Taxpayers ask Board to dump tolls


PRESS ADVISORY

Taxpayers to ask planning board
to dump tolls on 281, 1604

(San Antonio, TX) - The fight to keep tolls off existing freeways will reach new heights on Monday, October 26, as the local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) will take action on whether or not to remove 281(north of 1604) and the most congested part of 1604 (on the west side from 151 to Bandera Rd) from the toll plans. The MPO has called two special meetings this month in preparation for the vote, and toll opponents are delighted to have the battle moved from downtown (at the Via Metro Center where MPO board meetings take place) to the northside where the toll roads are proposed to hit first. Opponents also scored a victory by changing the usual meeting time from 1:00 PM in the middle of the workday to 6 PM when the public can actually participate.

The sparks are already flying as both sides seek to line-up the votes on the 19 member board: 10 elected, 9 appointed. The partially taxpayer-funded San Antonio Mobility Coalition has consistently lobbied for tolling of all types, and has sent out multiple emails blasts to it's 70 private companies, the majority of whom profit directly from road building (and who want a road building slush fund), to lobby the MPO Board in favor of higher taxes (tolls). SAMCo itself is also lobbying the Board, in part, on the taxpayers' dime with "sky is falling" type hysteria. It's already causing a backlash among taxpayers. Read more here.

WHO/WHAT: MPO Meeting to vote down 281/1604 toll roads
WHEN: Monday, October 26 @ 6:00 PM
WHERE: Alzafar Shrine Temple, 901 1604 W, San Antonio, TX 78232

TURF is spreading the word through two street banners (one at 281 & Evans Rd and the other at 1604 & Braun Rd.), by passing out thousands of fliers (see it here) in the proposed toll corridors, a special web site with meeting information and which elected officials to call, as well as making robo phone calls to get folks to the October 26 meeting. Their message?

Toll roads mean...

• $12/day or $3,000/year in new toll-taxes!
(Based on published estimates)

• Guarantees congestion by prohibiting expansion of free routes! (prevents surrounding arteries like Stone Oak, Blanco, Bulverde, Bandera, Braun, and Shaenfield from being widened)

• TRIPLE TAXATION! (1-Paid for existing road, 2-will use tax $ to build it, 3-charge toll-tax to drive on it)

• Hands our public roads to foreign corporations for 50 years! (Two Spanish companies already have 5 contracts in TX)

• Businesses will pass toll-tax on to YOU!
(Prices for goods & services will skyrocket)

More information at www.FixGridlock.com.

Tolling Exec pulls $10,000 bonus in down economy

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

San Antonio, TX, September 3, 2009 - While the average Texan is thankful to have a paycheck, even if it's a shrinking one, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) has been living large getting across the board 10% pay increases (FY 2008-2009, with another 5% budgeted for merit increases that were never paid out), and the Executive Director, Terry Brechtel, raking in an additional $10,000 performance bonus, paid to her in June. Performance bonus? Perhaps they mean her performance as a master in obfuscating and misleading the public on its toll plans? (Watch it on You Tube here).

Considering the Bexar County Commissioners were grilling county agencies at Commissioners Court Tuesday over 2% pay hikes in this down economy, it begs the question why a county-appointed tolling authority, the ARMA, is getting off scot-free without a whisper of scrutiny or without challenge to such lavish luxuries when so many in the community are economically hurting.

Considering the ARMA has NOTHING to show for itself, not one road open to traffic after five years in existence, their proposed 5% "merit" increases (budgeted in FY 2008-2009, but were never actually paid out) certainly wouldn't square with actual performance. Even its 5% cost of living pay increase (FY 2008-2009) is more than most Texans will see in their paychecks this year or next.

In fact, a dozen citizens asked the county commissioner to dissolve the ARMA altogether Tuesday. Three commissioners have already floated the idea of closing the ARMA earlier this year. Yet at today's ARMA Board meeting, the Board approved the $1.2 million in salaries for the small staff. Though next year's salaries will not increase, out of eight employees, only two make less than $100,000 a year. Considering the median household income in San Antonio is only $36,000, it shows just how out of step this agency is with the plight of the ordinary citizens it's anxious to tax to get to work.

Greed and the proverbial "gravy train" motivate the ARMA to continue its gratuitous spending, dishonesty, and intransigence in pushing toll roads on an angry public that rejects tolling existing freeways.

In yesterday's Washington Times article about executive pay being out of step with main street America, Nell Minow of the Corporate Library, said "the continued big earnings and pay at bailed-out banks is feeding a sense of injustice and outrage among ordinary citizens who are feeling the brunt of the financial crisis. Pay that is out of whack with performance ... is a symptom of bad corporate governance, bad economic judgment, but it's also the disease."

The same can be said of this government agency. They've adopted the worst of corporate America's bail-out indulgences with government inefficiency and exploitation of the taxpayers who pay the bills.

Enough is enough! It's high time the County Commissioners put a stop to such abuse and extravagance. Dissolve the ARMA, now!

For more info go to: www.281OverpassesNow.com and www.TexasTURF.org

MPO Power Grab III: faction to strip agenda from Chair


PRESS ADVISORY

MPO power grab, Round III
Faction on MPO propose to strip Adkisson of power to set the agenda

San Antonio, TX, Monday, July 27, 2009 – Monday’s San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meeting contains a proposal to changes its bylaws to strip the Chair of the power to set the MPO agenda and give it to the Executive Committee that’s 50% UN-elected bureaucrats. Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, a vocal opponent of toll roads, will be elected the new Chair at the meeting, so the proposed changes come as toll advocates are dealt a blow. The grassroots are crying foul.

Read Terri Hall's Examiner article with all the gory details on the players and the betrayals here.

 “We the people have seen these tactics by the political establishment time and again. If the taxpayers reject their policies, they just keep changes the rules in the middle of the game to try to maintain control at all costs. Well, the public rejected the MPO power grab in 2007 and 2008, and we reject it again now,” observes Terri Hall, Texas TURF Founder.

In 2007, there was an attempt by Mayor Phil Hardberger to appoint an unelected alternate to the MPO Board (that would have voting powers in the place of an elected appointee). The grassroots rose up, and it was soundly rejected by the public and tabled at the City Council.

In 2008, former MPO Chair Sheila McNeil sought more controversial changes to the bylaws that diluted what constituted a quorum, making un-elected appointees have greater say than elected officials. The bylaw changes also formed this Executive Committee and gave new powers to the UN-elected Executive Director to make changes to MPO plans. The grassroots fought the changes and won much of the battle (defeating boundary changes and changes to project scoring to make tolling easier) last June.

Now, for a third time, a power grab is taking place at the MPO. Since Adkisson is the Vice Chair and now the acting Chair (since McNeil’s term expired in May), it begs the question: who drafted and approved this agenda hostile to the Chair without the Chair’s approval?

Be there for the SMACKDOWN!

WHO: Taxpayers through Texans United for Reform and Freedom (Texas TURF)
WHAT: MPO meeting where they’ll vote to elect the Chair, address controversial changes to the bylaws (granting TxDOT direct say over the agenda involving billions in taxpayer money), and some controversial changes to MPO plans that would make non-toll alternatives to 281/1604 harder.
WHEN: Monday, July 27 @ 1:30 PM
WHERE: Via Transit Center, 1021 San Pedro (near SAC)

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!

Community wants the RMA to go away!

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DISSOLVE THE RMA!
TURF/Toll Party
Comments to Bexar County Commissioners
April 7, 2009
The Alamo RMA is on life support. After spending tens of millions of taxpayer money, they have not one thing to show for it but a trail of dishonesty, and abuse of taxpayer money on every front like its 411 on 281 propaganda campaign and high-priced lobbyist to lobby lawmakers to keep their own jobs, not to mention relentless below the belt attacks on ordinary citizens, especially housewives and homeschooling moms.  

The Alamo RMA and TxDOT are trying to convince the public NOTHING can be done on 281 for 7-9 years (3-5 years for a new environmental study and 3.8 years to build it). The law plainly shows this mantra is patently false. The clearance got pulled for the toll project only. There are provisions in the law that would allow the scaled down, non-toll original overpass expansion plan to move forward in months not years.

The ONLY thing that’s delaying the fix to this freeway now is the Alamo RMA’s REFUSAL to work with the community on a smaller scale, non-toll solution to 281 north. This isn’t about a lack of funding or lack of clearance, it’s about a lack of political will by those who want to tap the vein of congestion-weary commuters to make money off this freeway.


The “slice & dice” interchange – an RMA bailout!

Here’s the rub over the stimulus money. WOAI news radio reported January 14 that the RMA submitted a proposal to fix the main lanes on US 281, without making them toll lanes. Yet in the project list submitted to the Transportation Commission for stimulus funds, it clearly lists 281 as a toll road! RMA Chairman Bill Thornton promised it would remain a freeway if they got stimulus money for it. But they never submitted 281 as a non-toll project and never intended to do a non-toll fix as these documents show. Then in yet another twist, the RMA abandoned the freeway fix completely to pursue the interchange.

It’s a bait and switch and the public is SICK and TIRED of the misleading information, broken promises, and outright lies.

Clearly, the Alamo RMA is NOT an honest broker.

An Express-News article states only the southbound connectors would be built using the stimulus money. The RMA says the reasons they sliced and diced the interchange is because that’s all they have money to build. Just last year, the entire interchange cost was listed at $150 million. Now they say $143 million will only build half if it.

Total HOGWASH!

The interchange is a red herring to use up the stimulus money on something other than fixing the BIGGER problem, which is getting overpasses built to remove the stoplights from our freeway and get traffic moving again. This interchange is an “RMA bailout”!

Short of the environmental work for 281, they’ll be twittling their thumbs for the next 5 years. They’re grasping at straws to find anything they can call “shovel ready” to keep their doors open.

The reason they don’t want to build the northbound connections is because they plan to toll them (as shown in MPO documents dated February 23, 2009, that stated “connections to managed lanes optional” -- managed lanes are toll lanes). When angry taxpayers made such a stink about using stimulus money on toll projects (which is a TRIPLE TAX), the RMA subsequently backed away from building the whole interchange knowing they’d get blowback if they came in later and tolled those ramps that were paid for already.

So instead of building the entire interchange, they scrapped the northbound connections and will let all of 281 north wither on the vine for 7-9 years until they get their toll road built.

They've promised if a new pot of money appeared, they'd keep them freeways. Now they've got it (stimulus money), and they're still going to end-up tolling our freeways.

We do not need new legislation to get rid of this out of control agency. Simply direct them to vote to dissolve. And please do it quickly since they’ll say and do anything to stay on life support, and keep us doling out their lavish $1 million dollar salaries and benefits, instead of serve the best interest of the taxpayers. A bill in the Legislature to merge the RMA into a new agency just had a public hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee yesterday. So time is of the essence!

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.

Stimulus Bait & Switch: Interchange is an RMA bailout, excuse not to fix 281 north


IMMEDIATE RELEASE


Stimulus Bait & Switch:
Interchange is an RMA bailout, excuse not to fix 281 north

San Antonio, TX – Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (AGUA) and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) set the record straight about the status of 281, the litigation over the project, the interchange, the use of stimulus funds, and the Alamo RMA's REFUSAL to work with the community on a smaller scale, non-toll solution to 281 north in a press conference today.

It took a lawsuit to STOP the 281 toll road. With the toll road off the table, TURF and thousands of concerned citizens believe it's well past time to get on with building a smaller scale, non-toll solution on 281. The Alamo RMA and TxDOT are waging a propaganda campaign to convince the public NOTHING can be done on 281 for 7-9 years (3-5 years for a new environmental study and 3.8 years to build it). TURF says the law plainly shows this mantra is patently false. The clearance got pulled for the toll project only. There are provisions in the law that would allow the scaled down, non-toll original overpass expansion plan to move forward in months not years.

"The ONLY thing that’s delaying the fix to this freeway now is the Alamo RMA’s REFUSAL to work with the community on a smaller scale, non-toll solution to 281 north. This isn’t about a lack of funding or lack of clearance, it’s about a lack of political will by corrupt politicians and government agencies who want to tap the vein of congestion-weary commuters to make money off this freeway," said Terri Hall, Texas TURF’s Founder and Director who didn’t mince words.

The “slice & dice” interchange – an RMA bailout!

Here’s the rub over the stimulus money. WOAI news radio reported January 14: “For the first time ever, officials are floating a proposal to build the long planned new main lanes of US 281 outside of Loop 1604, without making them toll lanes.” Yet in the project list submitted to the Transportation Commission for stimulus funds, it clearly lists 281 as a toll road! Alamo RMA Chairman Bill Thornton promised it would remain a freeway if they got stimulus money for it (read it here): “If the project is paid for through federal funds, you don’t need that option of tolling.” But they never submitted 281 as a non-toll project and never intended to do a non-toll fix as these documents show. Then in yet another twist, the RMA abandoned the freeway fix completely to pursue the interchange.

“It’s a bait and switch and the public is SICK and TIRED of the misleading information, broken promises, and outright lies,” Hall fumed.

“Clearly, neither TxDOT nor the Alamo RMA is an honest broker and both REFUSE to negotiate or work with the community on a smaller scale, more affordable, non-toll solution for these freeways.

“What we've been asking for and insisting on since day one is a non-toll solution for 281, 1604 and the interchange. They've promised for years if a new pot of money came out of nowhere, they'd keep them freeways. Now they've got it (stimulus money), and they're still going to end-up tolling our freeways. This is taxation without representation and a TRIPLE TAX rip-off.”

This Express-News article states only the southbound connectors would be built using the stimulus money. The RMA says the reasons they sliced and diced the interchange is because that’s all they have money for. Just last year, the entire interchange cost was listed at $150 million. Now they say $143 million will only build half if it.

“We say that’s HOGWASH!” Hall related.

The interchange is a red herring to use up the stimulus money on something other than fixing the BIGGER problem, which is getting overpasses built to remove the stoplights from our freeway and get traffic moving again. This interchange is an “RMA bailout”!

TURF said the RMA is on life support, and has spent over $10 million taxpayer money and have not one project on the ground to show for it.

“Short of the environmental work for 281, they’ll be twittling their thumbs for the next 5 years. They’re grasping at straws to find anything they can call “shovel ready” to keep their doors open,” Hall pointed out.

TURF thinks the reason they don’t want to build the northbound connections is because they plan to toll them (as shown in MPO documents dated February 23, 2009, that stated “connections to managed lanes optional” -- managed lanes are toll lanes). When angry taxpayers made such a stink about using stimulus money on toll projects (which is a TRIPLE TAX), the RMA subsequently backed away from building the whole interchange knowing they’d get blowback if they came in later and tolled those ramps that were paid for already.

“So instead of building the entire interchange, they scrapped the northbound connections and will let all of 281 north wither on the vine for 7-9 years until they get their toll road built,” Hall concluded.

“This slice and dice interchange project is an RMA bailout, plain and simple.”

AGUA and TURF encouraged folks to turnout to the Public Hearing on Stimulus Funds at City Hall at 10 AM tomorrow to weigh-in on this issue. They contend the wrong projects are being built with these funds (70% of them are being used to build toll roads) and that a toll tax adds economic distress, not relieve it.

RMA trying to have it both ways

TxDOT and the Alamo RMA are using a "categorical exclusion" (or CE) exemption as a way to claim it has the “clearance” to get away with building a 5 STORY interchange. This category is used for minor changes to intersections and meant for changes that have literally NO IMPACT. How can they say a 5 level interchange has NO IMPACT? Yet they used this same exemption to build an overpass for the Dominion (off I-10), and now try to say it can’t be used to build overpasses on 281 with stimulus or other funds.

“They can’t have it both ways,” says Hall.

Next, how can they build an interchange without knowing what it will connect to (a toll road, 6 lanes, 8 lanes, some tolled, some not what)?

“By locking-in the configuration of the interchange, they lock in the long-term plan for both those freeways,” notes Andrew Hawkins, AGUA/TURF attorney.

Another lawsuit?

“Our attorneys simply sent a letter to the feds questioning the exemption being used to build a 5 level interchange, and Thornton, came unhinged and spread rumors of another lawsuit. Our 281 lawsuit is still pending with the court, and NO decision has been made about whether AGUA and TURF will sue, either in a new lawsuit or by re-opening the
current lawsuit,” Hall emphasized.

Hawkins stated the groups’ concerns this way: “If the interchange they propose to build nails down the configuration for both 281 and 1604, then the analysis of alternatives -- which is the most important part of the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act, the federal law that guides road projects) process -- becomes entirely meaningless.

“Since the financing and design of 281&1604 all tie together, then the only honest way to look at alternatives is to look at comprehensive alternatives for the whole system -- which basically means looking at alternatives to serve transportation needs for the aquifer region. Segmenting, or piecemealing, the project as they now propose would severely prejudice the outcomes.”

RMA “411 on 281” ad campaign abuse of taxpayer money

Instead of working the community, the Alamo RMA is engaging in an aggressive, slick propaganda campaign (www.411on281.com) USING TAXPAYER MONEY to spread misleading and even false statements, including blaming concerned citizens for the stalemate when it’s really the RMA causing the delays now.

One of the outright falsehoods on the web site states that the original overpass plan for 281 didn’t include frontage roads when it did. TxDOT’s own documents show that plan included 6 main lanes and 4 frontage lanes. It’s linked from www.281OverpassesNow.com. The RMA claims on the site that there is no funding for 281, when MPO documents show $100 million in gas taxes, $325 million in Texas Mobility Funds, and now there’s $143 million in stimulus funds in the mix. Their web site also states it’s illegal to give these contracts to foreign companies when the legislature just had a hearing on a bill to extend the use of such contracts, and 2 of these deals just got signed in North Texas only months ago.

So who’s lying to whom? It’s certainly not the taxpayers, these groups contend.

The groups’ said the credibility of these agencies is shot, and that their slick ad campaigns (which their own documents expose) demonstrate time and again that the public cannot trust one word that comes out of the mouths of these agencies.

“They will say and do anything, even break the law, to get access to our wallets and build a $1.4 billion boondoggle of a toll road that their own documents show isn’t toll viable or sustainable,” noted Hall.

The groups’ message: we can get this project underway in months, not years, if these agencies would work with the community on a solution today.

Operation: Meltdown the Phones

The EARLIEST the MEGA toll road option could be built (20 lanes wide, $1.4 billion price tag) is 7-9 years from now (3-5 years for a new study, 3.8 years to build per RMA documents). TURF says the toll road is clearly NO longer an option and that residents, commuters, and businesses cannot and WILL NOT wait nearly a decade to get relief when all that’s needed is the smaller overpass & expansion plan that’s one-tenth the cost, and would take less than half the time to build.

To get politicians to fix this mess, TURF launched a new campaign today found at www.FixGridlock.com called Operation: Meltdown the Phones. Every day when folks are stuck at these stoplights, they’re asking angry commuters to call-up their politicians and demand the fix now.  TURF suggested motorists program their cell phones with the phone numbers of their State Representative, Frank Corte, and State Senator Jeff Wentworth, and call them EVERY morning and EVERY evening to INSIST on the non-toll overpass plan on 281.

“Unless we meltdown their phone lines EVERY DAY, we'll be stuck in limbo indefinitely,” concluded Hall.

For more info go to: www.281OverpassesNow.com and www.FixGridlock.com.

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.

Interchange to nowhere, stimulus fiasco


IMMEDIATE RELEASE

AGUA/TURF question status of 281/1604 interchange, stimulus funds

 

San Antonio, TX, February 23, 2009 – AGUA and TURF have concerns about the status of the 281/1604 interchange in light of the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPO) vote today to submit it as a "shovel ready" project for stimulus funds.

“While we welcome ANY non-toll funding to FINALLY complete these projects, we have to ask…what will this interchange connect with? Toll lanes or non-toll lanes? Will it only connect with what’s there now or what? How can they build an interchange without knowing what sort of lanes it’ll connect with?” Terri Hall, Founder of TURF, asks.

Enrique Valdivia, President of the Board of Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (AGUA) wondered, ”We’re concerned that stimulus money is being used to fund projects within the scope of the issues we've raised in our lawsuit.”


Hall says the non-toll fix to 281 and1604 and the interchange should all be on the table. While the toll road clearance has been pulled, there are provisions in the law that would allow all these improvements to move forward as scaled down non-toll projects if the politicians would demand that TxDOT work with community groups to agree on a less invasive, more affordable plan.

“Until now, TxDOT and the RMA have REFUSED to negotiate. They want a massive toll road that steals our freeway and raids our wallets,” Hall said.

Citizens have been clamoring to get the original, non-toll freeway plan built on 281 for 4 years, and they have recently launched a campaign to pressure politicians in the area to get the job done. View it here. The freeway fix was promised in public hearings in 2001, had environmental clearance, no opposition, and it was funded with gas taxes in 2003. Then the Texas Legislature, including State Rep. Frank Corte and Sen. Jeff Wentworth, voted for Governor Rick Perry’s toll road plans. That’s when 281 FREEway improvements were turned into a toll plan instead.

“It’s all about the money. Our politicians want to tap the vein and charge 281 commuters an extra tax to get to work in order to fund their pet projects elsewhere. It’s highway robbery and citizens, rightly, went nuclear to stop it,” Hall declared.

Though the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) and TxDOT stubbornly claim there is no money or environmental clearance to fix 281, [the money is still there in Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) documents], $425 million total, which is more than enough for the less invasive original plan AND the interchange at 281/1604 and the most congested areas of 1604.

“The stalemate over 281 isn’t about lack of money or lack of clearance, it’s about a lack of political will. It’s about rogue bureaucrats and unresponsive politicians who can magically produce $20 million for an overpass for wealthy campaign donors in the Dominion, yet they’d have us believe the same ‘can’t’ be done on 281. The pathway to a solution the taxpayers and environmental groups are happy with is ripe for the picking, but our politicians refuse to choose it. They want our money, and they don’t care about the environment or whose lives’ they’re wrecking to do it,” Hall noted.

Judge keeps 281 lawsuit alive

IMMEDIATE RELEASE


FEDERAL JUDGE RETAINS OVERSIGHT OF US 281 AND LOOP 1604 PROJECTS

San Antonio, TX – February 6, 2009 - Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery turned to common sense, “old lessons,” the wisdom of Aristotle, and even a bit of poetry in a ruling on the lawsuit filed by Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (AGUA) and Texans United for Reform and Freedom (TURF) against the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) over the proposed US 281 and Loop 1604 toll roads.

Specifically, Judge Biery denied motions by FHWA, TxDOT and ARMA to dismiss the case as moot.  Instead, the Judge took an interim step that left the case closed but pending on the court’s docket and subject to further requests for relief by the parties.  At the same time, Biery denied motions by the Plaintiffs to order the Defendants to release study documents on the proposed toll roads that were previously withheld.


While stopping short of ordering the Defendants to study the proposed, intersecting US 281 and Loop 1604 projects together in one comprehensive environmental study, Judge Biery wrote that while “the Court has no highway engineering expertise, it seems commonsensical that two intersecting parts costing billions would be connected to create an Aristotelian whole.”

In response to the lawsuit, FHWA had previously reversed course on US 281, revoking its approval and ordering TxDOT to prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed seven mile long toll road.  The project would extend from Loop 1604 north to the Comal County line.  TxDOT had also recommended that the proposed 36-mile long Loop 1604 toll road, which similarly traverses the recharge zone for the Edwards Aquifer, be approved without an EIS.  But in recent months ARMA has stepped forward to begin the process of preparing preparing EISs on both projects.  All of the Defendants, however, have resisted Plaintiffs demands that the two projects be studied together, in a single study on what ARMA has called its “starter toll system.”

The court makes clear that it will watch the next moves from FHWA and TxDOT and that it expects “transparency and public participation” in the decision-making process.

Judge Biery’s six page order writes of “Uncle Fred and Aunt Della Grantham . . . [who] knew nothing about computers or air conditioning or environmental impact statements, but they were wise enough not to build the privy close to their water supply.”

In leaving the case pending, Judge Biery wrote that while the projects remain “at a red light, the issues of water quality and quantity and traffic gridlock will not disappear into the legal smog. . . .  What is known is that we, like the dinosaurs and the cockroaches, will either adapt, move or die.”  He concluded with this adaptation of John Donne’s meditation of 1624 (which, in turn, inspired Hemingway’s novel, “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

“No San Antonian is an island, entire of itself;
Each is a piece of South Texas, a part of the Edwards escarpment.
If our refuse washes into the aquifer,
all are the less.

And species’ death diminishes the whole,
Because we are all involved in life,
and therefore never send to ask for whom the road tolls;
it tolls for thee.”

Representatives for the Plaintiffs deferred comment for another day, preferring that the people of San Antonio consider the words of the court.

To read the Court’s opinion, go here.

TURF, Toll Party endorse Pape Dawson's 281 plan


IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Grassroots hail Pape Dawson’s interim fix for 281

San Antonio, TX, February 5, 2009Gene Dawson, President of Pape Dawson Engineers, saw a problem, unbelievable gridlock on 281 North of 1604, and he was just the guy who knew how to fix it. Pape Dawson has been briefing neighborhood groups on what many see as a workable interim solution to help get weary commuters on 281 N moving again.

What’s the best part about it? The fix is only $7.2 million, can clear environmental hurdles, boost traffic flow by 40%, and be done by the end of the year. See the schematic of the proposed J-turn intersections here. It’s called a superstreet, and they’ve been successfully implemented in North Carolina, Michigan, and Ohio and could be an affordable solution applied to other parts of Bexar County, like 1604 and Braun Rd. area and on Bandera Rd.

“The grassroots are thrilled at the truly innovative solution Pape Dawson has brought to the table. It shows how we don’t need a 20 lane toll road plan to get traffic moving again. It also shows that there's plenty of talent in this community to get the long-term fix on 281 when we all work together toward a sensible, speedy solution. While we believe the long-term solution to the county line can commence in months not years if the politicians would insist TxDOT work with community groups to agree on a less invasive, more affordable plan, this superstreet will at least stop the bleeding,” Terri Hall, Founder of TURF and the San Antonio Toll Party, relates.

Citizens have been clamoring to get the original, non-toll freeway plan built on 281 for 4 years, and they have recently launched a campaign to pressure politicians in the area to get the job done. View it here. The freeway fix was promised in public hearings in 2001, had environmental clearance, no opposition, and it was funded with gas taxes in 2003. Then the Texas Legislature, including State Rep. Frank Corte and Sen. Jeff Wentworth, voted for Governor Rick Perry’s toll road plans. That’s when 281 FREEway improvements were turned into a toll plan instead.

“It’s all about the money. Our politicians want to tap the vein and charge 281 commuters an extra tax to get to work in order to fund their pet projects elsewhere. It’s highway robbery and citizens, rightly, went nuclear to stop it,” Hall declared.

Though the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) and TxDOT stubbornly claim there is no money or environmental clearance to fix 281, the money is still there in Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) documents, $425 million total, which is more than enough for the less invasive original plan AND the interchange at 281/1604.

“There are provisions in the law that would allow the project to commence with environmental clearance, and these agencies know it. They vehemently deny it because their jobs depend on it.

“The stalemate over 281 isn’t about lack of money or lack of clearance, it’s about a lack of political will. It’s about rogue bureaucrats and unresponsive politicians who can magically produce $20 million for an overpass for wealthy campaign donors in the Dominion, yet they’d have us believe the same ‘can’t’ be done on 281. The pathway to a solution the taxpayers and environmental groups are happy with is ripe for the picking, but our politicians refuse to choose it. They want our money, and they don’t care about the environment or whose lives’ they’re wrecking to do it,” Hall noted.

City of San Antonio to change ordinance due to TURF lawsuit

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

City of San Antonio to gag political speech in proposed change to ordinance

City’s hypocrisy seen in “Vagina Monologues” banner being hung, yet it denied toll road/recall banners for being too “controversial”

San Antonio, TX, January 29, 2009 – Today, the San Antonio City Council will consider a change (agenda item #21) that would gag political speech in its street banner ordinance in response to TURF’s lawsuit over the City’s approval then abrupt denial of two street banners.

TURF filed suit against the City in United States District Court on December 2, 2008 for infringing upon its free speech for denying two street banners: one announcing a recall petition drive involving District 8 Councilwoman Diane Cibrian that directed citizens to a recall web site (www.RecallDiane.com) and another announcing a web site www.281OverpassesNow.com with non-toll solutions to fix Hwy 281 N.

This proposed change in ordinance is a direct response to the litigation still pending before the court. The City’s Development Services Department brief submitted to the Council for this agenda item by Director Rod Sanchez makes legal claims that remain an open question before the court. Whether or not the space above streets and between utility poles is a traditional public forum or not and whether or not the City can restrict free speech in this forum is not a settled matter. Judge Xavier Rodriguez' ruling even states that the plaintiffs may prevail.

.
“To make changes to the ordinance prior to any final action by the court is beyond the pale. The Judge stated in his first ruling that ‘...There is a distinct possibility that the plaintiffs may ultimately prevail on the claim that the ordinance violates the First Amendment as applied to them...’ so for the City to act now is entirely premature and may invite further First Amendment challenges over the blatant restriction of free speech in this forum.

“”Protecting political speech and the right to dissent in a public forum was the primary purpose of the First Amendment. This case has enormous implications for future First Amendment rights over public streets. We’re urging the City to pull this agenda item until the litigation is settled and we ask that Councilwoman Diane Cibrian recuse herself from any action on this agenda item since one of the banners involved a recall of the Councilwoman,” states a concerned Terri Hall, TURF Founder and Director.

Then, in a turn of events that can only be construed as a double standard, the City at this very moment has granted a permit for a banner emblazoned with "Vagina Monologues" (see photo here) that’s hanging above Alamo Street near Durango, yet the same entity denied TURF’s banner about toll roads and a recall campaign for being what it claimed was too “controversial.”

“Isn't ‘Vagina Monologues’ controversial if not more so than toll roads? Some might call it outright offensive or even obscene speech. This unequal application of the ordinance bolsters our claim that the City is discriminating against TURF based on the content of its banner and suggests the City is blatantly suppressing TURF’s message while giving other controversial messages a free pass,” notes Hall.

For background on the case: go here

See complete text of comments submitted to the City Council below:


To be read prior to any vote on Agenda Item #21 regarding changes to the City Code for Street Banners

Submitted by Terri Hall, Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), a non-profit, all-volunteer grassroots group promoting non-toll transportation solutions

Public comment on First Amendment Street Banner concerns

This agenda item is a direct response to a lawsuit filed by TURF challenging the City Development Services Department’s denial of permits for (2) TURF street banners under the current ordinance which reads: temporary signs “…must advertise or promote a non-commercial, not for private profit event, a charitable community drive, or a community announcement.”

This case is still in litigation and it is beyond the pale to make changes to this ordinance until the case is settled. Whether or not the City can restrict free speech based on content in this forum is an open question before the court that ought to be fully considered prior to any changes in the City code.

United States Judge Xavier Rodriguez states in his initial ruling: "Given the lack of definitions or limiting terms in the Code and the placement of decision-making authority in the director of development services, the ordinance appears to allow virtually unfettered discretion in the director to determine what qualifies as a 'community announcement.' Standing alone, this evidence would suggest that the ordinance is constitutionally problematic because that amount of discretion seems unreasonable in light of the nature of the forum and could permit the director to make decisions based on viewpoint.

"...There is a distinct possibility that the plaintiffs may ultimately prevail on the claim that the ordinance violates the First Amendment as applied to them..."

Whether or not the space above streets and between utility poles is a traditional public forum or not is an open question before the court where the plaintiffs may prevail. In the brief by Mr. Sanchez, he tries to claim the City has consistently shut out political speech. Yet based on the blatantly contradictory testimony in the case, it is NOT clear as to whether or not a consistent application of the ordinance has been applied since the City approved the banners knowing the content only to later deny them after much deliberation and confusion ensued about whether or not the banners were permissible under the code.

When the City denied the banners it stated TURF didn’t meet “the category and definition” only to later claim in court documents that the message of the banners is “controversial,” and therefore the legal basis for its denial. However, the statute gives the City no such authority to deny permits based on content, which violates of the citizens’ First Amendment rights in the U.S. Constitution.

Then, in a turn of events that can only be construed as a double standard, the City at this very moment has granted a permit for a banner emblazoned with "Vagina Monologues" (see photo here) that’s hanging above Alamo Street near Durango, yet the same entity denied TURF’s banner about toll roads and a recall campaign, which the City approved and then later denied for being what it claimed was too controversial! Isn't "Vagina Monologues" controversial if not more so than toll roads?! Some might call it outright offensive or even vulgar and obscene speech. This unequal application of the ordinance bolsters our claim that the City is discriminating against TURF based on the content of its banner and suggests the City is blatantly suppressing TURF’s message while giving other controversial messages a free pass.

The City of San Antonio seems to lack the proper respect for Free Speech and the fair treatment of ALL groups, regardless of their make-up or message. The City denied TURF’s banners simply because it disagrees with the message of toll opponents. We the people own the public right of way, and the First Amendment protects the citizens from government gag orders on speech, particularly political speech.

First, we ask that this agenda be pulled and that any changes to the ordinance occur after the lawsuit is settled and the public is allowed to fully weigh-in on this crucial Free Speech issue. Second, Councilwoman Diane Cibrian should recuse herself from any action relating to this item since one of the banners involves a recall campaign for the councilwoman.

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."

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