Stunning grassroots victory: CDAs die, pensions protected


IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Grassroots defeat GOLIATH: Stop the sale of TX roads to foreign corporations, protect public pension funds

(Austin, TX – July 2, 2009) Today, ordinary Texans brought Governor Rick Perry’s road privatization, toll road, and Trans Texas Corridor agenda to a screeching halt. The Legislature adjourned without re-authorizing private toll road contracts called Comprehensive Development Agreements (or CDAs). The grassroots scored another victory by KILLING the revolving fund in HB 1, preventing the $2 billion in bonds from being spent to build toll roads, convert freeways to toll roads, or subsidize private toll deals, as well as protecting public employee pension funds from risky toll roads schemes that are failing all over the world.

“It is a hard-fought victory for the grassroots. We killed Goliath, not just Perry’s controversial toll road policies, but we defeated a sold out Senate and the BIG MONEY, the lobbyists, who sank millions into pushing for the sale of Texas highways,” Hank Gilbert, Texas TURF Board member and President of Piney Woods Subregional Planning Commission.

“We applaud Rep. David Leibowitz, once again, for standing up for Texas taxpayers and leading the charge to fix the bill that created a revolving fund that would have raided teacher retirement and public employee pension funds for risky toll road schemes. He authored the bill to KILL the Trans Texas Corridor and another to prevent the conversion of freeways to tollways during the regular session. He’s a proven taxpayer hero and Texans owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude,” said TURF Founder, Terri Hall.

“However, no session is without a few villains. CDA proponents and senate leaders like John Carona and Steve Ogden need to be taken to the woodshed for promising to promote the MOST expensive method of road funding, CDAs, next session, and for wanting to continue to raid public pension funds over the LOUD objections of Texans. None of this is dead in their minds, just postponed until they can resurrect this controversial public fleecing for another day,” Hall emphasized.

Taxpayers wanted Perry’s controversial and virtually universally detested road privatization schemes to die a natural death August 31 as scheduled, which will also KILL the mechanism to build the Trans Texas Corridor (or TTC). Today, they achieved just that. However, TTC-69/I-69 was excepted out of the moratorium, SB 792, in 2007, so TxDOT has the authority to enter into CDAs for that project through 2011. TURF, in cooperation with two private property rights foundations (Stewards of the Range and American Land Foundation) and local governments, have been instrumental in forming subregional planning commissions in the path of TTC-69, and plan to use these commissions to challenge the TTC and keep it from ever being built.

Legislature blinks at road privatization

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Legislature blinks as it contemplates the largest tax increase in Texas history, the sale of TX roads to foreign corporations

(Austin, TX – July 1, 2009) Today, concerned citizens of Texas challenged the Legislature to stand-up to Governor Perry’s road privatization, toll road, and Trans Texas Corridor agenda in a press conference on the South Capitol steps in Austin. Texans demanded the Legislature not just roll over and play dead for Perry's agenda while the leadership of both chambers ram through three bills that will affect Texans for generations.

Concerned citizens are hopping mad about lawmakers’ suspending the rules that are in place to protect the public from a railroad job, and rushing to get home for the 4th of July holiday rather than give due consideration to what some have dubbed the largest tax increase in Texas history, selling Texas highways to PRIVATE foreign corporations. Such a deal inked in North Texas will charge 75 cents PER MILE, or $13 a DAY (like the deal just signed for the North Tarrant Express to privatize I-820) in new toll taxes, for Texans to access PUBLIC roads.

Taxpayers want Perry’s controversial and virtually universally detested road privatization schemes to die a natural death August 31 as scheduled, which will also KILL the mechanism to build the Trans Texas Corridor. Today, it appeared the citizen outcry over the bill, HB 3, to re-authorize such private toll road contracts called Comprehensive Development Agreements (or CDAs) was dead on arrival in the House.

“Texans cannot stomach any more of Gov. Perry's version of AIG (arrogance, ignorance and greed)!  His continued insistence to force privatized toll roads down the throats of working Texans is fiscally irresponsible and morally wrong,” insisted Hank Gilbert, Texas TURF Board member and President of Piney Woods Subregional Planning Commission.


“With these types of projects failing all over the United States, as well as Texas (SH 121), every landowner and taxpayer in Texas will be responsible for the ‘bailout’ of Perry's AIG.  Add to that, the possibility of investing state employee and teachers retirement funds into these road projects, with his proposed ‘Texas Revolving Fund,’ and you have a Governor that has lost all respect for the people of Texas!

“The elected members of the Texas House and Senate need to do what the public elected them to do…Just Say No!  If they don't, then it may very well be the last bad decision that they are allowed to make for the citizens of the great state of Texas!” said Gilbert.

Public subsidies for private profits
CDAS are half-century long sweetheart deals that also suck-up virtually ALL available gas taxes and other highway funds to prop-up toll projects that aren't even toll viable (can't work without subsidizing them). Read about the deals in North Texas that use $1 billion dollars of Texans' gas taxes and public funds, yet motorists won't be able to use the roads without paying $13 a DAY in homage to Spain here.

TURF argues that proponents tell us the private operators are bringing all the money to the table so it's okay to sell-out the taxpayers in sweetheart deals (like non-compete agreements that prohibit ANY new lanes or NEW roads from being built that would "compete" with the private operators toll cash cow as a way to GUARANTEE congestion on free roads). But the FACT is our GAS TAXES and other PUBLIC money are going into these deals, in some cases more public cash than private, then the foreign toll operator charges motorists a DOUBLE TAX to access PUBLIC roads. CDAs also mean massive multi-generational DEBT!

"These public subsidies for private profits are the centerpiece of Rick Perry's special session, yet he claims to be a 'conservative' whose ranks opposed the federal bailout bill that socialized the losses (of private industries) and privatized the profits. There's a name for Perry's actions - hypocrisy," notes TURF Founder, Terri Hall.

Toll authority to raise toll rates 32% because BURIED in debt it can't repay
Read about it here.
Concerned citizens see this as an ALL-OUT ASSAULT on our freedom to travel!
For more info on how just how bad these private toll contracts are for the taxpayers, read more here.

SB 1 to raid public employee pension funds & teacher retirement fund
In another bill for the special session, SB 1, lawmakers resurrect Sen. John Carona's SB 1350 that will set-up a Transportation Bank as a private corporation (controlled by the Governor's political appointees, the Texas Transportation Commission) in order to raid teacher retirement funds and public employee pension funds to invest in these risky toll road schemes that are failing all over the country.

"The revolving fund could provide a vehicle for the Texas Retirement System and Employee Retirement System to invest in state infrastructure, a policy (Sen. Steve) Ogden supports." - Texas Monthly, April 28, 2009

This idea is designed to set-up a "Revolving Fund" to finance toll projects they can't find private investors to bankroll. TURF said it’s the duty of our lawmakers to protect the integrity of public employee retirement funds.
In addition, the Revolving Fund only contributes to the gas tax diversion problem since it will divert MORE gas taxes to toll roads (gas tax can be deposited into the Revolving Fund and recycled to fund toll roads that aren't viable/100% self-sustaining).

Connecting the dots...
Perry, Dewhurst backroom deal to raid funds.
Texas Monthly calls raiding pension funds "irresponsible" and "immoral" here.

Perry vetoes bill to prevent TxDOT’s lobbying for toll roads

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Perry vetoes bill to prohibit TxDOT’s ad campaigns to sway public opinion in favor of tolls
Citizen lawsuit to stop TxDOT’s taxpayer-funded lobbying to continue

(Austin, TX – June 23, 2009) Governor Rick Perry vetoed HB 2142 (authored by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon), which could have settled the issue of the Texas Department of Transportation's (TxDOT) misuse of taxpayer money to attempt to sway public opinion in favor of toll roads, particularly privatized toll roads, and the Trans Texas Corridor.

“Governor Perry prefers to pour salt in the wound instead of allow meaningful reform of his highway department that’s run amok and lost the trust of many Texans. The wholesale outrage over TxDOT’s propaganda campaign from taxpayers and lawmakers alike prompted the Legislature to act, and, as is his usual course of action, Perry instead chooses to stick his thumb in Texans’ eyes rather than protect citizens from the abuses of taxpayer-funded lobbying,” concluded Texas TURF Founder Terri Hall.

"Losers" still get paid
To further demonstrate the Governor's (and Legislature's) total disregard for fiscal responsibility when it comes to toll roads, he also signed SB 882 (authored by Sen. John Carona) that EXPANDS payments to LOSING bidders by Regional Mobility Authorities (RMAs) to design-build contracts and allows those payments to exceed $250,000 (which was the cap placed on losing bidders on Comprehensive Developments Agreements in 2007)!

"The mantra in Austin is 'the sky is falling, we have no money for roads,' yet we have money to pay LOSING BIDDERS who won't even build any roads? Wouldn't every other industry that bids on government contracts love this goodie? They didn't pass a bill to continue TxDOT or the Department of Insurance, but they were sure to pass this one," Hall noted.

SB 882 also repeals the prohibitions on Board members and RMA Directors from receiving gifts and contributions, which clearly takes a step backwards and allows conflicts of interest to abound.


Keep Texas Moving dubbed propaganda campaign
Lawmakers studied TxDOT's ad campaign in-depth in the interim between the 2007 and 2009 legislative sessions where even the Director of the Government and Public Affairs Division (GPA), Coby Chase admitted in testimony before the State Affairs Committee that “maybe we did overdo it.” Both chambers overwhelmingly passed this bill to send a clear message that TxDOT can only provide public information not crossover into public persuasion on the taxpayers’ dime. As a result of its overreach, the TxDOT sunset bill, HB 300, had the GPA division report directly to the Legislature.

In 2007, TxDOT raised eyebrows when it waged an ad campaign called Keep Texas Moving that clearly tried to change public opinion in favor of Perry’s toll road policies, including hiring registered lobbyists (in excess of $100,000 a month) to get buy-in from local elected officials for the Trans Texas Corridor and persuade members of Congress to allow TxDOT to buy-back existing interstates for the purpose of tolling them. (Read more here)

TURF vs. TxDOT before the Appeals Court
TURF appeared before the Third District Court of Appeals April 24, 2009, in its lawsuit (TURF vs. Texas Department of Transportation or TxDOT) to halt the misuse of taxpayer money for attempting to sell the public on toll roads. Justices demonstrated they were monitoring the actions of the lawmakers in regards to legislation pertaining to the case and noted that the Legislature had acted. TURF attorney, Charles Riley, pointed out that the public cannot be assured TxDOT has been restrained by proposed legislation since the Governor could still veto it. Unfortunately, Riley was proven right by Perry’s veto Friday. Perry’s veto all but ensures the case will continue.

The lawsuit was brought in September 2007 pursuant to § 37, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. TURF believes the law clearly prohibits TxDOT’s expenditure of public funds for the Keep Texas Moving pro-toll, pro-Trans Texas Corridor propaganda campaign.
 


TxDOT has violated § 556.004 of the Texas Government Code by directing the expenditure of public funds for political advocacy in support of toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor, and have directly lobbied the United States Congress in favor of additional toll road programs as evidenced in its report, Forward Momentum.



Not a license to lobby the public and elected officials
TxDOT claims it has the authority to advertise and promote toll roads citing Chapter 228.004 of the Transportation Code. However, lawmakers have stated they never intended that law to give license to TxDOT to lobby the public in favor of toll road policy, but rather advertising more akin to “get your Toll Tag here.” Rep. Lois Kolkhorst said in an Express-News article in September 2007, "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).”

“TxDOT is still waging a one-sided political campaign designed to sway public opinion in favor of the policy that puts money in TxDOT’s own coffers. TxDOT may have ceased hiring outside consultants, but by its own admission, it has instead hired an in-house lobbyist, and its Keep Texas Moving web site and use of Department resources continue to attempt to get buy-in for toll roads from lawmakers and the public alike,” says an incredulous Hall.

On August 22, 2007, TURF filed a formal complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle to investigate TxDOT’s illegal lobbying and asked him to prosecute TxDOT for criminal wrongdoing. See the formal complaint here. TURF's petition seeks to stop TxDOT's misuse of taxpayer money in a civil proceeding.

Terri Hall is the Founder of Texas TURF. TURF is a non-partisan grassroots group of  citizens concerned about toll road policy and the Trans Texas Corridor. TURF promotes non-toll transportation solutions. For more information, please visit their web site at: www.texasturf.org

KILL HB 300: Trans Texas Corridor to proceed despite repeal of corridor

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Grassroots call for lawmakers to KILL loaded TxDOT sunset bill
Trans Texas Corridor to proceed despite repeal of corridor

(Austin, TX – May 28, 2009) The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) sunset bill, HB 300, now over 1,500 pages long, has too much baggage for taxpayers to swallow. HB 300 ends the private toll moratorium (which hands our PUBLIC highways to PRIVATE, foreign toll operators), keeps the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) alive, opens a new loophole to toll existing freeways, allows counties a 10 cent gas tax hike, raids public employee pension funds to invest in risky private toll roads deals (Revolving Fund/Transportation Bank), reduces the number of elected officials on transportation boards, and more.

A heavy piece of “baggage” that put the grassroots over the edge was Amendment #1 (scroll down to page 4, Section 4.11) by Senator Glenn Hegar that slipped the Trans Texas Corridor back into the bill after repeatedly assuring lawmakers during floor debate that the Trans Texas Corridor is “DEAD.”

TURF also obtained a memo last week from lobbyist Gary Bushell, with Alliance for I-69, revealing that he and ex-Transportation Commissioner turned Texas Senator, Robert Nichols, brokered a deal to allow the private toll contract with ACS of Spain for the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 to proceed as planned, despite the outcry of more than 28,000 Texans who went on the record against the project. (See the negotiated amendment to Nichol’s SB 17 that protects the private investor’s interest over the public interest here).


Bushell is the same lobbyist the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) illegally hired using taxpayer money to lobby elected officials in the path of the TTC, which is the subject of several bills before the Texas Legislature in response to a TURF lawsuit currently awaiting a ruling by the Third District Court of Appeals.

“So this backroom deal-making not only betrays Texans, including those in Hegar and Nichols’ own districts, it’s also a betrayal of his fellow legislators who have voted to repeal and repeatedly promised the public that the Trans Texas Corridor is ‘dead,’” proclaims an outraged Terri Hall, Director of Texas TURF.

Also slipped into the senate version is a bill by Senator Tommy Williams to add license plate cameras to state highways, Senator John Carona’s bill to lift the cap on payments to LOSING BIDDERS on toll contracts (used to be $1 million cap, then in 2007 dropped down to $250,000, now there would be NO limit), and a provision to allow TxDOT to increase speed limits on the Trans Texas Corridor and certain toll roads up to 85 MPH with the intent of reducing speed limits on competing free roads (to drive more traffic to high speed toll roads).

“HB 300 abandoned the original Sunset committee recommendations long ago, and it's been loaded up with too many anti-reform, anti-freedom, anti-taxpayer provisions for Texans to choke down,” states Hall.

TURF is advocating the legislature KILL HB 300 and pass what’s called a safety net bill that moves TxDOT’s sunset to next session, when they hope Texans will have a new Governor.

“No meaningful reform of this agency is possible as long as Rick Perry hold a veto pen,” Hall predicts.

Terri Hall is the Founder of Texas TURF. TURF is a non-partisan grassroots group of  citizens concerned about toll road policy and the Trans Texas Corridor. TURF promotes non-toll transportation solutions. For more information, please visit their web site at: www.TexasTURF.org.

Nichols brokers deal to sell out Texans for Spanish Company, ACS

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

BETRAYAL: Nichols brokers deal with lobbyist to allow Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 to proceed despite repeal of corridor

(Austin, TX – May 21, 2009) TURF obtained a memo from lobbyist Gary Bushell, with Alliance for I-69, revealing that he and ex-Transportation Commissioner turned Texas Senator, Robert Nichols, brokered a deal to allow the private toll contract with ACS of Spain for the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 to proceed as planned, despite the outcry of more than 28,000 Texans who went on the record against the project. (See the negotiated amendment to Nichol’s SB 17 that protects the private investor’s interest over the public interest here).

Bushell is the same lobbyist the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) illegally hired using taxpayer money to lobby elected officials in the path of the TTC, which is the subject of several bills before the Texas Legislature in response to a TURF lawsuit currently awaiting a ruling by the Third District Court of Appeals.

The Texas House is set to vote Friday on whether to end the moratorium on private toll contracts and vote to re-authorize them for another 4 years. The House unanimously voted to REPEAL the Trans Texas Corridor just weeks ago in a floor amendment to the Texas Department of Transportation Sunset bill (HB 300).

“So this backroom deal-making not only betrays Texans, including those in Nichols’ own district, it’s also a betrayal of his fellow legislators who have voted to repeal and repeatedly promised the public that the Trans Texas Corridor is ‘dead,’” proclaims an outraged Terri Hall, Director of Texas TURF.

Comprehensive Development Agreements, called CDAs in Texas (also known as public private partnerships or PPPs), would hand over an untold number of our PUBLIC highways to PRIVATE, mostly foreign, corporations for a half century at a time. Senator John Carona’s bill, SB 404, is eligible to be taken up by the full House tomorrow. The Senate passed the bill in April. So if the House passes SB 404 Friday, the bill that allows the sale of our public highways to private corporations will head to the Governor's desk where it will become law.

Those promoting the Trans Texas Corridor relish in the confusion between TTC-69 and I-69. However, the two are one in the same. Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton testified under oath in the TURF lawsuit to stop TxDOT’s illegal lobbying by Bushell that TTC-69 is I-69; they are one in the same. The private developer, ACS, confirms in a news release that this CDA is for a 621 mile corridor through East Texas that would give them the right of first refusal for more segments of the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 project.

“Politicians will spin this, but the documents don’t lie,” Hall contends.



“Texans don’t want their PUBLIC highway system sold to the highest bidder, nor do they want corporate-run toll roads that cost commuters 75 cents a mile to get to work,” said Hall. "The Texas Legislature has been derelict in its duty to properly fund our state highway system through the gas tax thinking raising the gas tax is political suicide. We contend selling our highways to foreign corporations is even more so!"

Private toll road contracts are due to sunset this fall. In 2007, Texans stood-up and demanded a moratorium on CDAs and sent a bill to the Governor with a combined vote of 169-5.

“Our politicians got the message in 2007 that Texans don’t want to sell our highways to the highest bidder, and yet they are about to ram through billions in multi-generational debt to benefit private foreign corporations at the expense of the taxpayers,” Hall notes.

These deals cost taxpayers 50% more, are failing all over the country, and result in extremely high tolls, like the DFW contracts just signed with Spain-based Cintra that will charge commuters 75 cents a mile to get to work. That’s $3,000 a year in new toll taxes.

In fact, just days ago, Florida’s “Alligator Alley” couldn’t get a single bidder to privatize that tollway. TURF thinks lawmakers need to wake-up to the economic realities that selling our highways to the highest bidder, and relying on rosy traffic counts that amount to pure speculation to make these multi-billion dollar boondoggles work will fall flat, leaving the taxpayers to bailout yet more corporations.

“Public infrastructure that Texans depend on for daily living shouldn’t be under the control of private companies whose primary motive, naturally, is profit, not the public interest,” states Hall.

TURF believes that especially in these economic times, the higher toll rates charged by these foreign toll operators are completely unsustainable. CDAs also eat-up our existing gas tax and other public funds to privatize and toll our public roads, taking away virtually ALL of our available funding for non-toll roads.

CDAs are the most risky and most expensive method of delivering toll projects. Testimony from Dennis Enright of Northwest Financial in New Jersey before the Senate Transportation Committee March 1, 2007, seems to have been quickly forgotten by the Legislature. Mr. Enright said there is no risk transfer to the private entity and that CDAs cost the taxpayers of a minimum of 50% more than public toll roads. Mr. Enright rightly called toll roads monopolies by their very nature. He also said it’s always best to keep these projects in the public NOT private sector.

A second bill, SB 17 authored by Nichols, is tied to Carona’s SB 404. If the House votes to re-authorize CDAs, it’s contingent upon SB 17 passing as well. SB 17 purports to protect the public from private toll contracts and make CDAs only a last resort. However, the way the current bill, SB 17, is structured, if the public toll entity cannot get the financing together to do a public toll road, they'd have to pass the project to TxDOT who would hand it to the private developer. Even worse, Nichols has amended the bill to remove all the projects involved in the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 corridor from many of those “protections,” and he’s agreed to protect the private operator’s financial “interest” in the project, hanging the taxpayers out to dry.

“Lobbyists are hogs at the public trough and our politicians bow to these special interests time and again. We need to hold them accountable for this highway robbery at the ballot box, or selling out the public interest for special interests will continue unabated,” Hall warned.

Hall says the bill doesn't give the public any protection, but shows TxDOT how it can just wait it out and then hand projects to the private companies. The bill also allows the whole evaluation process to be waived and TxDOT and public tolling entities can jump precipitously into CDAs.

Texas examples...

The recent I-820 deal in Tarrant County uses a host of public money (gas taxes, federal TIFIA loans, private activity bonds or PABs) to subsidize this PRIVATE toll contract, yet Cintra gets the right to toll Texans for 50 years and take all the profits out of state. In fact, TxDOT plunked down more cash for the project than did Cintra! (Read it here.)

The LBJ freeway CDA project to toll I-635 uses public employee pension funds to invest in the deal, with toll rates of 75 cents a mile and can rise monthly. TxDOT will even pay Cintra for the loss of the "prevailing toll" revenues due to HOV users and Cintra is guaranteed 12% to 23% PROFIT! (Read more here.)

Their models show only 10 & 11% of all traffic will be able to afford to take these billion-dollar toll lanes. The congestion, or variable, tolling actually jacks-up the toll rates to guarantee certain speeds or pay TxDOT a penalty for slower travel times. This means they purposely price cars off the toll lanes as a financial incentive.

“So what's the point of all this risky, multi-generational leveraged debt? Mobility or making money? We’re headed for an infrastructure bubble that is destined to fail, which is likely to ensure massive taxpayer bailouts when they do. All those cars not on the toll road will be sitting in traffic, contributing to our air quality issues and being late to work while still paying taxes for highways (gas tax) and not getting a thing for it,” Hall observes.

TURF is urging Texans to call their State Representative and tell them not to let private corporations takeover our public highways. Tell them “NO” to SB 404 and SB 17, and “NO” to more sweetheart deals.

Read how CDAs are failing all over the world on our CDA Fact Sheet here.

Terri Hall is the Founder of Texas TURF. TURF is a non-partisan grassroots group of citizens concerned about toll road policy and the Trans Texas Corridor. TURF promotes non-toll transportation solutions.

House poised to sell Texas highways to foreign corporations

IMMEDIATE RELEASE


House set to sell Texas highways to foreign corporations, end private toll moratorium
Bill would go to Governor's desk and become law

(Austin, TX – May 19, 2009) The Texas House is set to vote on whether to end the moratorium on private toll contracts and vote to re-authorize them for another 4 years. Comprehensive Development Agreements, called CDAs in Texas (also known as public private partnerships or PPPs), would hand over an untold number of our PUBLIC highways to PRIVATE, mostly foreign, corporations for a half century at a time. Senator John Carona’s bill, SB 404, is eligible to be taken up by the full House tomorrow.

“Texans don’t want their PUBLIC highway system sold to the highest bidder, nor do they want corporate-run toll roads that cost commuters 75 cents a mile to get to work,” said Terri Hall, Founder of Texas TURF.

Private toll road contracts are due to sunset this fall. In 2007, Texans stood-up and demanded a moratorium on CDAs and sent a bill to the Governor with a combined vote of 169-5.

“The public is largely unaware of what our politicians are about to ram through. They think they took care of it two years ago only to wake-up to find the nightmare continues unabated,” Hall notes.

These deals cost taxpayers 50% more, are failing all over the country, and result in extremely high tolls, like the DFW contracts just signed with Spain-based Cintra that will charge commuters 75 cents a mile to get to work. That’s $3,000 a year in new toll taxes.

In fact, just days ago, Florida’s “Alligator Alley” couldn’t get a single bidder to privatize that tollway. TURF thinks lawmakers need to wake-up to the economic realities that selling our highways to the highest bidder, and relying on rosy traffic counts that amount to pure speculation to make these multi-billion dollar boondoggles work will fall flat, leaving the taxpayers to bailout yet more corporations.

“Public infrastructure that Texans depend on for daily living shouldn’t be under the control of private companies whose primary motive, naturally, is profit, not the public interest,” states Hall.


TURF believes that especially in these economic times, the higher toll rates charged by these foreign toll operators are completely unsustainable. CDAs also eat-up our existing gas tax and other public funds to privatize and toll our public roads, taking away virtually ALL of our available funding for non-toll roads.

CDAs are the most risky and most expensive method of delivering toll projects. Testimony from Dennis Enright of Northwest Financial in New Jersey before the Senate Transportation Committee March 1, 2007, seems to have been quickly forgotten by the Legislature. Mr. Enright said there is no risk transfer to the private entity and that CDAs cost the taxpayers of a minimum of 50% more than public toll roads. Mr. Enright rightly called toll roads monopolies by their very nature. He also said it’s always best to keep these projects in the public NOT private sector.

A second bill, SB 17 authored by Senator Robert Nichols, is tied to Carona’s SB 404. If the House votes to re-authorize CDAs, it’s contingent upon SB 17 passing as well. SB 17 purports to protect the public from private toll contracts and make CDAs only a last resort. However, the way the current bill, SB 17, is structured, if the public toll entity cannot get the financing together to do a public toll road, they'd have to pass the project to TxDOT who would hand it to the private developer.

“The bill doesn't give the public any protection, but shows TxDOT how it can just wait it out and then hand projects to the private companies,” Hall points out.

The bill also allows the whole evaluation process to be waived and TxDOT and public tolling entities can jump precipitously into CDAs.

“So what’s the point of the bill, if they can waive the requirements and get a free pass?” asks Hall.

Texas examples...

The recent I-820 deal in Tarrant County uses a host of public money (gas taxes, federal TIFIA loans, private activity bonds or PABs) to subsidize this PRIVATE toll contract, yet Cintra gets the right to toll Texans for 50 years and take all the profits out of state. In fact, TxDOT plunked down more cash for the project than did Cintra! (Read it here.)

The LBJ freeway CDA project to toll I-635 uses public employee pension funds to invest in the deal, with toll rates of 75 cents a mile and can rise monthly. TxDOT will even pay Cintra for the loss of the "prevailing toll" revenues due to HOV users and Cintra is guaranteed 12% to 23% PROFIT! (Read more here.)

Their models show only 10 & 11% of all traffic will be able to afford to take these billion-dollar toll lanes. The congestion, or variable, tolling actually jacks-up the toll rates to guarantee certain speeds or pay TxDOT a penalty for slower travel times. This means they purposely price cars off the toll lanes as a financial incentive.

“So what's the point of all this risky, multi-generational leveraged debt? Mobility or making money? We’re headed for an infrastructure bubble that is destined to fail, which is likely to ensure massive taxpayer bailouts when they do. All those cars not on the toll road will be sitting in traffic, contributing to our air quality issues and being late to work while still paying taxes for highways (gas tax) and not getting a thing for it,” Hall observes.

TURF is urging Texans to call their State Representative and tell them not to let private corporations takeover our public highways. Tell them “NO” to SB 404 and SB 17, and “NO” to more sweetheart deals.

Read how CDAs are failing all over the world on our CDA Fact Sheet here.

Terri Hall is the Founder of Texas TURF. TURF is a non-partisan grassroots group of  citizens concerned about toll road policy and the Trans Texas Corridor. TURF promotes non-toll transportation solutions. For more information, please visit their web site at: www.TexasTURF.org.

TURF Tea Party speech hammers private toll deals, runaway toll taxes

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TURF Founder to address the San Antonio Tea Party

San Antonio, TX, April 15, 2009 – TURF Founder, Terri Hall, addressed thousands in attendance at the San Antonio Tea Party today at the Alamo. The event hosted Glenn Beck, Ted Nugent, and slew of concerned citizens speaking out against unresponsive government and runaway taxation and spending. Hall spoke about the tax burden of converting existing freeways into toll roads, which is a DOUBLE TAX. She also addressed the shift away from affordable, gas tax-funded roads to public private partnership (PPPs) toll roads, which hands our public infrastructure over to private corporations who charge extremely high tolls, like 75 cents a mile (as evidenced in the two deals inked with Cintra in the DFW area).

The text of the speech is below.

Texas for Sale

I think the words of a patriot of the past, Thomas Paine, that were uttered in 1776, reflect where we find ourselves again today in America.

He said:
“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”

Is that not so true today? Fellow Patriots, the Trans Texas Corridor and the widespread proliferation of toll roads, particularly the use of public private partnerships to exploit the eminent domain powers of govt and join it with the financial self-interest of private corporations, is nothing more than an all-out assault on our freedom: the freedom to travel, the freedom to own private property, and the freedom from oppressive taxation and overbearing government. And that, my friends, is tyranny! Though not easily conquered, it can and must be crushed.

The NAFTA Superhighway, known as the Trans Texas Corridor (or TTC for short) to Texans and called a myth by those trying to silence the truth, is very real and even has some segments already under construction. It’s a 4,000 mile, multi-modal network of toll roads, rail lines, utilities, telecommunications, and pipelines of all sorts. It will be up to 1,200 feet wide (4 football fields wide) and will take a total of 580,000 of private land. Two foreign companies partnering with an American company have been given the rights to develop the TTC, which includes the right to build the most lucrative segments without being subjected to competitive bidding, leaving the taxpayers to subsidize the parts that aren’t toll viable.

The TTC will literally bisect whole cities and towns slicing them in two, giving residents, farmers, and schoolchildren no access to the other side of this 1,200 foot wide tollway. In fact, the law states the private operator only has to build overpasses where the corridor intersects state hwys and interstates. So on TTC-35 there are only 5 exits in the entire state of Texas!

So make no mistake, this nightmare called the TTC is alive and well. We’ve personally attended most all of the nearly one hundred TTC hearings since 2006. When more than 40,000 Texans have gone on record against it, politicians take notice. But instead of KILL this nightmare; they try to find new ways to put lipstick on their pig.

Last year, there was an announcement disguised as a victory, where the Texas Department of Transportation, or TxDOT, said it would now expand existing highways (primarily Hwy 59) to build TTC-69, instead of building a massive new corridor through rural Texas. But guess what? There’s always a catch when billions of dollars are to be made, and when multi-national corporations are chomping at the bit to get their cheap Chinese goods into the U.S. exploiting cheaper Mexican ports, trucks, and labor.

Let me read to you what the winning bidder, ACS of Spain, said was the purpose of this corridor:

“The TTC-69 will connect the Mexican border with the Gulf of Mexico coastline, Houston and major industrial and logistics centres in Texas with the north of the country.

…ACS (and its partner) the Texan concessionaire Zachry American Infrastructure, have become the successful bidders for the design, planning and development, as strategic partners of…TxDOT, of the TTC-69 infrastructure corridor for the next 50 years.”

The purpose for these corridors is international trade, not congestion relief as our politicians claim, and they have no intention of killing their plans to build these trade routes at Texans’ expense.

Oh they’ll tell you your free lanes will still be there, but they’re fixin’ to do to freeways here in San Antonio (281 &1604) and that is, toll the existing freeway lanes and make the only free lanes, frontage roads. Calling it highway robbery is no exaggeration!

It’s a DOUBLE TAX to charge us again for what we’ve already built and paid for. Concerned citizens through TURF have also been on the front lines fighting the use of stimulus money to build toll roads in yet another DOUBLE TAX scheme. The Transportation Commission voted to use 70% of the federal stimulus funds to build toll roads, yet you’ll have to pay another tax, a toll tax, to drive on them!

Within TWO weeks of TxDOT’s announcement that it’ll use existing roads for TTC-69, TxDOT signed the public private partnership contract with ACS of Spain and Zachry of San Antonio that gives them 12% guaranteed annual profits, a no-bid right to cherry-pick the most lucrative segments to profit from, and they’re not even bringing their own money to the table since 3/4 to 100% of the construction cost will be paid for with YOUR MONEY…that’s right, Texas lawmakers are stealing gas taxes, and public bonds and loans to build the NAFTA superhighway but they’ll charge you again and again to drive on it and give all the profits to Zachry and ACS of Spain!

On January 6 of this year, TxDOT also announced that its renaming the TTC, “Innovative Connectivity” Plan, because 40,000 Texans stood-up against the Trans Texas Corridor. Now they try to fool us by giving this detested project another fancy name, which in reality is just more lipstick for their pig!

We’ve been brow beat with a pack of empty talking points by think tanks and government alike, that these public-private toll deals are free market, and the silver bullet to funding infrastructure without having to raise taxes, because the private partners bring all the money to the table, not cash-strapped govt, and it’s the private partner, not the taxpayers, who carry the financial risk, they’ll say.

Well, all you have to do is dig into any one of the 5 contracts in TX and those in other states (Indiana, Illinois, Florida, and Virginia) to know that not one of those things is true. First of all, a toll is a tax, and, in the case of public-private partnerships, it’s a tax in the hands of corporations, not elected officials! Try 75 cents a mile on for size. That’s the published toll rate Cintra, also based in Spain, will charge on two projects inked just weeks ago in Dallas Ft. Worth.

Second, there is no risk to the private operator when the taxpayers are subsidizing these projects with HEAPS of public money, including gas taxes, and when the state grants investors a non-compete agreement that prohibits the expansion and construction of free roads that “compete” with their tollways, they can guarantee congestion on the free lanes for a half century or more.

When these sweetheart deals fail, like we’ve seen with the mortgage crisis and the subsequent global financial meltdown, it’s the taxpayers on the hook for the debt, not these global corporations.

One contract even gives TxDOT a financial incentive to lower the speed limit on the competing “free” interstate, I-35, to drive more traffic to the high speed Trans Texas Corridor,

Our government has become the puppet of private industry and they’ve figured out how to team-up to make billions off the public’s roadways. These highways belong to WE THE PEOPLE, not the government, not the road lobby.

They have NO right to steal our land in the name of “public use” when it’s really about private gain and big government profiteering that will relegate those who cannot afford the tolls to second class citizens. Eminent domain has always been used for roads, but now for the first time, the government can literally steal your land, pay you next to nothing for it, and give it to a private company for private profit. It’s the Kelo vs. New London case wrapped up in a different colored bow applied to roads.

In Texas, they even passed a law, called quick take, that allows the govt to vacate the landowner within 90 days of notice of condemnation whether or not your case is settled. This almost guarantees the landowner will have to take the state’s offer, because who can re-locate hundreds of head of cattle in 90 days without compensation?

There is a massive war going on in this country between the pro-privatization special interest groups and freedom-loving Americans. The laws have already been dramatically altered to allow these public-private partnerships, and politicians have orchestrated a shift away from an affordable, gas tax funded freeway system to a new policy of prolific and oppressive toll taxation. They’re planning to toll the living daylights out of urban commuters in order to give their cronies government-sanctioned monopolies over YOUR roads that you depend for daily living.

We experienced uncharted territory when gas hit $4 a gallon last year, above the inflation-adjusted high of 1980. We’re back up to $2.00 a gallon right now. The mentality inside the beltway and in Austin is that no matter what they decide to charge us in new toll taxes, that motorists will pay it. They know we have to get to work. We won’t have real alternatives.

This is oppressive taxation on top of skyrocketing fuel costs. There’s only so much money in the family budget that can go to transportation before it takes money away from the necessities. We already see the dramatic decline of the standard of living in America in a very short period of time. It’s only going to get worse, they tell us, in order to condition us into accepting the globalists’ agenda.

Toll roads ultimately chop up our public freeways into a two-tiered highway system; one for those who can afford thousands a year in new toll taxes, and another one those who can’t. And those who can’t afford the toll roads will become second class citizens stuck in congestion while still paying gas taxes, and will also face the reality of having their freeways downgraded to access roads. This is not only UN-Texan, it’s UN-American!

So isn’t this what we’re conditioned to accept in government? We’re endlessly being asked to tighten OUR belts, while both our state and federal governments siphon-off our gas taxes for diversions that don’t even pertain to roads, and squander the rest on frivolous earmarks, like the bridge to nowhere?

How about TxDOT spending $9 million of taxpayer money to wage an ad campaign to advocate tolls roads and the Trans Texas Corridor? TURF filed a complaint with the Travis County District Attorney’s office immediately upon learning of this illegal use of taxpayer money. The DA’s office did nothing. So we filed a lawsuit in civil court to stop TxDOT from spending anymore of our money on taxpayer-funded lobbying.

• Through our lawsuit we’ve discovered that indeed TxDOT has been engaging in illegal lobbying. They can’t say they’re not lobbying when invoices show they’ve hired 5 registered lobbyists to the tune of $100,000 a month to lobby elected officials in Texas and in Washington, particularly targeting local elected officials in the path of the Trans Texas Corridor.
• We found documents that show the purpose of the ad campaign is to “neutralize” toll and TTC opponents and to target counties opposed to the TTC in order to turn the tide of opposition.
• PR firm stated: “The political environment needs to be changed to make it less hostile to the TTC.”  The goal of the campaign is to define the benefits of the TTC to the majority of Texans and help inoculate it from negative attacks."

• They’ve conducted push polls on the taxpayers’ dime to garner support for the TTC.
• The testimony from someone in the State Auditor’s office found TxDOT knowingly ginned-up bogus funding shortfalls in order to push toll roads!

I’m afraid this doesn’t stop in Texas. Just last summer, a new lobby group called Transportation Transformation or T2 announced that not only TxDOT, but 3 other state DOTs have officially teamed up with the bond investors and private toll road and corridor interests to directly lobby Congress in Washington for more public private partnerships and toll roads.

TURF has actively worked to effect change through the Texas Legislature for the last two sessions. I was appalled at the level of corruption and outright contempt for the average citizen in Austin. When we go to testify for and against bills, we are literally the only ordinary citizens in the room. In fact, these hearing rooms are packed with lobbyists and even 3 & 4 rows deep of standing room only in the back. Do you want to know why your phone calls and comments aren’t heeded in Austin? Because special interests and lobbyists run our government from the shadows. I like to call them the shadow government. We never elect them, and we have no influence over them at the ballot box. They exist solely for their own self-interest; to exploit you and I, the taxpayers, in order to increase our tax burden for their own benefit. It’s a feeding frenzy at the public trough.

In a book by a friend and member of TURF’s Advisory Committee, Dr. Pat Choate called Dangerous Business, the Risks of Globalization for America, he includes an entire section that lists page after page of elected officials turned lobbyists now making six figure + incomes lobbying their former colleagues in Congress for money, lots of it. And this is from just the last two Administrations. That’s why they don’t listen to us any longer, even if we are successful at booting them from office, they know that they and their families will be taken care of by the big money for the rest of their lives. It’s abundantly clear that our elected officials no longer represent us.

We have volunteers handing out an important flyer to you today that gives you a list of bills currently before the Texas Legislature, which is just a taste of the taxation free for all happening in Austin this very hour. Last session, the Legislature placed a moratorium on these public private partnership toll road contracts, but it was a counterfeit moratorium since at least a dozen of the contracts were taken out of the moratorium as evidenced in the two just signed and given to Cintra who will charge us 75 cents a mile to get to work!

The Texas Senate just passed two horrific bills last week: one to re-authorize the private toll contracts that sell our highways to the highest bidder, and the other to allow counties to levy a litany of local taxes on everything that moves like:

- an impact fee for new residents
- a tax on passenger vehicles
- a vehicle registration tax
- a vehicle sales tax
- a sales tax
- a local gas tax increase
- a tax on every mile driven (with no limit)
- a congestion tax for "high congestion areas during peak hours" (in addition to their plan to toll those areas!)
- a driver's license tax
- an emissions tax and even
- a tax on a parking space.

And that’s not counting other transportation taxing zones that come after your property taxes, too! These are just two of over 400 transportation bills, dwarfed by the grand total of 7,000 bills working their way through the Legislature. One would create an entire state agency that does nothing but write these public private partnership contracts! We cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand or simply wish it all goes away. We need your help to stop this runaway taxation and threat to our freedom to travel!

WE MUST TAKE OUR GOVERNMENT BACK! We need to fight for elected representatives who are public SERVANTS and statesmen, not self-absorbed politicians who exploit those they are elected represent. That means some of you need to be willing to run for public office. All of us need to support candidates who value the Constitution more than winning re-election, and we all MUST get involved in the political process in some way in order to preserve our precious Republic for future generations.  We need leaders who take an oath to always put the public interest above special interests, principle over Party, and values over what’s politically expedient.

It all starts with educating ourselves and our children on the Founders, their lives, and the principles and they fought and died for in order to establish a country based on self-governance, set apart from those before her and after her that still stands as a City on a Hill today, like in this book, For You They Signed, by Marilyn Boyer, that has character studies on the lives of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

We need a new generation of patriots willing to mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor to once again establish a free Republic for OUR posterity! We must demand fundamental reform to ensure checks and balances and to put the power back in the hands of the PEOPLE as the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a free people. If we don’t, our government is on track to bankrupt us and future generations.

So I ask you, have we had enough? I cannot help but be inspired by the resolve of another patriot, Patrick Henry, who said in his famous speech that sparked a revolution:

“Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

We need to ask ourselves, will we allow our government to shackle us with oppressive taxation just to get to work and go about daily living? Will we allow our government to carve a 1,200 ft wide swath through the heartland of America and sacrifice private property rights in the name of foreign trade and commerce? Or will we continue to fight a new revolution, a taxpayer revolt, a political movement to stop the sale of America’s freeways to the highest bidder on Wall Street, to stop tolls across Texas and America, protect our right to own property without fear of government abuses, and preserve our way of life and our precious freedoms bought with a price from those who came before us?

They, those who have sold out American freedom in favor of the almighty dollar and the intoxication of power, aren’t counting on you and me and this freedom movement taking our government back. But as for me, and I think all of you here today and the hundreds of thousands who couldn’t be with us, the resounding answer is: give us liberty!

May this event spark a movement of ordinary citizens from all walks of life and all political stripes who have had enough of abusive, overbearing government and who see the dire necessity to change course. We stand at a crossroads, and may this day, April 15, 2009 mark a turning point back to Constitutionally-restrained government, and one that’s OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE, and FOR THE PEOPLE!

We invite you to get involved and join us on the frontlines of a taxpayer revolt to preserve our freedom to travel by visiting our table right next to the KSLR and WOAI booths to the right of the stage or going to the Texas TURF.org web site. No one else can do it for us; we MUST do this ourselves. Government certainly doesn’t fix itself. We often feel like Peter, the little Dutch boy who had his finger in the crack of the dike and held back certain disaster for his homeland. We need more people in this fight. It will take a Texas-sized tax revolt to stop the assault on our freedom and prosperity.

But most importantly, never give up, do not falter, and NEVER waver in the cause of liberty. If this one homeschool mom can start a movement that spread across this state to influence the Texas Legislature, all the way to Washington D.C., and recently even to Denmark, so can each and every one of you. Thank you and may God bless and preserve what our Founders’ inherently knew was a fragile Republic, the United States of America!

Senate poised to hand freeways to private toll operators


IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Senate poised to hand public freeways to private toll operators


(Austin, TX, April 1, 2009) Texans don’t want their PUBLIC highway system sold to the highest bidder, nor do they want corporate-run toll roads that cost commuters 75 cents a mile to get to work. Private toll road contracts are due to sunset this fall. Today, the Texas Senate will vote on whether to extend these contracts called Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDAs) in Texas also known as public private partnerships (PPPs). CDAs need to sunset. In 2007, Texans stood-up and demanded a moratorium on CDAs and sent a bill to the Governor with a combined vote of 169-4.

So what happened to our politicians? Do they think Texans have changed their mind and will choke down the loss of control of our public highways and such oppressive taxation?

Hardly. The public is largely unaware of what our politicians are about to ram through, and they think they took care of it two years ago only to wake-up to find the nightmare continues unabated.

These deals cost taxpayers 50% more, are failing all over the country, and result in extremely high tolls, like the DFW contracts just signed with Spain-based Cintra that will charge commuters 75 cents a mile to get to work. That’s $3,000 a year in new toll taxes. Especially in these economic times, that’s completely unsustainable. There were 20 lawyers present at the signing of the SH 130 CDA. TxDOT has squandered at least $18 million on legal fees alone for just the TTC-35 CDA. When TxDOT is claiming we’re out of money for roads, CDAs are the height of hypocrisy.


CDAs are the most risky and expensive method of delivering toll projects. How quickly the testimony from Dennis Enright of Northwest Financial in New Jersey before the Senate Transportation Committee March 1, 2007 has been forgotten. Mr. Enright said there is no risk transfer to the private entity and that CDAs cost the taxpayers of a minimum of 50% more than public toll roads. Mr. Enright rightly called toll roads monopolies by their very nature. He also said it’s always best to keep these projects in the public NOT private sector.

So why are CDAs being discussed at all? Public infrastructure that Texans depend on for daily living shouldn’t be under the control of private companies whose primary motive, naturally, is profit, not the public interest.

The way the current bill, SB 17, is structured, if the public toll entity cannot get the financing together to do a public toll road, they'd have to pass
the project to TxDOT who would hand it to the private developer. The bill doesn't give the public any protection, but shows TxDOT how it can just wait it out and then hand projects to the private companies. The bill also allows the whole evaluation process to be waived and TxDOT and public tolling entities can jump precipitously into CDAs. So what’s the point of the bill, if they can waive the requirements and get a free pass?

Texas examples...

The recently signed I-820 deal includes gas taxes, federal TIFIA loans, and other public money yet Cintra gets the right to toll Texans for 50 years and take all the profits out of state. In fact, TxDOT plunked down more cash for the project than did Cintra! (Read it here.)

The LBJ project to toll I-635 uses public employee pension funds to invest in the deal, which is risky and fiscally irresponsible, with toll rates of 75 cents a mile and can rise monthly. TxDOT will even pay Cintra for the loss of the "prevailing toll" revenues due to HOV users and Cintra is guaranteed 12% to 23% PROFIT!

Their models show only 10 & 11% of all traffic will be able to afford to
take these billion dollar toll lanes. The congestion or variable tolling is the most insidious of all where they jack-up the toll rates to guarantee certain speeds or pay TxDOT a penalty for slower travel times. This means they purposely price cars off the toll lanes as a financial incentive.

So what's the point of all this risky, multi-generational leveraged debt? Mobility or making money? We’re headed for an infrastructure bubble that is destined to fail, which is likely to ensure massive taxpayer bailouts when they do. All those cars not on the toll road will be sitting in traffic, contributing to our air quality issues and being late to work while still paying taxes for highways (gas tax) and not getting a thing for it!

Call your state lawmakers and tell them not to let private corporations takeover our public highways. Tell them NO to SB 17, and NO to more sweetheart deals.

Read how CDAs are failing all over the world on our CDA Fact Sheet here.

Terri Hall is the Founder of Texas TURF. TURF is a non-partisan grassroots group of  citizens concerned about toll road policy and the Trans Texas Corridor. TURF promotes non-toll transportation solutions. For more information, please visit their web site at: www.TexasTURF.org.

Nichols' senate bill expands loopholes to toll existing freeways

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Senate bill opens NEW loophole to toll existing highways

Friday, March 27, 2009 – SB 220 authored by Senator Robert Nichols actually opens a NEW loophole that would allow existing highway lanes to be tolled and the free lanes to be subsequently downgraded to access roads. This bill would legalize the conversions of at least three highways: 281 N and 1604 in Bexar County and 290 E in Travis County. SB 220 passed the Senate 31-0 despite citizen concerns, TURF testimony, and our action alert notifying EVERY single senator of this problem.

"It's an outrage that the author of this bill, Senator Nichols, is out there touting that he's ended the tolling of existing highways, and he knows his bill does just the opposite! He's an ex-Transportation Commissioner who not only was involved in writing the first bill to address tolls on existing highways that had the original loopholes back in 2005 (SB 2702), but also he was present when Governor Perry signed the contract with Cintra for the Trans Texas Corridor, and he has plenty of ties to and funding from the highway lobby. He knows exactly what he's doing. The leopard is showing his spots," explains Terri Hall TURF Founder.

The wording of this bill leaves a number of loopholes for TxDOT to leap through.

Sections 228.201 (a) 1, 3, 5 are the trouble spots and need to be omitted. Section one essentially allows the Texas Transportation Commission to convert any freeway as long as they do it before it awards a contract. Section three would allow virtually EVERY toll project in the state to be a conversion since most were in an MPO plan prior to September of 2005. Then, section five permits TxDOT to convert freeways all it wants if they simply slap a stoplight on it and snarl traffic for years on end until the public capitulates to toll taxes. It states if a highway lane has a "control device" prior to the conversion, those lanes can be tolled and the free lanes downgraded to frontage roads with permanent stoplights and slower speed limits.

“It should NEVER be legal to take away existing highway lanes and downgrade the free lanes into frontage roads. But section #5 of this bill would do exactly that,” notes Hall.

On the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 expansion of Hwy 59, for instance, SB 220 would enable TxDOT to convert existing highway lanes (that have stoplights when it traverses through small towns) into a toll road. Then those toll lanes would be under the control of a Spain-based company, ACS, which has the development rights to the TTC-69 corridor, leaving access roads as the only non-toll lanes.

Hank Gilbert, on the Board of TURF, directly questioned TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz about this at the 2008 TxDOT press conference promising to use existing highways for the footprint on TTC-69, and he failed to give a definitive answer.

If you watched the Sunset Commission hearings last July, you saw legislators awaken to the fact that TxDOT was NOT following the legislative intent of its previous attempt to outlaw converting existing freeways into toll roads.

“When TxDOT is going to toll every single mainlane currently open to traffic as a US highway built and paid for with state and federal dollars and leave only frontage roads as the non-toll, the taxpayers have rightly gone nuclear,” says Hall.

Most rural divided highways eventually need stoplights at the crossovers. The stoplights make it no less a highway than before it had stoplights, but it certainly slows the thru traffic. Then, TxDOT usually upgrades to a controlled access highway by building overpasses over the stoplights and adding frontage lanes where needed. So TxDOT has been exploiting this all over the state by turning freeways with stoplights (which are naturally congested by having to stop) into tollways instead of building overpasses and keeping those lanes toll-free.

“This is wrong and unacceptable. You’ve also been hearing plenty of protest about using stimulus money to build toll roads in a TRIPLE TAX scheme Texans WILL NOT tolerate. Converting existing freeways into toll roads is the same tax scheme, this time a DOUBLE tax, using a different pot of money,” relates Gilbert who protested the use of stimulus money for toll roads for which a commissioner called him and TURF supporters, “bigots.” Watch it here.

“By leaving this bill as is, it's legalizing theft, period. If TxDOT can slap a stoplight on a highway as a license to double tax motorists to get to work, then that’s exactly what they’ll do to get easy access to our wallets. This is horrific public policy and it needs to be fixed,” Hall said.

Texans say: No stimulus money for toll roads

PRESS ADVISORY


Texans to TxDOT:  No stimulus funds for toll roads! Slow down and fix it first, invest stimulus wisely

Austin, TX, March 3, 2009 – The Texas Transportation Commission is poised to ram through $1.7 billion of new stimulus-funded projects at their meeting Thursday. The project list is chock full of controversial projects, including the Grand Parkway in Houston, the US-281 toll road across the Edwards aquifer in San Antonio, more toll roads to nowhere, and sprawl highways through environmentally-sensitive areas. Further, many Texans object to spending stimulus on toll roads.

On Tuesday morning, Texans from across the state will converge at the capitol to demand that Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) slow down and do this right. We must ensure our federal stimulus isn't wasted on boondoggles!

What: Joint citizen press conference on stimulus funds

Who:
Texans United for Reform and Freedom (TURF), Terri Hall,
Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter, Ken Kramer,
Environment Texas, Alejandro Savransky,
Independent Texans, Linda Curtis,
Houston Tomorrow, Jay Crossley,
Citizens' Transportation Coalition (CTC), Robin Holzer,

When: Tuesday, Mar 3, 2009 at 9:15 am

Where: East steps of the Texas capitol, Austin, TX

Visuals: Texas capitol, Texans on the steps, TxDOT headquarters across the street

Background:
In February, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) allocated $2.25 billion in federal transportation funds to Texas. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) will allow states up to one year to decide which projects to build.

Planning Commission takes on TxDOT, Trans Texas Corridor in Nacogdoches


TURF Board member Hank Gilbert is the President of the 391 planning commission in the Piney Woods/Nacogdoches region and they're using local government to challenge the Trans Texas Corridor. Go Hank!

PRESS RELEASE -January 16, 2009

PWSRPC Hosts Meeting with TxDOT, EPA Next

The Piney Woods Sub-Regional Planning Commission (PWSRPC) took another step in the process of maintaining local control of future highway construction during a meeting held with TxDOT representatives last week.  The over-flow capacity crowd of public supporters caused the PWSRPC-TxDOT meeting to be moved to a much larger meeting room in the Nacogdoches County Courthouse Annex.  This did not miss the attention of the three TxDOT officials, two of which were from the Austin Office, and the panel of consultants TxDOT brought with them, as nearly a hundred local citizens turned out to hear the Planning Commission's President, Hank Gilbert, grill TxDOT as to their plans.


Doug Booher, 'on the scene' Environmental Manager stated, "We're not going to pursue the 4,000 mile network.  We are going to continue to pursue two individual projects; one of them would be the I-35 corridor project and the other one would be the I-69 corridor project."

When asked the question from the attending audience about a loop that once was planned to go around the West side of Nacogdoches, Booher stated, "I'm sure those plans would be dusted off and looked at again."  He also stated the name 'Trans Texas Corridor' would be 'phased out' and mentioned several times that tolling and public/private partnerships (by foreign investors) would still be an option in TxDOT's transportation plans.

Hank Gilbert also expressed to PWSRPC members that he is concerned about legislation Governor Perry may try to pass that would eliminate SRPC's, such as the Piney Woods.

"We have people watching out for such legislation and if it is introduced, we will need for the citizens of Texas to call their Representatives and let them know that they want to keep their local SRPC's," Gilbert stated.

The strong show of public support for the PWSRPC's meeting with TxDOT validates the desire of the public for input and information.  The NEXT Piney Woods Sub-Regional Planning Commission meeting will be with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Representatives on Thursday, February 5, at 10:00 a.m. in the Nacogdoches County Annex.  This will also be an open meeting and the public is urged to attend.  As Board Member Larry Shelton has stated, "You are either at the table or you are on the menu."

TTC is NOT dead

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Trans Texas Corridor renamed, not dead

TURF supporters demand ACTION, not rhetoric

TURF reaction to TxDOT announcement:

The announcement by TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz at the Texas Transportation Forum that the "Trans Texas Corridor, as it was originally envisioned, is no more," is just another in a series of comments to lead opponents into believing the Trans Texas Corridor is indeed dead. TURF believes this is a deliberate move to dupe opponents into complacency, and we expect iron-clad action before we begin celebrating victory.

It's clear from the TxDOT Director's speech, that it's only a name change and the Trans Texas Corridor is, in reality, going underground.

This fact is evident in just about every news source across the state:

"'Amadeo told folks at the forum that the Trans-Texas Corridor, as it was originally envisioned, is no more,' Amacker (Saenz spokesperson) said. 'Instead, what we've got is a series of smaller projects.'

Those 'smaller projects' will apparently include the 300-plus miles of what has been called TTC-35 from San Antonio to the Oklahoma border and the I-69 project from the Rio Grande Valley to Texarkana. But they will not be called the Trans-Texas Corridor." -- Austin American Statesman

________________________________________________________

"Other than backpedaling from the Trans-Texas Corridor brand, and the goals and priorities set over the years, the Trans-Texas Corridor remains intact.

TxDOT still plans to partner with private corporations to build and lease projects. Toll roads, truck-only lanes and rail lanes are also still on the table.

Environmental studies for the I-35 and East Texas corridor segments still chug through the pipeline. And a development contract with Cintra of Spain and Zachry Construction Co. of San Antonio, for projects paralleling I-35, is still valid." -- San Antonio Express-News

_________________________________________________________

"The renewed effort now will operate under the name 'Innovative Connectivity Plan.'" -- Houston Chronicle
_________________________________________________________

No law has been changed, no minute order rescinded, no environmental document re-done (as is required by federal law), and there are still two contracts signed giving two Spanish companies the right of first refusal on segments of the corridor previously known as TTC-35  & TTC-69. So by every real measure, the Trans Texas Corridor goes on full steam ahead. What today's hype was about is a political ploy to make the public go back to sleep while it gets built under a different name. While we welcome genuine responsiveness from TxDOT and a true repeal of the Trans Texas Corridor, this hardly qualifies.

Lets just say, we agree with Senator Robert Nichols' statement in the Dallas Morning News:

"If it is just a name change, and nothing more, I don't think that is going to do much to appease lawmakers," said Nichols, R-Jacksonville.

TxDOT's top brass commit perjury

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TxDOT’s top brass perjures themselves

TURF releases explosive footage of depositions from ad campaign/lobbying lawsuit to Sunset Commission

Tuesday, July 15, 2008 – Some very damaging footage of TxDOT’s top brass under oath was presented to the Sunset Advisory Commission at its hearing on the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) today (view here or go to www.TruthBeTolled.com to view). As part of TURF’s lawsuit against TxDOT to stop its illegal lobbying and ad campaign called Keep Texas Moving to promote toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor in violation of Texas Government Code Chapter 556, several top officials of TxDOT were deposed under oath where they perjured themselves.

TURF gave each member of the Commission a DVD of a new documentary film, Truth Be Tolled TURF Special Edition, made about TxDOT’s Keep Texas Moving campaign that shows portions of legal depositions of TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz, Director of Government and Public Affairs Division Coby Chase, and Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton.



TURF showed the Sunset Advisory Commission that TxDOT has made an unprecedented push to win public approval for its controversial toll road and Trans Texas Corridor project, using public money, which is not only illegal, it unfairly stacks the deck against citizens.

Houghton swore under oath that TxDOT had not hired registered lobbyists when these invoices show they have (as well as Houghton’s own admission during a Town Hall Meeting in Hempstead). State law prohibits state agencies from hiring lobbyists and prohibits them from using public money for a political purpose. State agencies are to implement policy, not shape it. Video clips from the Town Hall meeting in Hempstead, January 22, also show Houghton trying to sway the crowd in favor of the Trans Texas Corridor while under oath he was adamant that TxDOT and he had not done so.



PULL ANY ADVOCACY CAMPAIGNS FROM TXDOT
Keep Texas Moving advocates the Trans Texas Corridor, privatization of infrastructure, and tolling. The information in this campaign only extols the benefits of tolling and privatization (and never includes criticisms).

The stated goal of the campaign found in TxDOT documents is:
"To shift perception among those who are opposed to or on the fence about the TTC" and to change the political environment to “make it less hostile to the TTC" and to promote the “benefits of TTC…and help inoculate it from negative attacks" as well as “increase support of TxDOT programs."

“This is no public information campaign. It’s a taxpayer-funded political ad campaign, which is not only illegal, but it also abuses the taxpayers in order to line TxDOT’s pockets with the MOST EXPENSIVE transportation tax,” says Terri Hall, TURF Founder who testified before the Sunset Commission.

TxDOT hired 5 registered lobbyists to the tune of $100,000/month to directly lobby Congress and other elected officials for more CDAs, the TTC, and tolling. Saenz, Chase, and Houghton all claimed ignorance of the law under oath, but Chapter 556.009 says all state officers and employees are given the law prior to taking a position with the State and a record of their acknowledgment of receipt is to be kept in writing.

“So any claim of ignorance of the law by the top brass is no get out jail free card,” Hall said.

This document shows TxDOT targeted County Judges in the path of the TTC-69. Houghton testified in the TURF lawsuit that lobbyist Gary Bushell is who arranged Houghton’s meetings with the County Judges. County Judges are key in appointing an arbitration committee between landowners and the State in eminent domain cases. So TxDOT’s lobbying effort was clearly to give the State an advantage in eminent domain proceedings for the Trans Texas Corridor.

Despite the TURF lawsuit and the suspension of hiring outside lobbyists, TxDOT recently hired an in-house lobbyist, Rebecca Reyes, to lobby Democrats in Congress through TxDOT’s Washington office and joined a lobby group named Transportation Transformation, or T2, with 4 other DOTs and private investors, like Goldman Sachs, to lobby Congress for more CDAs.

TxDOT also conducted push polls seeking to gain public approval of the TTC, which included asking overtly political questions like political party affiliation and if the respondent voted straight ticket in the last election.

In another document, it states TxDOT’s messages in the ad campaign would promote tolling over gas taxes with statements like, “tolls are better than gas taxes to fund roads.”

“The Sunset Commission needs to strongly recommend the repeal of Section 228.004 from the transportation code and remove from TxDOT any ability to promote toll roads. They’ve become an arm of private industry that cannot be trusted to expend funds in a way that protects the public interest,” insisted Hall.

END FREEWAY TO TOLLWAY CONVERSIONS
TURF and many of its supporters addressed the reforms the citizens demand in order to restore trust in the agency, anywhere from replacing the unelected 5 member Transportation Commission with a single ELECTED commissioner to fixing how decisions to toll roads are made (and giving the public real veto power), to getting an accurate figure of road funding needs independently of TxDOT, as well as ending freeway to tollway conversions.

The complete conversion of US 281 from a freeway, already built and open to traffic for decades, to a toll road shocked the Commission and was a central part of the hearing. Representative Linda Harper-Brown questioned TxDOT’s perversion of a state law, HB 2702, that prohibits conversions without a public vote and requires them to leave as many non-toll lanes that exist before adding toll lanes. But TxDOT is tolling every single express lane (or main lane) on US 281 and downgrading the non-toll lanes to access roads with slower speed limits and permanent stop lights, an unfair replacement say critics.

Even worse, the 281 improvements have been funded with gas taxes starting in 2003 ($100 million plan total), but it was turned into a toll road simply to generate revenue for other area projects, clearly a discriminatory, targeted tax. Now as a toll road, the pricetag has ballooned to a whopping $1.3 billion!

“With highway robbery of this scale, it’s no wonder the supposed funding gap for future roads swelled to $86 billion. This is insane! Rep. Joe Pickett once stated we can build 4 freeways for the price of one toll road. In the case of US 281, we can build 10 freeways for the price of one toll project!” notes an outraged Hall.

TURF also delivered disks of all the evidence in their lawsuit to the Travis County District Attorney’s office to press them to file criminal charges against guilty parties.

“Texans are tired of one legal standard for them and another for those in power. The Truth Be Tolled TURF Special Edition DVD (www.TruthBeTolled.com) is enough evidence to show TxDOT is guilty of lying under oath and prosecuting an illegal ad and lobbying campaign on the taxpayers’ dime. Blood’s in the water now, and the sharks are circling. The people demand justice,” Hall commented.

TURF reaction to TxDOT awarding TTC-69 to ACS of Spain & Zachry


IMMEDIATE RELEASE


TURF statement on TxDOT selecting private partner to develop TTC-69

Austin, TX, June 26, 2008

After the overwhelming public feedback preferred the “no build” option and after the Legislature made it clear it wanted time to slow down this train of privatizing our public infrastructure, TxDOT’s selection, today, of a private partner to develop TTC-69 is a total slap in the face to the people of Texas.

This proposal awarded to ZAI/ACS (Zachry American Infrastructure and ACS, based in Spain) is chalk full of egregious taxpayer exploitation. For instance, it tolls loops around Riviera, Driscoll, Corpus Christi and other cities (7 loops total) to fund non-toll improvements to Hwy 77 in yet another Robin Hood scheme. The deal gives ZAI/ACS a guaranteed 12% rate of return on their investment, and it relies heavily on public funds, like federal taxpayer backed private activity bonds (PABs) and TIFIA loans to front the vast majority of the construction costs and then gives all the profit to Zachry & ACS!


They also plan to use taxable zero coupon fixed rate bonds issued by the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority and controversial Transportation Reinvestment Zone (TMZ) funds, which will essentially heist property taxes. The deal also gives ZAI/ACS cherry-picking rights (or right of first refusal) on multiple segments for the TTC-69 without being subjected to a competitive bidding process. The sham of an announcement pandering to landowners promising to use existing highways for TTC-69 wasn’t a concession at all. The private “partners” informed them the new corridor route wasn’t toll viable so they reverted back to using existing freeways (which would have been the tollway’s biggest revenue “competitor”) so as to capture more toll revenue. It was Cintra and Zachry who determined the re-route, not TxDOT being responsive to an outraged public!

“If this isn’t a wake-up call to the Legislature that it’s business as usual at TxDOT until they forcibly restrain them via state law, we don’t know what is. This removes any requirement for competitive bidding, which on its face is an absolute failure of the State's fiduciary duty to protect the taxpayers from monopolistic sweetheart deals and what's certain to be inflated costs. We must make Legislators pay at the ballot box for their malfeasance in granting the authority for such no-bid contracts and for failing to rein-in TxDOT with a GENUINE moratorium last year BEFORE this next private sweetheart deal got signed. If they don’t completely clean house at TxDOT and end this public fleecing, there won’t be enough political cover for the consequences at the ballot box. Enough is enough. End this now!” notes Terri Hall, TURF Founder.

“At today’s Transportation Commission meeting, it was a lovefest between David Zachry and the South Texas politicos pushing this nonsense. TxDOT and their buddies at Zachry/ACS found a way to follow the bare minimum of the law to sign this CDA and continue to steamroll a plan the majority of Texans don’t want. It was also evident the Transportation Commission is desperate to come up with their own alternative reforms since they’re facing an angry public demanding TxDOT be scrapped, a discontented Legislature, and scathing Sunset Commission recommendations,” observed Hank Gilbert, TURF Board member and acting President of the Piney Woods Subregional Planning Commission who attended and testified at today's meeting.

For more detailed analysis of how TxDOT can legally award a Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA) outside the moratorium (SB 792), go to TURF’s web site here.

-30-

Link to article here.

Commission picks developer for I-69 project
Plan would build toll road loops around Corpus Christi, other cities
By JANET ELLIOTT
Houston Chronicle, Austin Bureau
June 26, 2008
AUSTIN — The Texas Transportation Commission on Thursday selected San Antonio's Zachry Construction Corp. and a Spanish toll road developer to plan a superhighway from Texarkana to Brownsville.

The $5 million contract calls for Zachry American Infrastructure and ACS Infrastructure to create a financial plan for the Interstate 69 segment of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

"This team represents the best in the balance of local and global expertise necessary to complete a project of this scope," said David Zachry, chief operating officer of Zachry Construction Corp.

The private developers' plan calls for seven new loops around Corpus Christi and other cities to be constructed as toll roads. Revenue would pay for bringing existing stretches of U.S. 77 up to interstate standards. U.S. 77, however, would not be tolled.

They also propose 60 potential infrastructure projects, including commuter rail along U.S. 90 northeast of Houston, a bridge to Bolivar Peninsula, a container facility at Freeport and a desalinization plant in Brownsville. Transportation commissioners said, however, that there was no guarantee any of those projects will be built.

Houston route unknown

The final decision on the route for the corridor will be made by the Texas Department of Transportation through an ongoing environmental study. It is expected to roughly follow U.S. 59 through East Texas and south of Houston, and U.S. 77 south of Victoria.
Earlier this month, TxDOT said it had abandoned plans to build part of the I-69 corridor through rural areas north and west of Houston. Instead, it said it would stick to major highways for most of the route.

The way through or around Houston has not been determined, although it could stay on U.S. 59 or go on Loop 610 or the planned Grand Parkway.

The developers' financing ideas boosted their proposal over one submitted by a joint venture led by another Spanish company, Cintra, which is developing a master plan for the segment of the Trans-Texas Corridor slated to run from Oklahoma to Mexico, east of Interstate 35.

Zachry is a Cintra partner on the project paralleling I-35.

"We feel (this proposal) is the best value to the state," said Mark Tomlinson, director of TxDOT's turnpike division.

An anti-toll road group called the method of financing a "Robin Hood scheme."

"TxDOT and their buddies at Zachry/ACS found a way to follow the bare minimum of the law to sign this (Comprehensive Development Agreement) and continue to steamroll a plan the majority of Texans don't want," said Hank Gilbert, a board member of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom.

Toll roads operate locally

South Texas political leaders applauded the decision to move toward a longstanding goal of having the Rio Grande Valley served by an interstate highway.
"It's like getting indoor plumbing. We've waited that long for it, and it's really important," said Bill Summers, president of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, a chamber of commerce group.

The I-69/TTC corridor is part of Gov. Rick Perry's vision for a network of broad corridors linking major cities, with toll roads for cars and trucks, rail tracks for freight and passenger trains, and space for pipelines and power lines.

The corridor plans have been met with controversy due to opposition to tolls and concern that family farmland would be lost to development.

Corridor supporters say the routes would make the highways safer and improve the flow of goods by directing commercial traffic to designated lanes. Revenue from the state's gasoline tax is insufficient to fund improvements, they say.

The developers plan to work with local authorities to operate $1.5 billion worth of toll roads. TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott said that arrangement would meet the requirements of a law passed last year that forbids private companies to operate toll roads.

TxDOT to change TTC-69 route

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TxDOT route change on TTC-69 requires new environmental study BY LAW

Citizens concerns remain since corridor still tolled behemoth in hands of private company

Austin, TX, June 11, 2008 – Today’s announcement by TxDOT that it will “consider” the use of existing right of way wherever possible on the TTC-69 Trans Texas Corridor project and its release of a new project map and study area requires a completely new environmental study per federal law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Also, TTC-69 can still be 1,200 foot wide land grabbing, privatized tolled corridor and it will toll existing right of way already paid for with gas taxes, which is DOUBLE TAXATION. TxDOT claims it won't toll existing lanes, but they've been downgrading the existing lanes to frontage roads all over the state.
 
“Why should we believe TxDOT now? The public has lost all trust in this agency that even the Sunset Committee calls ‘out of control.’ While certain landowners will no longer be affected and can breathe a sigh of relief, this project is still ill-conceived. This corridor was promised as a FREE interstate highway for decades, now they’ll convert existing freeways like Hwy 59 into privately-controlled toll roads. Somehow we feel in no mood to celebrate,” notes TURF’s Founder Terri Hall.

 

If TxDOT changes the scope of the project like a new route and study area, TxDOT has to, by law per NEPA, redo the environmental study totally and take public comment all over again, not just submit some letter to the FHWA reflecting the change. They are required to redo the document reflecting the new project route (see map here) and study the impacts of the new "alternative" selection using existing right of way replacing the new corridor "alternative" as the current document states.
 
While TxDOT says its reasons for the change are in response to the overwhelming public opposition to a new corridor, it lacks any credibility because nearly EVERY toll project in urban areas and the TTC-35 corridor also had record public comment against the projects and yet TxDOT has refused to listen to the public or change its railroading tactics.
 
“We feel this move by TxDOT may, in part, be in response to the forming of 391 regional planning commissions. They're playing legal games with semantics. Needless to say, we're very cautious about this announcement. We think it's to quell the forming of more commissions and to make concessions to the Legislature before the Sunset Commission/Legislature guts TxDOT if they don't ‘act’ more responsive to the public,” said Hank Gilbert, of TURF and acting President of the Piney Woods Subregional Planning Commission.
 
With the 391 commissions, TxDOT has to do what these local governments require of them by invoking the coordination mandate in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) "to the greatest extent practicable." That puts TxDOT in a HUGE legal box they cannot wiggle out of. The wording of this TTC-69 TxDOT statement (and the transportation commission's minute order from a few weeks ago. Read more here) is very intentionally saying they'll simply "consider" existing right of way, that is NOT a mandate to do so which the 391 commission by contrast can force. So anyway, TxDOT isn't giving up much, they're playing legal games. Needless to say, we're very cautious about this announcement. We think it's to quell the forming of more commissions and to make concessions to the Legislature before the Sunset Commission/Legislature guts the agency if they don't "act" more responsive to the public.

Commission engages in empty political posturing to quell opposition

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
Transportation Commission Minute Order all talk, no teeth


Austin, TX, May 29, 2008 – Today’s Transportation Commission Minute Order designed to quell opposition was all talk and no teeth according to TURF’s Founder Terri Hall.

“Don't believe the hype. Today the Texas Transportation Commission adopted a Minute Order designed to fool people into thinking they've changed their stripes. The reality? It's all posturing,” notes Hall.

New Chairwoman Deirdre Delisi wants the Senate to confirm her, and the Commission knows the Sunset Review will bring serious legislatively mandated changes they want to avoid. There's nothing about a Minute Order that is even binding. TxDOT can change this at their whim and violate it anytime. Add to that, many of these provisions are already not allowed or required by state law.
 
 
Here's a summary of the gaping holes and inadequacies of this Minute Order:

• The prohibition on non-competes doesn't mention that a competing facility could require compensation (taxpayer payments to investors if TxDOT expands or builds a competing road)

• There's no mention of stripping non-competes from bond agreements (they only addressed CDAs or PPPs contracts today). Bond companies require non-competes and create the same guaranteed congestion on non-toll routes.

• Also, there's no prohibition against taking existing highway lanes and tolling them leaving the only non-toll lanes frontage roads (totally different in function and speed and stop light times can be manipulated to drive traffic to the toll lanes, etc.). That's the crux of much of the angst on urban toll projects.

• They also failed to address their illegal ad campaign and lobbying. If they seriously wanted to build trust, they would have moved to cease those practices unconditionally.

“Until the Legislature takes the power of decision-making of this type AWAY from an un-elected, unaccountable agency run amok and gives it back to the PEOPLE and their representatives, this whole exercise is a non-starter,” promises Hall.

______________________________

Associated Press Newswire

May 29, 2008

AUSTIN (AP) - Transportation Commission Chair Deirdre Delisi led
her first meeting today and expressed a desire to build public
trust in the transportation agency.

The commissioners adopted an order governing toll projects and
the Trans-Texas Corridor. They also set out to improve citizen and
legislative access to Texas Department of Transportation's
financial data.

The commission unanimously agreed that:
- all Texas highways will be owned by the state, not private
developers;
- the state may buy back the interest of a private road
developer;
- only expansions to existing highways will be tolled and
existing free lanes won't be reduced;
- and that "non-compete clauses" will be banned, meaning no
state contract will limit improvements to nearby existing roads.
Transportation Chair Delisi's political ties to Gov. Rick Perry
drew criticism when he appointed her.

TxDOT brings lobbyists in-house

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TxDOT still engaging in illegal lobbying

Chronicle reports TxDOT hired former lobbyist to lobby Democrats in Congress


Houston, TX, May 27, 2008 –  A May 25 Houston Chronicle article) reveals that while TxDOT ceased hiring OUTSIDE lobbyists, it hired Rebecca Reyes using taxpayer money to work in TxDOT’s Washington office. Reyes is the daughter of Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso.

TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott expressly stated she was hired because she has a background in “lobbying.” TURF filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for its taxpayer-funded political ad campaign to advocate toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor (in violation of Texas Government Code Chapter 556), and it found evidence TxDOT had also illegally hired registered lobbyists. Lippincott tried to spin it by claiming they stopped hiring outside lobbyists due to budget cuts.
 

“TxDOT has ceased hiring outside lobbyists in response to being caught red-handed in violation of the law, but now it’s obviously still engaging in lobbying members of Congress by bringing a former lobbyist in-house. Both the Texas Government Code (Chapter 556.004) and federal law prohibit a government agency from engaging in lobbying and using taxpayer money for a political purpose. TxDOT is just getting more sneaky in how they do it,” says an incredulous Terri Hall, Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (or TURF).
 
“Where is the OUTRAGE from lawmakers and where is the Travis County District Attorney to put a stop to this illegal activity at taxpayer expense?” asks Hall.

The applicable federal law is found in the Hatch Act:

5 C.F.R. 151.121 -  "a state or local officer or employee may not…directly or indirectly…command…a state or local officer or employee to pay, lend, or contribute anything of value to a political party, committee, organization, agency or person for a political purpose."

What TxDOT calls “outreach” and “education” is, in reality, an advocacy and political ad campaign (www.KeepTexasMoving.com) using public relations firms and political strategists to “sell” the public on a privatized, toll roads, and this sales job includes members of Congress as evidenced in TxDOT’s Forward Momentum report asking them to relax federal legislation in order to buy back existing interstates in order to toll them.

Through TURF’s lawsuit, it uncovered detailed logs showing a concerted campaign to lobby politicians, particularly newly elected officials, which is a BIG no-no for a state agency that must remain apolitical. Alliance for I-69 Lobbyist Gary Bushell was hired by TxDOT to personally lobby more than two-dozen elected officials in the path of TTC-69 prior to the Town Hall meetings.

Houghton admits TxDOT violated the law!
At the packed Town Hall meeting in Hempstead last February, Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton said he also personally met with every county judge in the path of the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 as he defended the necessity of TxDOT hiring lobbyists to lobby elected officials.

This action is in DIRECT VIOLATION OF THE LAW!

Texas Government Code:

§ 556.005. Employment of Lobbyist

(a) A state agency may not use appropriated money to employ, as a regular full-time or part-time or contract employee, a person who is required by Chapter 305 to register as a lobbyist. Except for an institution of higher education as defined by Section 61.003, Education Code, a state agency may not use any money under its control to employ or contract with an individual who is required by Chapter 305 to register as a lobbyist.

"TxDOT has now publicly admitted, on camera, that it has violated the LAW! Are government agencies under the rule of law or not? Who is going to step in and prosecute this rogue agency?" asks an outraged Hall.

TURF also discovered in a memo to TxDOT dated November 8, 2007, that Rodman & Co. marketing gurus drafted positive, pro-TTC quotes on behalf of elected officials in order to place them as positive quotes in press releases about the TTC-69 project.

Political Poll conducted on taxpayers’ dime
TxDOT also hired Governor Rick Perry’s political polling outfit, Bacelice & Associates, to conduct a poll that included asking one’s political party affiliation in its questions.

“What does a person’s political party have to do with a supposed ‘public information’ campaign? Nothing, it’s clear this ad campaign is about pushing a political agenda and brainwashing the public with pro-toll talking points like ‘tolls are better than gas taxes to fund roads.' C’mon, this is politics run amok and an agency run amok. Who’s going to rein them in?” criticizes Hall.

TxDOT’s behavior demonstrates why there are laws prohibiting the government from using its power and OUR money against the taxpayer. The citizens have the deck stacked against them when their own government forcibly takes their money and uses it to clobber them.

Like TTC-35, TTC-69 plans to convert some existing highways into privately controlled toll roads, making Texas taxpayers pay twice for the same stretch of road as well as to force Texas landowners to give-up their farms and ranches for a massive new stretch of road in order to complete the entire Trans Texas Corridor project.

Read more about TURF’s lawsuit against TxDOT’s misuse of taxpayer money for an ad campaign advocating tolls and against its lobbying activities here.

Read TURF’s formal complaint against TxDOT’s illegal use of taxpayer money filed with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle here.

Stop the TTC march and rally a success!

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Thousands turnout for Trans Texas Corridor protest rally
 
Austin, TX – Saturday, April 5, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) hosted thousands of citizens for a march up Congress Avenue and the Don’t Mess with Texas TURF protest rally to stop the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) and tolls across Texas on the South Capitol steps. Front row center was a contingent from the City of Kendleton, whose Mayor Carolyn Jones spread misinformation telling constituents the “TTC-69 project was dead so you don’t need to go to that rally Saturday.” One of her constituents quipped that “she must think we didn’t learn to read or write. Well, we did and we’re not stupid. We couldn’t wait to get to this rally.”

A similar contingent from Walker County attended in protest of Senator Steve Ogden's (R - Bryan) comments stating the TTC-69 project was "dead" (though he modified his remarks to claim he said "dead in Walker County").  TxDOT's official statement in response said the project is "not dead," and they, in fact, just extended the public comment period for TTC-69. Some folks believed the rumors, which made constituents hopping mad. Saturday's rally couldn't come soon enough.

Texas farmers, ranchers, and ordinary citizens from all over Texas (East Texas, North Texas, Houston, San Antonio, and everywhere in between) as well as folks from out of state (as far away as Michigan) attended the rally.

Oklahoma Senator Randy Brogdon (R – Owasso) told participants the TTC is a threat to liberty and to our sovereignty. Brogdon mentioned a transportation bill he helped kill in the Oklahoma State Legislature that had the potential to erase our borders and destroy our country’s sovereignty, giving unfettered access to Mexican and Canadian truckers on U.S. interstate highways and would have erased Oklahoma’s 11th Amendment rights.
 
“Folks, it is plain to me that anything designed to tear down and eliminate our borders is a direct attack on the sovereignty of this Nation. And anyone involved with helping to destroy our Nation’s sovereignty is involved in a treasonous act and should be held accountable,” Brogdon proclaimed with conviction.
Brogdon’s also spoke of the needed u-turn in the TTC when it hits the Oklahoma border.
 
“Well, Governor Rick Perry is going to have to build the largest Texas turnaround ever built in the State of Texas, because the NAFTA Superhighway ain’t crossing the Red River into Oklahoma,” roared Brogdon to the enthusiastic crowd.

Texas State Representatives David Leibowitz (D- San Antonio) and Nathan Macias (R – Bulverde) both encouraged grassroots supporters to continue the fight to stop the TTC and tolls.

“Our congressional delegation was asleep at the switch when NAFTA was passed. They didn’t ensure Texas got enough funding for the increase in traffic due to NAFTA and now they’re asking us to pick-up the tab,” noted Leibowitz.

“Thank you for your commitment to the cause, and please don’t give up the fight,” emphasized Macias.

Macias noted the Republican Party platform from 2006 had a plank against the TTC and against tolls on existing corridors. He stated the platform is a document created by the grassroots. He recognized many legislators aren’t listening to the citizens, and he encouraged them to stay involved in order to return our State government to one that’s of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Mae Smith, Mayor of Holland and Chair of the first Sub-Regional Planning Commission putting a roadblock in the way of TTC-35 gave attendees the tool they can implement TODAY to stop the TTC. By forming a commission allowed by Local Government Code Chapter 391 in the Texas Statutes, it forces TxDOT to coordinate with local units of government before they can proceed with building the TTC.

The booklets explaining the 391 commissions compiled by two private property rights groups called American Land Foundation and Stewards of the Range went flying off the TURF table.

Other speakers touched on themes of loss of sovereignty, runaway taxation, eminent domain abuse, outsourcing of jobs, and the overall threat to the freedom to travel.

Participants also enjoyed some home-grown entertainment by The Texicans (singers/songwriters of Trans Texas Corridor Blues) and Jack Motley (featured in Truth Be Tolled.com movie).

Speeches and photos from the event will be posted shortly on the TURF web site.

Next year's rally will be on Saturday, February 28, 2009 on the South Capitol steps.

-30-
View Photos of the Event


Speeches from some that attended the event, and letters from some who could not attend:
Letter - Marcy Kaptur (OH Congresswoman)
Letter - Virgil Goode (VA Congressman)
Letter - Ron Paul (TX Congressman)
Speech - Randy Brogdon (OK Senator)
Letter - Jimmy Hoffa Jr. (Teamsters)
Speech - Terri Hall (TURF Founder)
________________________________________________

Press coverage...

Link to article here.

TRANS-TEXAS CORRIDOR

Trans-Texas Corridor foes march on Capitol
Critics say proposed toll-rail-utility routing will usurp property rights and harm the environment.
By Patrick George
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Sunday, April 06, 2008

For Peyton Gilbert, the battle over the Trans-Texas Corridor is reminiscent of the moment in 1836 when Lt. Col. William Travis drew a line in the sand at the Alamo and invited those willing to fight thousands of Mexican soldiers to step across.

"That line in the sand is the Trans-Texas Corridor, and it's a threat to our sovereignty again, just like at the Alamo," said Gilbert, 14, who is from Whitehouse, near Tyler.

Gilbert was among a large crowd of people who marched down Congress Avenue to the Capitol on Saturday afternoon to demonstrate against the proposed highway-rail-utility corridor and the placement of toll roads on existing freeways. The corridor would go from the Texas-Mexico border to the Oklahoma state line and have special trucking lanes, rail lines and communications and utility cables.

Opponents say Gov. Rick Perry's plan for 4,000 miles of cross-state tollways will usurp private land, will use private companies to operate toll roads and could hurt the environment. The corridor is slated to be built by private contractors, primarily Spanish firm Cintra.

"In a nutshell, we are against it because of the devastation it's going to cause rural and urban landowners, the effect it will have on the middle class and the consequences it will have on our liberty," said Hank Gilbert of Texas TURF, or Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, the San Antonio-based group that organized Saturday's rally.

"TxDOT says these corridors are for trade out of Mexico and ultimately China, but it's Texans who will have to pay out the nose for it," said Gilbert, Peyton's father.

Both spoke at the rally.

Supporters of the corridor and toll roads say they are the only way to accommodate the state's growth without increasing gasoline taxes.

"Texans need and deserve real solutions to our growing traffic challenges, not just blind opposition to new lane and highway construction," said Bill Noble, a spokesman for Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation, a pro-tollway group. "Every day we delay building new roads means higher construction costs and more frustration for drivers."

In the warm, breezy spring weather, most rally participants carried signs with slogans like "No TTC!" and "Who does TTC benefit?" while listening to the band the Texicans play "The Trans-Texas Corridor Blues."

Many sported shirts and paraphernalia from Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Paul's presidential campaign, expressing their support for the Libertarian-leaning lawmaker.

"Ron Paul stands up for the Constitution," said Charles Walker, who hails from Lake Jackson, which is in the lawmaker's district. "He was one of the original people to oppose the corridor."

______________________________

Link to article here.

April 5, 2008
Toll road opponents rally in Austin against Trans-Texas Corridor
Houston Chronicle

© 2008 The Associated Press

AUSTIN — A crowd marched through the heart of downtown Austin to the state Capitol on Saturday to protest Gov. Rick Perry's plan for 4,000 miles of toll roads across Texas.

The Trans-Texas Corridor, a proposed network of superhighway toll roads, rankles opponents who characterize it as the largest government grab of private property in the state's history and an unneeded and improper expansion of toll roads.

Rally participants carried signs with slogans like "No TTC!" and "Whodoes TTC benefit?" while listening to the band the Texicans play "The Trans-Texas Corridor Blues," the Austin American-Statesman reported for its Sunday editions.

"In a nutshell, we are against it because of the devastation it's going to cause rural and urban landowners, the effect it will have on the middle class and the consequences it will have on our liberty," said Hank Gilbert of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom.

Texas Department of Transportation officials and Perry have defended the project as necessary to address future traffic concerns in one of the nation's fastest-growing states. They also say the project is vital because of insufficient road revenues from the state gas tax and the federal government.

Cost of the project has been estimated at approaching $200 billion, and it could take as long as 50 years to complete.

Supporters of the corridor and toll roads say they are the only way the state's growth can be accommodated without hiking gasoline taxes.

"Texans need and deserve real solutions to our growing traffic challenges, not just blind opposition to new lane and highway construction," said Bill Noble, a spokesman for Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation, a pro-toll roads group. "Every day we delay building new roads means higher construction costs and more frustration for drivers."

Ogden: Trans Texas Corridor is dead

NOTE: Senator Ogden's office is now saying the Senator said: "TTC-69 is dead in Walker County" and that we "misinterpreted" his comments. Commissioner Gaines was very clear with TURF that Ogden told him the TTC-69 is dead (the whole enchilada, not just Walker County), and that news was spreading in East Texas enough to panic our supporters who were encountering people who said they were no longer going to the rally because the TTC-69 project had been scrapped.

Then, in another incident, we have a witness who was in the room when the Mayor of Kendleton, Carolyn Jones, also said the TTC-69 project is dead and over, and then went on to say "so there's no need to attend that rally in Austin Saturday." She directly tried to suppress attendance at the rally and deliberately gave out false information to the public. Kendleton and Huntsville aren't even near one another, yet this news hit the same day and we heard about it in two different regions. Jones indicated she had attended a meeting Monday morning, March 31, where she was assured the TTC-69 project was dead. Yet TxDOT's official statement to a CNN reporter yesterday was this: "We just extended the public hearing process on the project. No, the project is not dead."

So who's responsible for holding that meeting Mayor Jones referred to, and why would anybody want to tell all these elected officials that TTC-69 is dead (the same week as our rally, conveniently not during the public hearings) when all the official documents and public information say otherwise? The conclusion is clear: this misinformation is being spread to suppress turnout at the rally and minimize the embarrassment of the politicians in the path of these corridors.  

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Ogden says TTC-69 scrapped, elected officials discourage attendance at TURF rally
 
East Texas, April 2, 2008 – Yesterday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Senator Steve Ogden told Walker County Commissioner, B.J. Gaines, that the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) I-69 project is over, scrapped, finito. The word is spreading like wildfire among elected officials in the path of TTC-69, including the Mayor of Kendleton, just in time to tell constituents: “There’s no need to attend that rally in Austin this weekend since the TTC-69 project is over.”

Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) is organizing a march up Congress Avenue and rally on the South Capitol steps Saturday, April 5 from 12:00 PM - 4:00 PM, and they’re crying foul for what appears to be an effort to suppress grassroots turnout. TURF has been getting calls from panicked supporters who are hearing some residents now believe the TTC-69 has been stopped.

“At this juncture, it’s naïve to believe word one from politicians or TxDOT, an agency run amok, that is misusing our taxpayer money to lobby in favor of the Trans Texas Corridor and prone to $1 billion accounting errors! The TTC-69 public comment period isn’t even completed yet, and the environmental hearings were completed only weeks ago, and now they’re trying to convince taxpayers the project is dead? Who are they kidding?” notes Terri Hall, Founder of TURF.


“You’d think the first call they’d make is to grassroots groups like ours to call off the dogs. The fact that they haven’t called, tells us this claim is an attempt to suppress turnout at what could be a thousands-strong march to the shame of many Texas politicians, and yet another example of our own government lobbying against the people,” Hall believes.

“The claim the TTC-69 project is over is an underhanded eleventh hour dirty trick to sabotage the people’s right to protest this project, and we’re asking for every state law, every Transportation Commission Minute Order, every local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and tolling authority plan authorizing the Trans Texas Corridor be immediately revoked IN WRITING. Until that’s done, we’re pressing ahead. It’s clear we can’t trust a word that comes out of the mouths of TxDOT or politicians,” says Hank Gilbert, TURF Board member and Rally Coordinator.

The Don’t Mess with Texas TURF, Stop the TTC & Tolls Rally will have a host of national, state, and local speakers including the Teamsters, Eagle Forum, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, Oklahoma Senator Randy Brogdon (who passed legislation to stop the Trans Texas Corridor from coming through Oklahoma), Texas State Legislators and local leaders like the Chair of the first Sub-regional Planning Commission putting a roadblock in the way of TTC-35.

CNN's Lou Dobbs couldn't believe Texans would allow Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature to steal our land and allow the TTC to be built. "What happened to 'Don't Mess With Texas?'" (see it here). Texans through TURF plan to show Lou Dobbs and our politicians who are discouraging attendance at the rally…don't mess with Texas TURF!

WHAT: STOP the TTC & Tolls Across Texas RALLY, with a march up Congress Avenue then rally on the south Capitol steps in Austin

WHO: Texas farmers, ranchers, and ordinary citizens from all over Texas. Also, entertainment by The Texicans (singers/songwriters of Trans Texas Corridor Blues) and Jack Motley (featured in Truth Be Tolled movie)

WHEN: Saturday, April 5

March begins - 12:15 pm

(the staging area for the march will be at the parking lots at the corner of Cesar Chavez St. & Red River St.)
Rally from - 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm

WHERE: South Capitol steps, Austin, TX

Stop the TTC & Tolls Rally April 5

PRESS ADVISORY

Stop the TTC & Tolls Rally

Don’t mess with Texas TURF


Austin, TX –Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) is organizing a march down Congress Avenue and rally on the South Capitol steps Saturday, April 5. Invited speakers include: Congressman Ron Paul (R – TX), Congressman Virgil Goode (R – VA), Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D – OH), and Oklahoma Senator Randy Brogdon (all of whom have introduced and/or passed bills or resolutions to stop funding the Trans Texas Corridor), along with many Texas State Legislators and local leaders like Mayor Mae Smith of Holland, Chair of the first Subregional Planning Commission putting a roadblock in the path of TTC-35 and Michael Quinn Sullivan of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility .

CNN's Lou Dobbs couldn't believe Texans would allow Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature to steal our land and allow the TTC to be built. "What happened to 'Don't Mess With Texas?'" (See it here). Texans through TURF plan to show Lou Dobbs and the WORLD: Don't mess with Texas TURF!

WHAT:

STOP THE TTC & TOLLS ACROSS TEXAS RALLY, with a march down Congress Avenue then rally on the south Capitol steps in Austin

WHO:

Texas farmers, ranchers, and ordinary citizens from all over Texas, also entertainment by The Texicans (singers/songwriters of Trans Texas Corridor Blues) and Jack Motley (featured in Truth Be Tolled movie)

WHEN: Saturday, April 5

March begins - 12:15 pm

(The staging area for the march will be at the parking lots at the corner of Cesar Chavez St. & Red River St.)

Rally from - 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm

WHERE: South Capitol steps, Austin, TX
Page 3 of 5

Donate Now

Help us fight to preserve our rights and freedoms!
Make a secure donation today!
or donate by mail. We cannot do it without you!