Straus, Wolff try to rewrite toll road history in San Antonio

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Straus, Wolff attempt to rewrite history on toll roads at election time
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
February 16, 2016

It’s always interesting to watch politicians try to re-write history when election time rolls around. A case in point is State Representative Joe Straus, Speaker of the Texas House, and Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff. Both have supported tolls in the past and they’ve put up persistent roadblocks to removing tolls from San Antonio road projects, but now they’re taking credit for expanding US 281 without tolls. Of course, this was after a total rebellion from the grassroots and residents in the corridor for over a decade. We heard repeatedly why we had to ‘accept’ tolls, why it was a ‘done deal,’ and why these powerful men ‘could do nothing about it.’

It wasn’t until Governor Greg Abbott campaigned against toll roads and advanced the largest infusion of new road funding in Texas history during his inaugural first year in office that either Straus or Wolff actually made a major effort to expand area highways without tolls — and that was largely due to the fact that grassroots anti-toll groups like Texans for Toll-free Highways advocated and won protections for taxpayers in the legislation prohibiting the new funding from being used on toll projects. That’s when the dominos started to fall.

HOV lane conversion on 281 in Alamo city will shrink capacity

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Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff makes erroneous statements in this News 4 story. The Alamo Area MPO’s own consultant said HOV lanes have done nothing to increase carpooling or alleviate congestion. Ginger Goodin of the Texas Transportation Institute testified before the MPO last month that HOV-bus lanes are designed to change behavior and get people to switch modes of transportation.

Then there’s Wolff's claim that the 281 project will add 6 new lanes. The only new lanes they’re building are FRONTAGE ROADS, not general purpose highway lanes. There are NO NEW highway main lanes whatsoever in this project, and, in fact, the HOV lanes will convert two of the six existing general purpose lanes (open to all cars) into an HOV-bus restricted lane, actually shrinking existing capacity and leaving only 4 non-HOV lanes when today there are six.

The public has a right to know how congested this corridor will continue to be when they’re promising one thing and delivering another.

Millions set aside for highway improvements
By Emily Baucum
New 4 WOAI-TV
February 9, 2016

SAN ANTONIO - Bexar County leaders set aside millions of dollars Tuesday to help revamp two major highways: Loop 1604 out west, and Highway 281 on the far north side.

It's all part of a nearly billion-dollar plan to improve roads in growing parts of town.

The plan no longer includes toll roads but it does include something else we've never seen in this area: carpool lanes.

Austin, Houston Mayors call for shift away from cars to transit

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Two liberal Mayors, Steve Adler of Austin and Sylvester Turner of Houston, are pushing a shift in transportaiotn philosophy away from road building to one constricting auto capacity for single occupancy drivers in order to force them into a carpool, bus, or rail car. It's New Urbanism's clarion call -- declaring a war on cars and seeks to put drivers on a road diet to force a change in behavior to what liberal elites think is a better option. Never mind that over 95% of Texas commuters prefer to drive their own vehicle and commute alone in their cars every day. To these social engineers, they know better and they'll use their power to turn your freeways upside down, and keep them snarled in congestion to try and force change.

Governor Greg Abbott doesn't share their philosophy and he appoints the Texas Transportation Commissioners that control what happens to the state highway system. With two competing philosophies being advanced by powerful politicians, a clash of the titans is likely to ensue.  

Turner calls for change in transportation philosophy
By Mike Morris
Houston Chronicle
February 8, 2016 Updated: February 9, 2016 9:32am

It is time Texas stopped funding transportation for the huge share of residents who commute alone in their cars each day, Mayor Sylvester Turner told state officials, arguing that widening highways leads only to more gridlock.

Instead, the new mayor called for state funding to shift away from the automobile and toward alternatives, including commuter rail, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, park and rides, and local transit, as the Houston region faces projections of staggering growth in the coming decades.

Congress defunds civil asset forfeiture program

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Funds yanked: Congress puts the brakes on civil asset forfeiture
By Terri Hall
February 1, 2016
Examiner.com

Many conservatives are upset with the omnibus spending bill Congress passed at the end of the year, but one provision they should praise is congress rescinding funding for the Justice Department’s civil asset forfeiture program. Most Americans have no idea what civil asset forfeiture is until law enforcement seizes your vehicle and everything in it during a routine traffic stop even though you have committed no crime.

The program was initially launched to help local law enforcement agencies fight drug trafficking and other organized crime by seizing assets they suspect may be involved in those crimes. But now it’s morphed into a system where you don’t even have to be charged with a crime to have your property seized by police, and few innocent parties ever get their money or property back.

Congress advances NAFTA superhighways in FAST Act

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Congress quietly moves NAFTA superhighway corridors forward in FAST Act
By Terri Hall
February 1, 2016
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research

Such NAFTA international trade has all but destroyed the American manufacturing base, it threatens U.S. jobs and has contributed to stagnant wages since its inception in 1992. So the funding and expansion of the NAFTA trade corridors coupled with the porous southern border create another source of angst for American voters as they weigh the current presidential contenders.

CANAMEX map AMC 2014 thTucked into the 1,300-page federal highway bill, ‘Fixing America’s Surface Transportation’ Act, or FAST Act, that passed at the end of 2015, Congress quietly advanced several corridors of the NAFTA superhighway system, like Interstate-11. The interstate will connect Phoenix to Las Vegas and will ultimately run from Nogales, Arizona to northeast Washington State, establishing key trade corridors from Mexico to Canada.

The FAST Act is the first long-term highway bill to pass in over a decade, but it failed to enact any major reforms, failed to shore-up the funding shortfall in the federal highway program, and keeps most federal programs, like the NAFTA superhighways, euphemistically called high priority corridors, on auto-pilot for the next 5 years quietly eluding public scrutiny, while advancing the establishment’s global trade agenda.

BLOAT: Austin toll road costs triple

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Public outrage rises as cost of Austin toll road triples
By Terri Hall
January 17, 2016
Examiner.com

Toll roads in Texas face growing opposition and a shocking revelation by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) just threw gasoline on the fire. The CTRMA tripled its initial cost estimates for its plan to add toll lanes to US 183 from MoPac to RM 620 in Austin from $225.7 million to a whopping $650 million. The 8-mile project will now cost $81.25 million per mile. By anyone’s estimation, that’s a staggering jump.

SNEAKY: IRS can revoke passports over tax debt

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IRS gains power to revoke passports for failure to pay taxes
By Terri Hall
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research
January 4, 2016

Many Americans are shocked to find out that the recently passed federal highway bill, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or the FAST Act, includes a provision that can take away or block them from having a U.S. passport. At a time when political scandals plague the IRS, which has been used to target conservatives, tea party and pro-Israel-affiliated groups, this is an especially shameful revelation brought to you by the House and Senate Republicans.

The GOP has put itself in a box. The Federal Highway Trust Fund has not been collecting enough revenue through the federal gasoline tax to pay for the level of spending thought necessary by the special interests. The GOP has also failed to fight to ensure every penny of the gas tax is, in fact, going to highways, not transit, rail, and bike lanes that automobile users do not use.

Congress passes highway bill, diverts more money from roads

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Congress passes highway bill, continues to divert money away from roads
By Terri Hall
December 5, 2015
Examiner.com

Thursday marked the first time since 2005 that the U.S. Congress passed a long-term federal highway bill. The FAST Act, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation, is a 5-year re-authorization of the surface transportation program. Criticized for patching the program with short-term fixes for the last decade, the $305 billion bill was supported overwhelmingly by Congress, passing the House of Representatives by a vote of 359-65 and the Senate by a vote of 83-16. President Barack Obama signed it into law late Friday, mere hours before the federal highway program was set to expire.

The bill also authorizes the controversial Export-Import Bank and allows the IRS to use private debt collectors and deny Americans passports if they’re delinquent on their federal taxes. The Ex-Im Bank is the poster child for corporate welfare and congressional giveaways to special interests that conservatives defeated this summer. The short-lived victory could play an important role in the upcoming presidential election as candidates either try to justify the re-authorization of the bank or decry it.

Hill Country residents fume over sewage dump, land grab

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Angry residents give developer earful about sewage dump, land grab
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
November 20, 2015

Last night, in a little hill country town in Bulverde, Texas, over 130 angry residents vented at a hearing over the 4S Ranch wastewater permit. The hearing conducted by the Texas version of the EPA, known as the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ), had an overflow crowd. The original meeting room could not accommodate attendees, who were stacked deep into the hallways. So TCEQ moved the residents into the bay of the EMS building to conduct the makeshift meeting amid fire equipment with no seating. Attendees, many of them elderly, had to grab their own chairs from anywhere they could muster if they wanted to sit down for the nearly 5-hour meeting that went late into the night.

The issue that drew the crowd was the developer of 4S Ranch seeking to amend its wastewater permit from 180,000 gallons of treated effluent contained on the developer’s own property to dumping 460,000 gallons a day of treated sewage onto its neighbors and into Dripping Springs and Lewis Creek (which feed into Cibolo Creek and recharges the Edwards Aquifer). The biggest neighborhood effected would be Oak Village North. The high density subdivision will be located between Stahl Lane and Smithson Valley Road north of FM 1863.

4S Ranch wants to put 1,880 homes on 780 acres in a county where there’s normally a restriction of one house per acre. If there’s just two residents per home, this subdivision alone represents a near doubling of the population of Bulverde (as of 2013, there were 4,841 residents).

Pickett: I've decided I don't like managed lanes

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Transportation chair signals end may be near for toll managed lanes
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
November 17, 2015

The death-knell to toll managed lanes may be imminent in Texas. House Transportation Committee Chair Joe Pickett signaled he’s on a war path to end toll managed lanes at a hearing of the Select Committee on Transportation Planning last week.

The chairman declared war on managed lanes, “I’m on a binge about managed lanes. I’ve decided I don’t like managed lanes.”

Pickett cited a managed toll lane project in his home district of El Paso that carries a mere six percent of traffic. Ninety-four percent of drivers stay on the free lanes. Of those that use the toll managed lane, they only use it for three hours a day.

Obama rule change to put Americans on road diet

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Selous Exclusive
Obama’s Transportation Policy Guided by United Nations Agenda 21 Program

So, with this bureaucratic interference, there must be some other agenda at play if the government is willfully steering road taxes from efficient road capacity improvements to inefficient non-road uses. Some call it ‘new urbanism,’ others call it ‘sustainable development’ or ‘Smart Growth,’ but the blueprint that spawned it all was the United Nations Agenda 21 program. Agenda 21’s stated goal is to change people’s behavior through restrictions in land use, by herding people into dense inner-city housing, and restricting mobility to force Americans out of their cars and into government-controlled mass transit systems. It’s an assault on our freedom to travel and individual liberty.

By Terri Hall
November 2, 2015
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research

It’s official. Your federal government is using your gas tax money to incentivize state and local officials to reduce auto lanes and create road diets to force you to change your behavior and commuting patterns. New federal rules announced by Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx encourage transportation designers and decision-makers to reduce auto capacity and to create ‘lower-speed roads.’

Smith record on tolls making opponent raise Cain

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ELECTION 2016
Smith record causing opponent to raise Cain
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
October 29, 2015

It’s shaping up to be a tough re-election season for incumbents. One of them may be Baytown’s ethically challenged Wayne Smith. His voting record on transportation reflects a disconnect with many Texans in District 128 who oppose toll roads, especially the privatization of public roads. It’s a record that got challenger Briscoe Cain to take notice, and he’s running to replace Smith as a more conservative voice in the Texas House.

Prop 7: Texas voters have chance to secure funding for non-toll roads

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Texas voters encouraged to support Prop 7 to secure funding for non-toll roads
By Terri Hall
September 28, 2015
Examiner.com

It’s been a long road to finding the funding necessary to shore-up the Texas State Highway Fund, but with passage of Proposition 7 on the ballot November 3, Texans will finally see a significant boost to the state’s road funding without raising taxes.  Early voting begins October 19.

Prop 7 dedicates $2.5 billion of the general sales and use tax (above $28 billion) and thirty-five percent of the vehicle sales tax (above $5 billion) to the construction and maintenance of non-toll highways. The general sales tax takes effect in 2017, and the vehicle sales tax dedication starts in 2019.

Plan to put San Antonio on a 'road diet'

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Alamo city transportation board approves road diet for Hwy 281
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
September 14, 2015

Today, the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) unanimously voted to approve a resolution to do the US 281 project (from Loop 1604 to the Bexar County line) in San Antonio without tolls. However, the new proposal involves converting one existing, unrestricted freeway lane into an HOV-bus lane (a restricted lane), shrinking existing capacity open to all cars rather than expanding it. While there are six general purpose (unrestricted) highway lanes today, once the conversion is completed, there will be only four.

Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials claim the current roadway is akin to a frontage road, despite maps from the U.S. Geological Survey and documents from the Federal Highway Administration showing otherwise. TxDOT argues they're not shrinking highway main lanes by crediting the addition of new frontage lanes to the outside of the existing highway in the lane count. This fuzzy math enables them to assert they're 'doubling' existing capacity.

Toll network that's California-izing Texas

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Michael Morris: The man behind the toll network California-izing Texas
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
August 31, 2015

Many North Texans struggle to get around the Dallas-Ft.Worth metroplex without having to pay tolls and now they’re asking, just who’s responsible for this punitive new tax? The answer is Michael Morris. Morris is the Executive Director of the Regional Transportation Council (RTC) and its parent bureaucracy, the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG).

Back in 2005, when former Governor Rick Perry had already begun his steady march to impose tolls in earnest across Texas, Morris was on board even before Perry took office. In a Texas Transportation Commission meeting that December, Morris gave a lengthy diatribe to the commission in support of the possibility of presiding over the largest toll managed lane network in America.

State agency grants permit to take Hill Country land for private developer despite judge’s ruling

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TCEQ grants permit to take land for private developer despite judge’s ruling
By Terri Hall
August 5, 2015
Exmainer.com

The Graham family can never seem to cut a break from big government. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the state agency that grants wastewater permits, approved a permit for the neighboring developer of Johnson Ranch in spite of the fact that Administrative Law Judge Sarah Ramos, who heard the Graham’s case in a contested case hearing, ruled that the permit should be denied. Allowing the developer to dump its treated sewage onto the Graham’s property means they’ll lose that land under the ‘waters of the state’ claimed by the state of Texas, even though the area is a dry creek bed and unnamed tributary of the Cibolo Creek. It’s a backhanded way for a developer to exploit the power of government for its own private gain.

Federal Highway bill takes center stage in waning hours of Congress

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Federal Highway bill takes center stage in waning hours of Congress
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
July 28, 2015

The clock is about to run out on the Federal Highway Trust Fund and Congress has considered competing bills about how to proceed. The House passed a $10.8 billion, 5-month continuation bill that would only last until May of 2016, while the Senate is poised to pass a $350 billion long-term 6-year bill, that’s only funded for three of those years. The upper chamber also added an amendment to its highway bill to revive the controversial Export-Import Bank that expired June 30. The debate on the Ex-Im Bank reauthorization raged until late into the evening Sunday, eventually passing by a vote of 64-29. Desperate House Republicans hastily filed an even shorter continuation bill Monday, kicking the can down the road for just another three months.

Accountability, reform, and transparency: Texas legislature delivers mixed bag

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NOTE: This is the last in a three-part series on the transportation wrap-up to the 84th legislative session of the Texas Legislature.

For taxpayers, how toll roads are done are just as important as making progress in stopping them. In the 84th legislative session of the Texas Legislature that came to a close yesterday, concerned citizens are left stunned by the lack of action in holding toll entities accountable, despite a laundry list of scandal, waste, and abuse. The North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) is currently under investigation by the FBI for concerns about undisclosed conflicts of interest with some board members. A class action lawsuit was filed against the NTTA for excessive fines and fees, and the unpopularity of toll roads is reflected in the unpopularity of the unelected toll agencies that implement them. Yet, no action was taken to subject these agencies to sunset review, or even a forensic state audit.

Abbott brought different atmosphere to Texas legislature

Source: Article

NOTE: This is the second in a three-part series on the transportation & property rights wrap-up to the 84th legislative session of the Texas Legislature.

Success can be measured as much by what didn’t pass as what did pass.

While anti-toll advocates may not be wholly pleased with their lack of progress in getting their bills through the 84th session of the Texas legislature that wrapped-up yesterday, they were successful in stopping many other bills that would have sailed through in prior sessions under former Governor Rick Perry's pro-toll leadership. Incoming Governor Greg Abbott's campaign promise to fix Texas roads without raising taxes, fees, or tolls immediately changed the atmosphere at the Capitol.

Indeed, during one of his debate's with Democrat Wendy Davis he emphasized, “My plan does not involve any toll roads, period. I’m not interested in adding toll roads in my plan.”

Texas legislature leaves without stopping toll roads

Source: Article

NOTE: This is the first in a three-part series on the transportation wrap-up to the 84th legislative session of the Texas Legislature.

The 84th session of the Texas legislature just concluded yesterday, but the fallout will be felt by taxpayers for decades to come. Over 75 bills were filed to replace or curtail tolling or to make it more transparent and accountable. When factoring in property rights and efforts to restrict eminent domain abuse, the total came to 96. So with a pipeline full of bills should have sent a strong message to leadership that the taxpayers sent elected officials to Austin to significantly curb if not stop toll roads. But the momentum quickly came to a halt when only a handful of anti-toll bills got a hearing, and very few key bills passed. Of those that did, most were watered down.