Sunday, November 24, 2013

Road most traveled: Study advocates high-speed rail on Texas highways

One of the cheapest and most effective ways to build high-speed rail in Texas could be to place the tracks right on top of highway right-of-way.
That was among the conclusions in a University of Texas at Arlington study recently released.
The study adds fuel for thought as passenger rail advocates work on a plan to build a bullet train service connecting Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston, possibly by 2021.
“I’m really pleased at the times that were achievable,” said Stephen Mattingly, UTA civil engineering professor who led the team of researchers. Mattingly said he was somewhat surprised that the study concluded trains could move as fast as 186 mph in many areas along roadways “that were built for automobiles to go 80 mph.”
The idea would be to build high-speed rail lines either in the median or along highway roadsides, separate from car traffic, with no at-grade crossings. For bullet trains to go at their optimal speeds, curves would need to be minimized.
The key is that highway land is already owned by the state, eliminating the need for whoever wants to build high-speed rail to spend potentially billions of dollars buying or leasing private property — and possibly having to seize some of it through eminent domain.
Four corridors
The study explored the possibility of two types of high-speed rail: steel-wheel trains that resemble trains most Texans are accustomed to seeing in freight yards, and “maglev,” which would use magnetic levitation to propel a train. Maglev is a relatively new technology, but has been used in some high-speed lines in China and a handful of other places.
The study recommended a more detailed investigation of possible high-speed rail lines in four corridors. They are: Interstate 20 from Fort Worth to Dallas, Interstate 45 from Houston to Dallas, Interstate 35 from Laredo to the DFW area and Texas 6 from Houston to Waco.
It also concluded that in many instances maglev rail technology would allow for higher-speed service than steel-wheel trains.
One firm looking to build high-speed rail in the Lone Star State is Texas Central Railway, which is backed by the Japanese company that built bullet trains that remain very popular between Toyko and Osaka.
Texas Central Railway has proposed using state-of-the-art trains capable of traveling up to 220 mph, like those used in Japan. The trains are steel-wheeled.
The company has proposed building the Dallas-to-Houston line, expected to cost $10 billion, with no public funding. Much of that line is expected to be built on freight railroad right-of-way, not along highways, according to several officials who have been briefed on the concept.
However, regional leaders and the North Central Texas Council of Governments have advocated that any system built in Texas must have three stops: Dallas, Fort Worth and somewhere in the middle such as Arlington or Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.
Three-stop option
The three-stop option could require significant public spending, mainly because of the higher price of land for rail right-of-way in the densely populated urban area — although some supporters have proposed building the line along Interstate 30 between Fort Worth and Dallas.
Texas Central Railway officials declined to comment on the UTA study, which was paid for partly by the Texas Department of Transportation, except to say that they encourage discussion of all options.
Travis Kelly, Texas Central Railway director, did say that whatever right-of-way is used must accommodate the fastest train technology available.
While the prospect of being able to go from Dallas to Houston in 90 minutes would be very attractive to frequent travelers — much faster than air travel, when factors such as checkpoints and weather delays are included — a trip that takes more than two hours would not be nearly as popular.
“We are looking for right-of-way that can accommodate the demands of our technology,” Kelly said.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson



Sunday, October 20, 2013

First foreign-owned toll road in Texas downgraded to junk bond status

By Terry Hall - TURF -  published in the Examiner,com
Hate to say it, but we told you so.
Texas’ first foreign-owned toll road financed through a controversial public private partnership just got downgraded to junk bond status by Moody’s Investors Service. The Spain-based firm, Cintra (65% ownership), and San Antonio-based Zachry (35% ownership), known asSH 130 Concession Company opened the southern leg of State Highway 130 last November.
Concerned citizens with Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) immediately launched a boycott of SH 130. Since then, the anemically low traffic levels signaled trouble from the beginning and Moody’s downgraded the concession company’s rating in April warning of the risk of default. The downgrade this week warns of default unless the company can restructure its debt or attract a substantial increase in traffic.
Moody’s predicts Cintra will be unable to meet its June 2014 debt service payment: “Thus, absent a sponsor injection of equity, a debt restructuring, or some other method of generating significantly more revenues, there is a high likelihood of a payment default in June 2014.”
The concessionaire has already dipped into its reserves to meet prior debt service payments and will need to tap its contingency funds to make its December payment, leaving inadequate funds to meet its June 2014 debt payment. If Cintra defaults on its debt, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) could execute a termination agreement and takeover the tollway, leaving lenders with limited ability to take possession of the facility as collateral.
It’s unclear whether TxDOT would continue to operate the highway as a toll road or as a freeway. State Representative Paul Workman authored a bill in the Texas legislature earlier this year to tap state and federal funds to buy back the ailing tollway and make it a freeway. Many predict if SH 130 were a free highway that the road would finally attract significant levels of traffic from the heavily congested Interstate 35, which most travelers cannot afford to do now given the high cost of tolls in addition to the higher consumption of gas given the road’s extra distance and the road’s highest-in-the-nation 85 MPH speed limit.
NAFTA superhighway going south
One of the drivers behind the push to build SH 130 was the anticipated influx of truck and trade traffic due to NAFTA. It was part of the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-35 project and the only segment of the corridor to ever be built. Texas Governor Rick Perry and state lawmakers pulled the plug on the politically unpopular project in 2009 when Texans went nuclear over the massive size (originally 1,200 feet wide - of three times the size of an normal interstate) and hence the giant land grab using eminent domain for private profits as well as the concept of foreign-ownership of its public highways.
But the push to privatize Texas roadways and build the corridor piece-by-piece utilizingpublic private partnerships (known as P3s) with a smaller footprint still advances. NAFTA traffic isn’t going to abate anytime soon with the anticipated expansion of the Panama Canal expected to open next year. The Texas legislature approved a bill, SB 1730, earlier this year allowing 23 projects to be privatized using P3s -- a few part of the original Trans Texas Corridor plan.
Taxpayers footing the bill
Texas taxpayers have already subsidized the privately-operated tollway through advertising and buying down a one-year truck toll rate reduction announced at the beginning of the year. Texans have also paid for new signage along Interstate 410 and Interstate 10 to entice travelers to use the privately-run tollway.
All U.S. taxpayers are on the hook for repayment of a $430 million federal TIFIA loan on the SH 130 project. It’s the TIFIA loan that complicates any default and the potential for the tollway to be converted to a freeway. On the first P3 that received a TIFIA loan, the SouthBay Expressway in San Diego, the project went bankrupt in less than three years after its opening when forecasted traffic was wildly overstated and off by nearly 40,000 cars a day. Taxpayers had to eat nearly $80 million in losses on that TIFIA loan. Building roads with debt is never a good thing.
P3s a big bust
The failure of Texas’ first public-private venture demonstrates the folly of utilizing P3s for public infrastructure. Taxpayer money is always involved and therefore the potential for taxpayer bailouts is always looming. Throw in the fact that they contain non-compete clauses that limit or prohibit the expansion of free roads surrounding the private tollways, and P3s directly threaten one’s freedom of mobility.
At the end of the day, P3s represent public money for private profits and do little to solve urban congestion. Texas is building underutilized tollways using a scurrilous financing mechanism that erodes state sovereignty and impedes freedom to travel. Lawmakers and whoever the new governor will be need to dump P3s and get back to a freely accessible, affordable pay-as-you-go freeway system that serves all Texans equitably.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

4 28 comments (1) By Randy Lee Loftis / Reporter rloftis@dallasnews.com 10:22 am on August 16, 2012 | Permalink The Obama administration’s only hearing on its proposal to give the cement industry more time to meet a looser clean-air standard is under way at Arlington City Hall. But the jury is already back with a verdict. The Environmental Protection Agency is getting shredded — literally. Some opponents of the move — that is, all but one of the speakers so far — are feeding EPA handouts into a shredder as they present their case. The four EPA officials running the hearing are hearing everything from quiet, compressed anger (“This is outrageous,” declared state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth) to table-pounding and shouts. Jim Schermbeck, director of the North Texas environmental group Downwinders at Risk, said he was speaking in the place of group founder Sue Pope, who has campaigned to slash cement plant pollution for 20 years. Pope, he said, was too sick to appear. The debate isn’t really over EPA rules or industry rules, Schermbeck said, but whether the EPA was going to keep insulting people who have worked to protect public health. “These are Sue Pope’s rules that we are debating today,” he said, “and we shouldn’t be messing with them.” Following years of inaction, the EPA in 2010 moved ahead with rules to cut air pollution from cement-making plants. Midlothian has the nation’s biggest concentration of cement plants. People jammed a 2009 EPA hearing in Dallas to hail the move. But on June 22 this year, the Obama administration said it wanted to soften some requirements. One change would amend the way particulate matter — microscopic bits released from smokestacks — is counted. The effect would be to give plants more leeway, essentially boosting emissions compared to the 2010 rules. Another would give the industry two more years to comply. The deadline would move from September 2013 to September 2015. The EPA offered engineering explanations that closely mirrored the industry’s position. Gary Stuard of Dallas left no doubt about how that struck him. “People have been dying,” he told the EPA. “Doesn’t that mean anything to you?” There was one early voice for the industry. Andrew O’Hare, vice president of regulatory affairs for the Portland Cement Association, opened the hearing by endorsing the proposed changes. “New compliance strategies take time to implement,” he said. Time has been a major complaint of the opponents. The EPA gave the public just two weeks’ notice of Thursday’s hearing, which goes on until 7 p.m., and the deadline for written comment on the proposal is tomorrow. In a hurry to be heard? Read details and submit comments at www.regulations.gov. Enter doceket number EPA-HQ-OAR-2011-0817. 4 28 More From Dallasnews.com Investigations Parkland launches recruitment campaign, calls special board meeting to discuss hospital's 'executive leadership' Entertainment Mario Tarradell: After naked DWI arrest, Randy Travis' career and credibility are all but dead Frisco Blog Frisco man indicted on capital murder charge after 22-month-old son's death The Scoop Blog Cleburne woman sues Cowboys, Jerry Jones, claiming hot bench outside stadium caused third-degree burns The Scoop Blog 4,000 without power in North Dallas after fire at electric substation From the web Autoblog BMW dealer sends armed tracker team with helicopter backup to recover loaner car StyleBistro Sandra Bullock As You've Never Seen Her Before Moneynews Billionaire Has Choice Words for Obama Left Lane News 2015 Ford Mustang to boast futuristic styling, updated suspension CafeMom Off-Duty Cop Crashes Motorcycle Into Little Girl Then Kills Her Enraged Dad What's this? Comments Dallasnews.com is now using Facebook Comments. To post a comment, log into Facebook and then add your comment below. Comments are subject to Facebook's Privacy Policy and Terms of Service on data use. If you don't want your comment to appear on Facebook, uncheck the 'Post to Facebook' box. To find out more, read the FAQ. 1 Comments This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Randy Lee Loftis / Reporter. Bookmark the permalink. Post navigation← Previous Next → ARCHIVES ABOUT THIS BLOG Local News columnists, reporters and editors invite you to join the discussion of the hot topics of the day. We encourage thoughtful reader contributions on any interesting subject in the news. VIDEO GENERAL NEWS STORIES Burl Osborne, former executive editor and publisher of The News, dies at 75 Fort Worth to begin ground spraying Overnight rains flood roads, trigger accidents across D-FW Is aerial spraying safe for people, pets and the environment? 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By 
By  - The Dallas Morning News - August 16, 2012



The Obama administration’s only hearing on its proposal to give the cement industry more time to meet a looser clean-air standard is under way at Arlington City Hall.
But the jury is already back with a verdict. The Environmental Protection Agency is getting shredded — literally.
Some opponents of the move — that is, all but one of the speakers so far — are feeding EPA handouts into a shredder as they present their case.
The four EPA officials running the hearing are hearing everything from quiet, compressed anger (“This is outrageous,” declared state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth) to table-pounding and shouts.
Jim Schermbeck, director of the North Texas environmental group Downwinders at Risk, said he was speaking in the place of group founder Sue Pope, who has campaigned to slash cement plant pollution for 20 years. Pope, he said, was too sick to appear.
The debate isn’t really over EPA rules or industry rules, Schermbeck said, but whether the EPA was going to keep insulting people who have worked to protect public health.
“These are Sue Pope’s rules that we are debating today,” he said, “and we shouldn’t be messing with them.”
Following years of inaction, the EPA in 2010 moved ahead with rules to cut air pollution from cement-making plants. Midlothian has the nation’s biggest concentration of cement plants.
People jammed a 2009 EPA hearing in Dallas to hail the move. But on June 22 this year, the Obama administration said it wanted to soften some requirements.
One change would amend the way particulate matter — microscopic bits released from smokestacks — is counted. The effect would be to give plants more leeway, essentially boosting emissions compared to the 2010 rules.
Another would give the industry two more years to comply. The deadline would move from September 2013 to September 2015.
The EPA offered engineering explanations that closely mirrored the industry’s position.
Gary Stuard of Dallas left no doubt about how that struck him.
“People have been dying,” he told the EPA. “Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
There was one early voice for the industry. Andrew O’Hare, vice president of regulatory affairs for the Portland Cement Association, opened the hearing by endorsing the proposed changes.
“New compliance strategies take time to implement,” he said.
Time has been a major complaint of the opponents. The EPA gave the public just two weeks’ notice of Thursday’s hearing, which goes on until 7 p.m., and the deadline for written comment on the proposal is tomorrow.
In a hurry to be heard? Read details and submit comments at www.regulations.gov. Enter doceket number EPA-HQ-OAR-2011-0817.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

New transportation bill must be Keystone-free


May 11, 2012 - Mid Columbia Tri-City Herald (McClatchy-Tribune News Service)
 http://www.tri-cityherald.com/2012/05/11/1936585/new-transportation-bill-must-be.html  (The following Editorial appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Thursday, May 10.)
 
New transportation bill must be Keystone-free
A congressional conference committee this week started trying to reconcile radically different provisions of two different transportation bills passed by the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.
Passing a viable transportation bill is crucially important for the still-sluggish American economy. Usually, except for fighting over who gets what share of the public works money, political parties cooperate on such bills. They authorize highways, bridges and public transit systems, among other things, projects that create jobs and improved infrastructure that benefits consumers and businesses alike.
But this year the House chose a silly approach: a three-month extension of current authorizations larded down with election-year ideology and nonsense. The Senate's more serious two-year bill keeps the focus on current and future transportation needs. What a concept.
The silliest House provision would grant approval to a Canadian company's controversial application to add about 1,600 miles to an existing 2,100-mile oil pipeline system. TransCanada's Keystone pipeline already runs from northern Alberta to Cushing, Okla., with a spur running across Missouri to refinery and storage facilities at Roxana and Patoka, Ill.
The new Keystone XL proposal adds another pipeline along a different route from Canada to Cushing and then on to Texas refineries in Houston and Port Arthur on the Gulf coast.
As we have noted before, the Keystone XL proposal is a hustle being sold on phony promises of tens of thousands of jobs and environmental safety. This latest Republican-led attempt (with the support of some Democrats and labor unions) to bypass procedural safeguards and force the proposal down America's throat is no more acceptable than the previous failed attempt in January.
That's when President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada's application as not in the national interest, rather than play along with a timetable artificially accelerated by pipeline supporters in what amounted to attempted political blackmail.
Because XL would cross the international border between the United States and Canada, the proposal must be reviewed and approved - both the broad strokes and the fine details - by the State Department. Most of all, before it receives final approval, the president must determine that it advances the national interests of the United States.
Last week, TransCanada filed a new XL application that includes a slightly modified route through Nebraska, supposedly to address genuine concerns in that state about the awful consequences of a pipeline breach on aquifers that supply fresh water for drinking and irrigation to millions of Midwesterners. Environmental groups say the new route does little to ameliorate the threat.
TransCanada, a private, foreign company, also continues to use the power of eminent domain to pressure U.S. landowners to grant easements for the pipeline and, in some cases, to seize property in court. This even though the project has not yet received, and may never receive, authorization.
In reality, not Republican fantasyKeystone XL would generate only a few thousand jobs and would have little effect on unemployment rates. Much of the oil that would be carried by the pipeline is already under contract to companies that plan to refine and ship it overseas; thus, it would not enhance the security of America's energy supplies.
The transportation conference committee must make sure the final version of the bill is free from any Keystone XL contamination.

Friday, April 27, 2012

TxDOT's coming debt 'tsunami'

Terri Hall- TURF - April 27, 2012 (Austin, TX) - We've seen it with AIG's toxic debt, then the banks with their financial crisis spawned by subprime mortgages, now get ready for the next big bailout -- the toxic debt from toll roads. The Texas Transportation Commission engaged in a day-long lovefest at its April 26 Commission meeting idolizing themselves and like-minded leaders from around the state for indulging in 'leveraging' Texans to the hilt and demanded even more debt. 'Leveraging' is code for tolling (and now it can also include local revenue streams like property taxes and sales taxes). Their message is clear: no toll roads, no local debt, no money. All this despite the fact that the State of Texas is more than $34 billion in the hole for roads already. Federal data shows Texas is second only to New Jersey in road debt in the country. The bubble that shields Texas Governor Rick Perry's five appointees to the Commission from direct accountability to the taxpayers allows them to display such a gluttony of anti-taxpayer sentiment. Likewise the rules are the same for the un-elected directors of the Metropolitan Planning Organizations of the four major cities in Texas: Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio that TxDOT trotted out today, and they, too, joined the anti-taxpayer bandwagon. Their motto: put the screws to the taxpayer openly, and often in every conceivable tax & debt scheme no matter the cost or long-term consequences. This attitude dominates virtually every Commission meeting since Perry took office. Perry's largely been able to get away with such behavior from his appointees. Transportation Commissioner, Ted Houghton of El Paso, brazenly called himself "the most arrogant commissioner of the most arrogant state agency in the State of Texas" at a press conference announcing TxDOT pulled the plug on a major Trans Texas Corridor project, TTC-35, due to the threat of litigation back in October of 2009. Rather than punish him for such arrogance, Perry promoted him to Chair of the Commission when long-time crony Deirdre Delisi bolted to run Perry's failed presidential campaign in 2010. Commissioner Ned Holmes opened the meeting with high praise for leveraged debt, and he later received adulation for selling-off Texas' sovereignty by handing some state highways in Houston to private corporations in sweetheart toll road deals called public private partnerships (P3s), despite their higher cost, complexity, and lack of efficiency. Commissioner Bill Meadows then hailed Dallas officials for using leveraged debt to advance $15.3 billion in transportation projects, most all of them toll roads, including thanking the federal government for yet more leveraged debt by giving them a $450 million TIFIA loan to slap tolls on Interstate-35, Texas' major NAFTA highway through the state. Toll rates won't be cheap either -- 85 cents a mile -- and this new tax rate will be in the hands of a private corporation whom taxpayers cannot hold accountable. Traditionally, turnpikes didn't involve taxpayer money, but rather toll revenue bonds. Private bond investors took all the risk if the traffic didn't show up to pay tolls and they were brand new roads offered as alternatives to freeways. Now under Perry, 'innovative financing' techniques introduced by the likes of Goldman Sachs (responsible for the debt crisis in Greece), the taxpayers are heavily subsidizing toll projects, most of them on existing freeways. The federal TIFIA loan program is one such slush fund for toll projects, many of them propping up privatized toll roads in P3 deals, making TIFIA loans that much more egregious.
"So Meadows doing a shout-out to the feds, whom Perry is so fond of slamming, demonstrates just how fiscally reckless Perry's highway commission is, despite Perry's claim to a fiscal conservative pedigree," notes Terri Hall, Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom.
Add to that, the TIFIA loan program is 100% BORROWED money and you begin to see how these toll roads use the identical financing schemes that brought us the subprime mortgage crisis fueled by borrowed money being used to secure more borrowed money and then yet more borrowed money and so on. DEBT BOMB AND BAILOUTS
"This debt bomb is what so-called fiscal conservatives that run Texas want to wreak upon unsuspecting Texans for generations," Hall stated in disbelief.
Indeed, a Commissioner said today that the Commission expects local leaders to 'leverage every penny' of the state gas taxes and other revenues it bestows upon each region -- or else don't ask us for any money. Translation: the Commission is MANDATING that local governments issue debt for STATE highways or they won't get their due allocations, regardless of state law that prohibits TxDOT from withholding money due to a region if officials decide not to include toll roads. The rumblings of a bailout for the coming infrastructure bubble just careened into a full throttle earthquake. One local official from the Rio Grande Valley even quipped:
"I've noticed there's a tsunami of leveraging." "Taxpayers and commuters weary from high gas prices had better wake-up and hold the Governor, lawmakers, and local elected officials accountable for their fiscal 'tsunami,' or they'll soon be overtaken by it with no turning back," warned Hall.
TURF is a non-partisan, grassroots, all-volunteer group defending citizens' concerns with Agenda 21, toll road policy, public private partnerships, and eminent domain abuse. TURF promotes pro-taxpayer, pro-freedom, & non-toll transportation solutions. For more information or to support the work of TURF, please visit www.TexasTURF.org.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

How "Free Market" Roads can Restrict Freedom: The Mirage of Free-Market Roads

By Martha Estes: March 29, 2012
An "amen chorus" to Timothy B. Lee's article in The Atlantic, The Mirage of Free-Market Roads. martha
March 29, 2012

Acton Institute (blog)by Joe Carter http://blog.acton.org/archives/30879-how-free-market-roads-can-restrict-freedom.html

How “Free-Market Roads” Can Restrict Freedom
In a political climate dominated by debates about individual mandates and restrictions on religious freedoms, an issue like road privatization isn’t likely to be on the top of anyone’s list of major concerns. But the excellent post on “The Mirage of Free-Market Roads” by Timothy B. Lee, a writer with Ars Technica and the Cato Institute, is worth reading even if you don’t care about toll roads. Lee provides an intriguing example of why we need to think clearly about how we apply principles to policy:

While I’m generally sympathetic to the idea of privately-managed roads, I’ve become convinced that the broader vision of “free-market roads” is a conceptual confusion. In the abstract, the idea of competing, privately-owned roads has a lot of appeal. But the more I think about it, the less sense it makes. Roads are deeply intertwined with governments. They always have been and as far as I can see they always will be. This means that they’ll never be truly private in the sense that other private companies like restaurants or shoe factors can be.

Assembling the land needed for a long-distance road is prohibitively expensive without government assistance. Unsurprisingly, private roads almost never come into existence without extensive government assistance. And that means that the profitability of a “private” road depends crucially on how many competing roads the government allows to exist.

It’s unsurprising, then, that real-world privatization schemes are often explicitly protectionist. A 2004 GAO survey found that four of the five privately-funded toll road projects started or completed in the preceding 15 years included non-compete clauses that restricted the creation of competing freeways nearby. It’s much easier to turn a profit when would-be competitors are barred from entering the market.

[. . .]

To be clear, this isn’t to say libertarians should oppose road privatization. To the contrary, private road management can be an excellent way to bring private capital and technical expertise to the provision of a public service. But it is to say that private road operators should be viewed as providing a service to the government, rather than operating an ordinary private business. [emphasis added]

Lee touches on one of the disturbing ironies of modern politics: purportedly “free-market” approaches can sometimes lead to more government involvement and greater restrictions on freedom. Those of us on the right side of the political spectrum have always been wary of government. But it’s refreshing to see that many of us are also becoming more aware of the dangers of rent-seeking behavior by crony capitalists.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Westchester Gasette: Dam and Double Dam!

Westchester Gasette: Dam and Double Dam!

Westchester Gasette: Oh, My.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Westchester Gasette: It's a Hurricane

Westchester Gasette: It's a Hurricane: A LANDMAN on the Arlington, TX City Council??    Or What Is It, Pray Tell? The Councilman does have a very nice résumé. Here's how you,...

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