What possible logic is there in enacting a ban on tolling existing interstates when other federally supported roads remain free to toll?

In the Dallas area that would mean for example that toll lanes would not be allowed on the major highway to the northwest out of Dallas I-35E, but they would be allowed on another federally supported highway going to the northeast (US75). The only difference is that one has an interstate designation, while the other has a US-route designation. They are both federally supported expressways.

Federal Hutchlaw would ban toll lanes on one, allow them on the other.

Ban sought on tolling bought back interstates

S2109 also adds a prohibition on tolls on interstates bought back by states. But if a state repaid all past federal aid, and the road was state owned, state operated and state maintained, how would federal law have any standing to dictate how it was to be funded?

Hutchinson's unreal rationale

"My bill will protect drivers from paying tolls on roads that were already paid for by taxpayers," Hutchinson says in a press statement.

But a road isnever "paid for."

Roads go on costing into the future because:
- they deteriorate under traffic and weather
- they need to be maintained
- they need to be rebuilt
- they need to be added to.

"Paid for roads" (PFRs) is a nonsense. PFRs exist only in an uniformed imagination, in catchcries and slick slogans, in mindless one-liners. We have to go on paying for roads, and the costs of upkeep and reconstruction are destined to dwarf what was originally spent on them.

Backward perspective

Taxes may have funded the road as it exists, but focusing on that is a backward academic perspective. It is history, not policy. Policy needs to have a forward perspective. The present and future challenge is how best to finance upkeep, finance the periodic reconstruction, and finance improvements.
Financing mechanisms are not just about raising money either. They are about balancing supply and demand with a price mechanism (or a zero price) and about assessing where money should be allocated.

Past financing is irrelevant since the issue is how best to finance for the future.

Another Hutchinson statement was: "I will work with members of the Texas Congressional delegation and the state legislature to ensure that Texans are never asked to pay a toll on an existing interstate highway."

But what is an existing interstate highway? If much of the existing pavement and bridging is torn out, and new and more lanes built, is it still the "existing interstate highway"? Hardly, except perhaps for the signage. In the reality of what the road is physically, and in the service it offers motorists it is a "new interstate highway," not an existing one.

Does Hutchinson seriously want the federal government to bar tolling even on additional lanes in Texas interstates? That would cut the heart out of the 2030 plans of the North Central Texas Council of Governments for the Dallas Ft Worth metro area and similar plans in the Houston area. Most of the new capacity planned is to be tolled. (see map nearby)

COMMENT: The senator's bill is full of what she's against - it offers no alternative to tolls for funding or managing traffic better than the gridlocked and unfunded "free" interstates.

Politicians often file silly bills in order to gain plaudits from a noisy constituency without wanting them to become law. Hopefully this is just one of those posturing bills.

Reassuring is a reminder in Hutchinson's accompanying statement that she attempted to insert a measure just like this in the 2005 highway bill but it failed. But this shoddy, obscure bill is nevertheless irresponsible mischief because it promotes populist fantasies and distracts attention from problem-solving.
Other bills coming

The mischief is not limited to the Senate or to Texan politicians. Congressmen Len Boswell and Terry Lee are promising an anti-toll bill in the House of Representatives. We'll post an addition on that.

Perry Chief of Staff skips PR training paid for with taxpayer money

Link to article here. Hmmm, Coby Chase at TxDOT states what the public already knows, that this PR campaign is about pushing tolls on a public who doesn't want them and that TxDOT thinks of itself as a wholly-owned subsidiary of road contractors and private corporations than public servants funded by taxpayers. Get a load of his comment:

"You generally try to figure out what is coming out of the Greer Building (state transportation headquarters) and attempt to explain the company message to others." That says it all, don't you think?

DOT guru for Perry skips PR training
By Peggy Fikac
Express-News, Austin bureau

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry's deputy chief of staff decided to skip Friday's training session meant to prep officials for talk-radio appearances promoting the Trans-Texas Corridor and toll roads, a spokeswoman said."With the workload he had, he wasn't able to give up a half day," Perry spokeswoman Krista Moody said Friday of deputy chief of staff Kris Heckmann, Perry's point person on transportation.

The training by political and corporate strategy experts from ViaNovo is part of a $20,000 consulting contract included in the Department of Transportation's multimillion-dollar Keep Texas Moving campaign. The campaign uses advertising and other efforts to promote the divisive transportation plans pushed by Perry.

The campaign's estimated cost of $7 million to $9 million in state highway funds has been criticized by anti-toll activists and some lawmakers, who question the use of public funds on what they call a public relations push.

Supporters of the program said it answers lawmakers' demands for the agency to do a better job of communicating with Texans.

Perry and others have championed toll roads and the ambitious transportation network known as the Trans-Texas Corridor as necessary to ease traffic congestion and boost highway funding that lags behind road needs. The initiative has sparked worry and outrage over the corridor's potential route and the state's decision to partner with private firms on toll roads.

Friday's training session was the third for various TxDOT division directors, two district engineers, the agency's acting executive director and media and marketing staff. TxDOT also invited Heckmann and had confirmed his attendance, but Moody said he decided on Thursday not to go.

Heckmann's decision doesn't imply any criticism of the training, Moody added.

"We think it's definitely going to be very beneficial for the policy professionals and policy wonks to get a better grasp on how to communicate their message and their vision to Texans," Moody said.

She said Heckmann "has been our transportation guru for some time. He's invited all the time to give speeches and interviews regarding transportation issues in Texas."

Coby Chase, director of the agency's government and public affairs division, said training session participants were picked because "You have a title that is impressive or is tailored to a specific audience ... You generally try to figure out what is coming out of the Greer Building (state transportation headquarters) and attempt to explain the company message to others."

The divisiveness of the transportation initiatives was the basis of an e-mail joke by TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott as he let people know about one of the training sessions, which was at the downtown Austin Club.

"Our room is reserved under the name ViaNovo," he quipped, "because 'Mile-Wide NAFTA Drug Corridor Conspiracy' wouldn't fit on the reservation card."

Perry-Bush cronies, ViaNovo, get crack at selling Texans toll roads using taxpayer $

Link to article here.

TxDOT readies its 2 cents on tolls
By Peggy Fikac

Austin Bureau AUSTIN — Top state transportation officials and Gov. Rick Perry's deputy chief of staff are being trained by political and corporate strategy pros before deploying to talk radio programs to promote the Trans-Texas Corridor and toll roads.The airwave ambassadors are being schooled by experts from ViaNovo as part of a $20,000 consulting contract included in the agency's multimillion-dollar Keep Texas Moving ad campaign, which promotes the divisive transportation plans championed by Perry.

ViaNovo is led by a team that includes former Bush strategist Matthew Dowd, but Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Chris Lippincott said two other firm leaders — Blaine H. Bull and Julie Hillrichs — are doing the training. He confirmed the participation of agency officials and Kris Heckmann, a deputy chief of staff for Perry.

Plans call for several TxDOT division directors, district engineers from Beaumont and Amarillo, agency interim executive director Steve Simmons and Heckmann to start out on satellite radio — in part because "the listening audience is paying for radio so they might be more apt to pay a toll," according to a July e-mail from Coby Chase, director of the agency's government and public affairs division. He wrote that the agency likely will buy advertising time on the satellite networks.

The Trans-Texas Corridor — an ambitious transportation network — and toll roads have been touted by Perry and others as necessary in the face of congestion and of gas tax revenues outpaced by transportation needs. But the initiative has drawn strong criticism over the potential route and the state partnering with private companies to run toll roads.

The Keep Texas Moving campaign, estimated to cost $7 million to $9 million from state highway funds, has drawn concern from anti-toll activists and some lawmakers who question the cost of what they see as a public relations campaign. Its defenders, including Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, House Transportation Committee chairman, said the initiative stems from lawmakers' call for the agency to better communicate with the public.

Opinions continued to be divided Thursday as details of the talk-radio part of the campaign emerged through agency e-mails obtained under the Public Information Act.

Lippincott said the contract for talk-radio training went to the Rodman Co. of Portland, near Corpus Christi. Rodman subcontracted with ViaNovo with TxDOT's approval.

Company experts providing training are Bull, a founding officer of Public Strategies Inc. who worked with SBC Communications and before that was legislative director for former U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen; and Hillrichs, whose experience includes being a director in Public Strategies' Dallas office and managing media relations for former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm.

"I think TxDOT's doing exactly what the Legislature asked them to do — demanded that they do — and legislators who now cry foul are being hypocritical. They were the ones that beat TxDOT over the head in public hearings for not explaining this," said Krusee, who added that specialized training makes sense.

But Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who fought for a moratorium on privately run toll roads, said: "The Legislature did not tell TxDOT to go on a media campaign explaining the pros of the Trans-Texas Corridor and private equity investment (in toll roads). The Legislature said, 'Please slow down, take a deep breath. We want you to pause while we make sure we are making the right decisions.'"

Kolkhorst said TxDOT is a "fabulous agency" but there is a "lack of faith in the policy."

Talking points provided to those being trained were positive about toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Lippincott said the campaign is an effort to educate people and address their concerns, as lawmakers said the agency should.

"People need to understand what we're doing and why," he said. "They need to be part of the process. We will never solve the transportation challenges that face our state without public information and public awareness."

But Terri Hall, founder and executive director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, which opposes toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor, said: "It's clear that TxDOT is not interested in listening to the people. That's how they've gotten such an image problem. They could certainly use a PR campaign to clean it up — but not with my taxpayer money."

Mexican trucks enter U.S. under threat from NAFTA tribunal (court) that trumps U.S courts

San Antonio Free Trade Alliance Lauds Opening of Border for Cross-Border Pilot Program

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today officially announced the U.S. border is now open to Mexican domiciled trucks participating in the cross-border trucking pilot program.

Free Trade Alliance San Antonio lauds the DOT and their counterpart in Mexico, the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes (SCT) for moving forward and implementing this program. In 2006, the Alliance, together with the Mexican Foreign Trade Council (COMCE) and with the support of Port San Antonio, initially proposed the pilot program to the DOT as a way to demonstrate how cross-border trucking can move cargo safely and efficiently back and forth between Mexico and the U.S.

The current drayage system of transferring goods from the truck of one country to that of the other, is currently estimated to cost consumers $400 million each year. Companies will further benefit by allowing them to improve just-in-time deliveries, reduce safety stocks and better respond to consumer demand. Consumers and companies on both sides of the border will benefit from this program and make our region more competitive in a global market.

As San Antonio is geographically positioned at the crossroads of Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade, our community is set to additionally benefit from cross-border trucking operations with Mexico, as we are able to consolidate and distribute goods throughout North America. A successful cross-border trucking pilot program will assist San Antonio in becoming a greater competitive international trade center, resulting in more jobs for our community.

The pilot program will allow up to 100 Mexican and 100 United States trucking companies to participate. Before participating, all companies must first meet rigorous U.S. safety standards and regulations. In addition, Mexican trucking companies must provide proof of insurance and drivers must be able to communicate in English.

The implementation of a cross-border trucking pilot program brings us one step closer to meeting our obligations under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The cross-border trucking provisions were originally scheduled to be implemented in December of 1995 under the terms of NAFTA. However, due to a variety of political and legal delays they have not been implemented until now.

Chronicle's scathing editorial on TxDOT interstate buyback scheme

Road trip
Converting existing interstate highways to toll roads travels too far on the road to privatization
Houston Chronicle
Sept. 5, 2007

A recent proposal by the Texas Department of Transportation to buy back stretches of federal interstate highway and convert them to toll roads generates a double take: It hardly seems a serious idea. Yet in its congressional legislative agenda, TxDOT seeks authorizing legislation to do exactly that.

The inequity in allowing investors or the state to profit from a resource already bought and paid for through public tax dollars reveals the disturbing degree to which the department would capitalize on the open road.

Legislators need to face the politically unpalatable need to find an adequate source of tax revenue to build and maintain highways. Instead, Texas and other states have embarked on public-private collaborations that have raised eyebrows and questions about cronyism, transparency, accountability, public control and fair value. Texas legislators passed a two-year moratorium on toll roads in the last session. While weakened by numerous loopholes, the pause offers a chance to take a closer look at this approach.

Former Mayor Bob Lanier, who once chaired the Texas Transportation Commission, TxDOT's governing board, said there is a place for creating new toll roads to expand capacity. However, he said, in striking a balance between public and private support, it is critical to watch the money and where it goes. There's a danger to urban areas such as Houston, Lanier said, when the state seeks to borrow more than the cost of building the road. The excess is likely to end up funding projects outside our area or even be diverted to general use.

The congressional legislation TxDOT seeks would shift decision-making about this process from the federal government to the state, and state law still requires approval from the voters and county commissioners to create toll roads.

County Judge Ed Emmett said he is in total support of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's response to TxDOT's request — a bill that would ban states from converting existing interstate highways to toll roads.

Hutchison's bill might well be needed to prevent an egregious tilt toward inserting the profit motive into public transportation policy. The political climate does not favor financing our vital public highway system by such straightforward measures as indexing the gasoline tax for inflation. If voters prefer paying at the toll booth rather than the gas pump, they may get their wish.

A lot of fine print in respected policy studies demonstrates that route is by far the most expensive.

TxDOT’s ad campaign tries to make nice with rural Texans over Trans Texas Corrido

Talk about adding insult to injury...TxDOT can take a rancher's land within 90 days (called quick take) of serving a Texan forcible eminent domain condemnation papers whether or not their court case is settled, and yet they're spending taxpayer money to blow sunshine in their ears saying TxDOT has a history of being fair and equitable to landowners. It's laughable if not outright abusive! TxDOT is pushing a nearly universally opposed project, the Trans Texas Corridor, using taxpayers' money against them, in order to polish up the agency's own well-deserved tarnished image. Considering the TTC is a land grab of colossal proportions, taking land for a corridor up to 1,200 feet or 4 footballs fields wide (compared to a fully built out interstate which is generally only 400 feet wide), and will then hand it over to a foreign corporation from Spain, Cintra, to call this public use or fair and equitable is propaganda of the worse kind!

TxDOT spends $9 million on public relations effort
Lone Star Report 08/27/07

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) wants you to know that there's no new money available to pay for non-tolled road construction. That's why it is spending up to $9 million on a new ad campaign promoting toll roads and the unpopular Trans-Texas Corridor.

While critics call the TV, radio and web advertising campaign a waste of taxpayer dollars, the agency argues it has no other choice but to tell its side of the story.

Said TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott: "This is a direct response to one of the most frequent criticisms our agency receives, which is we are not responsive to the public, that we don't do a good job of communicating what we're doing and why, and we've taken those criticisms in stride."

Corridor opponents are predictably criticizing TxDOT's new touchy feely approach. David Stall of Corridor Watch, called it a "propaganda campaign to sway public opinion."

"I think the money would be better spent in engaging people in a meaningful dialogue as opposed to propping up a flawed project that flowed from a flawed process," Stall said.

The public relations campaign, called Keep Texas Moving, was launched in June and is expected to cost between $7 million and $9 million. It is aimed at addressing top concerns regarding the Trans-Texas Corridor and toll roads in Texas - both of which have come under criticism in mostly rural areas.

Several 30-second radio ads feature the voice of Transportation commissioner Fred Underwood. One spot called "Fair Treatment" describes what is characterized as TxDOT's tradition of working with landowners to negotiate right-of-way purchases that are fair and equitable.

Another ad, called "Trans-Texas Corridor," tries to assuage rural concerns that the Corridor could divide counties. The ad says TxDOT will work with county officials and landowners to provide crossovers and local road connectors.

The ads tread on touchy subjects for rural folks who believe their voices have not been heard in past. To Stall, the public relations campaign is about trying "to justify the ends that they have already concluded."

In addition to the corridor, TxDOT's PR campaign is pushing toll roads. "We have to use the tools the Legislature has provided us," Lippincott said. "They provided some guidance in terms of how we should engage the private sector, but the reality is, as long as TxDOT is authorized to construct toll roads, we have little choice but to pursue that option when and where it is appropriate.

"That's why the commission identified more than 80 projects across the state, and we're working with our local partners to start developing those projects."

Is TxDOT running out of money?
The Texas Transportation Commission considered Aug. 23 shifting $6 billion from its construction budget to its maintenance budget over a five-year period - a longstanding discussion topic on which the commission took no formal action.
"That's just to maintain the system that we have, in fact it takes money away from our efforts to battle congestion," Lippincott said.

The problem, as he points out, is that state gas tax revenues soon won't be able to cover the maintenance of state roads and the construction of new roads. The former is costlier than the latter.

"We will reach a point. this year," said Lippincott, "[that] the money that we receive from the state gas tax will only pay for maintenance of the system that we have. It will not pay for anything, for new capacity, for new lanes on existing roads or for new roads. So we have to come up with new resources."

TxDOT is funded primarily by Fund 6, which is dedicated for the construction, improvement, and maintenance of the state highway system.

Funds are generated by state and federal gas tax dollars, motor vehicle registration fees, and sales tax on lubricants and federal funds.

The state constitution directs 25 percent of state gas tax revenues to be redistributed to education and 75 percent to Fund 6.

However, over the years the Legislature has dipped into the fund to pay for non-transportation related programs. In the 2008-09 biennium, for example, lawmakers siphoned off nearly $1.5 billion to pay for employee pay raises, retirement benefit packages, and ambulance services to match federal Medicaid funds at the Health and Human Services Commission.

According to TxDOT, federal money is also drying up. Over the past 18 months Congress has rescinded $666 million from Texas transportation funding. With the federal Highway Trust Fund expected to see red in 2009, state transportation officials expect up to $320 million in rescissions in the future.

With the Legislature seemingly unwilling to raise the state gas tax, TxDOT has tried to find "innovative financing" methods to finance new roads. This means entering into 50-year lease agreements (comprehensive development agreements) with private companies to design, bid, build, operate and maintain toll roads. In many cases, the agency has been met with resistance by the legislature over the details of these long-term lease agreements that give the state large upfront concession payments in exchange for giving private companies the right to charge tolls for a profit.

The legislature put the brakes on TxDOT's use of public-private partnerships to build private toll roads, which include the Trans-Texas Corridor, in most rural areas for the next two years. Yet the agency can build segments of the project without using comprehensive development agreements.

In the wake of the recent Minneapolis bridge collapse, Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) has reiterated his call earlier this month for indexing the gas tax to inflation or the consumer price index. He picked up the support of the American Automobile Association of Texas on the condition that the gas tax funds be spent on transportation-specific projects.

Nonetheless, Lippincott points out that the House voted for a temporary gas tax cut for summer travelers. Had such a measure become law, it would have cost Fund 6 at least $700 million. The House also rejected an amendment by Transportation Committee chairman Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) to index the gas tax.
"The reality is that we have come nowhere near meeting the demands for improved transportation across the state," Lippincott said.

The population has grown 65 percent over the last quarter century while road usage has increased by 95 percent. During this same time period, road capacity has increased only 8 percent.

Lippincott also cited the increasing cost of highway construction. Since 2002, road construction costs have increased 73 percent, far outstripping inflation. This includes the costs of steel, concrete and asphalt, which is a petroleum based product, he said.