Saturday, July 28, 2007

Critics see excess in Gov. Perry's foreign travel - Aides defend frequent trips in name of trade

By CHRISTY HOPPE - The Dallas Morning News - Saturday, July 28, 2007

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry has crossed the deserts bare, man; breathed the mountain air, man; he's been everywhere – visiting at least 11 foreign countries in the past three years as an emissary for Texas.

Thus far this year, he has spent 18 days in five countries – Qatar, Israel, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Jordan. The plane fare for him and an aide to Istanbul cost $13,586, a tab picked up by political donors. But taxpayers pay the bills for his Department of Public Safety security detail, which always travels with him. DPS declined to say what that costs, citing security concerns.

Mr. Perry's aides argue that with so many foreign companies doing business in Texas, the governor needs to promote the state for it to stay competitive in a global economy. But his penchant for international travel is unique among Texas governors, and Democrats have criticized the practice as special interest-financed vacations.

And whether on a trade mission or policy retreat or delivering speeches in foreign lands, Mr. Perry has traveled well, generally staying in five-star hotels, flying in private jets or being pampered in business class seats.

For instance, for a 2004 trip to the Bahamas to discuss public education funding with staff, supporters and conservative thinkers such as anti-tax guru Grover Norquist, three of Mr. Perry's political supporters donated the $40,400 in travel costs.

Mr. Perry's 12 international visits have included two to Mexico. A trip to Iraq and Afghanistan was financed largely through the Department of Defense. The rest have been paid for with political contributions and the Texas Economic Development Corp. – a nonprofit organization spearheaded by the governor that solicits and uses corporate donations to promote business in Texas.

International travel is new for Texas governors – Ann Richards went to Mexico for a presidential inauguration, as did George W. Bush. Late in his state term, Mr. Bush traveled to Israel and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but many saw it as a political gambit to improve the governor's foreign relations résumé before his first presidential campaign. Last month, in his trip to Israel, Mr. Perry met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

When the opportunities arose for Ms. Richards to take official trips out of the country, she turned them down, said former press secretary Bill Cryer.

"It came up once or twice for her to go to one or two exotic places, but she decided to turn it down as too politically unsavory and she knew that people would criticize her for it," Mr. Cryer said.

Former LBJ School of Public Affairs dean Max Sherman, who also served as a state senator and gubernatorial adviser, said international travel could be a pitfall for many politicians.

"My guess is that it is a new day, and you'll probably see governors and mayors doing more things from an international perspective, mainly because of business," he said.

"But politically, many people will not look favorably on it," he added. "They probably feel that there are enough problems here in the state that need to be dealt with, and the governor needs to be here."

Mr. Sherman also said it is often difficult to connect an international trip to real results in-state. And many voters will see it as a steppingstone to either another political office or a lucrative job afterward. Mr. Perry, who has not ruled out running for another term for governor in 2010, has been mentioned as a possible Republican vice presidential candidate or Cabinet secretary or ambassador in a GOP administration.

"Maybe it would lay a foundation for something on a national or global scale, either publicly or privately," Mr. Sherman said. "Showing you've been to hot spots around the world that are going to be major players with the U.S. and Texas would enhance the résumé."

Krista Moody, a spokeswoman for Mr. Perry, said the trips have brought real results for Texas. She pointed to the Toyota plant in San Antonio, a Samsung plant in Austin and the Nokia Corp. headquarters in Irving that are creating high-paying jobs.

"Governor Perry has been unabashedly pursuing economic opportunities throughout the state, throughout the country and over oceans," Ms. Moody said.

"By personally going, he puts a shine on deals by showing that the state's leaders would make a trip to meet with business leaders in different countries to personally make the case for why Texas is one of the best places in the world for them to do business," she said.

Mr. Perry has not been to South Korea, headquarters for Samsung, nor Finland, home to Nokia. He had planned an August 2005 trade trip to Japan, where Toyota is based, but he had to cancel because of a special session on school finance that he called. He instead sent his wife, Anita.

Mr. Perry has touted a weeklong trip to Italy in March 2004 to bring jobs to Texas by meeting with officials from Alenia Aeronautica, which is Vought Aircraft Industries' partner in the development of a new Boeing jet. He also met with oil and gas executives on the trip.

On the Italy trip, the Perrys stayed at the Grand Hotel Parco Dei Principi in Rome and at the Westin Excelsior in Florence, where currently, rooms cost no less than about $500 a night.

Ms. Moody said the governor has been conscientious and saved taxpayers "a tremendous amount of money" by paying for the trips either with political donations from his campaign account or through the Texas Economic Development Corp.A check of other states showed that Mr. Perry has set an aggressive pace for foreign travel. For instance, former New York Gov. George Pataki, over his 12 years in office, went to about 15 countries. And Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who has been in office five years, made his first trade mission last month, visiting Spain and England.

In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has recently been taking heat for allowing a similar foundation to pay for his international forays.

"Our guy gets criticized," said Schwarzenegger press secretary Aaron McLear.

Over the past three years, Mr. Schwarzenegger has been on 14 international trips – including four to Mexico and one in July 2004 to his home country of Austria, when he was part of the official U.S. delegation to attend the funeral of the Austrian president.

Mr. McLear said the California governor pays for most of his travel out of his personal bank account, while the rest comes from the California State Protocol Foundation, which is closely associated with the California Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Schwarzenegger has donated $8 million of his own money to the foundation.

And one country among the 14 that the former movie star has visited was not on Mr. Schwarzenegger's original itinerary. The governor was in Israel and the king of Jordan, having arranged transportation, asked him to pay a quick visit.

Said Mr. McLear: "His celebrity certainly helps him sell California."
Read more in the Dallas Morning News

Friday, July 27, 2007

Plano, TX – The North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) today announced Jorge Figueredo as its new Executive Director and Rick Herrington as Deputy Executive Director.

"Following a comprehensive national search, Mr. Figueredo emerged as the candidate uniquely qualified to lead the NTTA into its second decade as an organization and as we begin to implement the historic SH-121 project," stated Paul N. Wageman, Chairman of the Board of Directors. "His background and experience will greatly enhance the NTTA's ability to address the mobility needs of North Texas as we develop regional projects in the coming years such as the Five in Five."

Mr. Figueredo has spent the last 16 years in the toll business. Before today’s announcement, he was the Senior Division Manager for Post, Buckley, Shuh, and Jernigan (PBS&J) overseeing the company’s toll operations practice in the Central United States. During his tenure with PBS&J he worked extensively with the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority and the Texas Turnpike Authority Central Texas Turnpike project. His previous position was Director of Operations, Communications, and Marketing for the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority from 1992 to 2004 where he was responsible for building and implementing their electronic toll collection program. Prior to working there, Figueredo served as the Director of Public Information and Legislative Affairs for Florida’s Turnpike from 1991 to 1992. He received his Bachelor of Arts, Masters and Ph.D. from the University of Central Florida.

Jerry Hiebert has been serving as the NTTA’s Acting Executive Director since February 2007 while Rick Herrington has served as the Acting Deputy Executive Director during the same time period. Figueredo will be the third Executive Director since the NTTA’s inception 10 years ago.

"On behalf of the Board and staff, I am extremely pleased that Rick has accepted the position of Deputy Executive Director,” Wageman continued. “As lead negotiator on the SH 121 project, Rick has played a key role overseeing our ongoing mission of providing mobility solutions to the North Texas region. We are fortunate that Rick will continue to offer his invaluable insight and leadership to the board and staff of the NTTA."

Prior to serving as Acting Deputy Executive Director for the NTTA, Mr. Herrington was the National Director of Technology Services/Central Division Toll Sector Leader for HNTB Corporation, a national transportation infrastructure firm. At HNTB he was responsible for implementing ETC Open Road Tolling and providing strategic technical assessments for various clients. From 1999 to 2005 he served as the Assistant Executive Director and Director of Information Technology for the NTTA where he oversaw development and implementation of the award winning RITE Toll Collection System. Previously, Herrington worked for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) from 1985 to 1999 in various positions for their information technology services department. Herrington will assume his position effective immediately.

Mr. Figueredo will assume his position with the NTTA on August 6, 2007.

About NTTA

The North Texas Tollway Authority, a political subdivision of the State of Texas, is authorized to acquire, construct, maintain, repair and operate turnpike projects in the North Texas region. The seven-member governing board is comprised of Chairman Paul N. Wageman, Vice Chairman Jack Miller, Directors Gary Base, David Denison, William W. Meadows, Bob Shepard and Alan E. Sims.

The NTTA serves Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant Counties and is responsible for the Dallas North Tollway System, consisting of the Dallas North Tollway, President George Bush Turnpike, Addison Airport Toll Tunnel, Lewisville Lake Toll Bridge and the Mountain Creek Lake Bridge. The North Texas Tollway Authority is able to raise capital for construction projects through the issuance of turnpike revenue bonds. NTTA toll projects are not a part of the State highway system and receive no direct tax funding. Tolls are collected to repay debt and to operate and maintain the roadways.

Visit the NTTA Web site at or call 214-461-2000 for additional information about the North Texas Tollway Authority. For Customer Service, please call 972-818-NTTA (6882).

NTTA Organizational Chart
Key Staff Profiles
NTTA Board of Directors

Texas Senate Transportation & Homeland Security Hearing scheduled in Irving August 7th


COMMITTEE: Transportation & Homeland Security
TIME & DATE: 8:00 AM, Tuesday, August 07, 2007
PLACE: Irving Lecture Hall, Westin DFW Airport
CHAIR: Senator John Carona

The Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security will meet on August 7, 2007, in Irving. The hearing will be held at the Westin DFW Airport hotel on 4545 W. John Carpenter Freeway, Irving, Texas.

The Committee will begin at 8:00 a.m. and hear invited and public testimony on the implementation of legislation and related issues.

Agenda (subject to change)


Panel 1: Texas Transportation Commission/Texas Department of Transportation

Panel 2: Regional Transportation Council and North Texas Turnpike Authority

Panel 3: TEX-21

Panel 4: Infrastructure Issues

A. Trends in Infrastructure (Bob Cuellar, URS Corporation)

B. Infrastructure Protection (Albert Samano, TRC Corporation)

C. Managed Lanes (Dr. Chris Poe, Texas Transportation Institute)

D. Continuing Concerns (David Stall, CorridorWatch)


Panel 1: Steve McCraw, Dir. of Homeland Security, Office of the Governor

Panel 2: Thomas Davis, Executive Director, Department of Public Safety

Panel 3: Gangs

A. Fred Burton, Stratfor

B. John Chakwin, Special Agent in Charge, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Dallas

C. David Erinakes, Homeland Security Policy Advisor to the Chairman


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

IH-35 ramp to N. Dallas Tollway closed due to fire

NTTA - Wed. July 25, 2007, 11:35 a.m.Due to a fire near Downtown Dallas, the exit ramp to IH-35 from the Tollway heading southbound and the entrance ramp from IH-35 to enter the Tollway going northbound are shut down.

Motorists on the south end of the Tollway planning to enter IH-35 must seek alternate routes. Delays can be expected.

This action is being taken at the request of emergency responders.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ft Worth T fares to increase in Oct.

Fort Worth T - July 19, 2007
FORT WORTH -- The board of directors of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) approved a change in fares at its board meeting on July 19. The new fares are expected to generate additional revenue of $400,000 to help offset rising operating costs and allow further expansion of T bus services to meet the growing population needs.

The first fare increase in four years, the new fares will take effect October 1.

The new fares include an increase of 25 cents per one-way trip for local, premium and Mobility Impaired Services.

Monthly passes will increase by $10. A new weekly pass will be offered at $15 for seven days of unlimited rides. It is designed especially to accommodate customers who ride frequently, but cannot afford a larger once-a-month cash outlay for a monthly pass.

Reduced fares for seniors, disabled and students will be set at one-half of the base fare, in keeping with federal requirements.

Prior to implementing the new fares, The T held four public hearings on May 29 and a special hearing for MITS customers on June 13 to gather customer comments regarding the proposed increases. Comments from public meetings, The T's hotline, website and comment cards were presented to the board as input into its decision.

Two meetings also were held for customers who use E-Passes purchased through their employers. Changes in the employer pass are scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2008.

"We understand that people would prefer that prices remain the same, but I believe most citizens understand the need for The T to keep up with rising operating costs," said Bob Jameson, chairman of The T board.

The T's fares currently cover only 12 cents of every dollar of costs for fixed route service, including bus and the TRE, and MITS fares now cover about 7 cents for every dollar spent on service.

Double edged sword of private infrastructure financing

By Faith Chatham - July 24, 2007

Crossposted on EPLURIBUS MEDIA

Many lawmakers and local/regional governmental officals erupted in glee at the prospect of transferring financing of public infrastructure projects to private equity partners. The traditional group of public works hogs at the public money bins jumped cartwheels anticipating funding to flow more rapidly out of other pockets into theirs. Governor Rick Perry spent Texan's hard earned tax money to fly to Europe to court potential European and Australian partners. TxDOT repeated the same old lies: "There is no way to finance roads without tolls."  

To the public CDAs or Private Public Partnerships for toll roads is presented as being financed by private partners. When we look up close and get real personal and examine specific projects however, the facade doesn't hold up to scrunity. For example, Cintra, if awarded SH 121, would have invested about the same amount of money which Texas taxpayers have already invested in the project (state, federal dollars and local governments investment in right of way). The Federal Government would also loan the private partner additional fund and faciliate borrowing of billions of dollars of tax exempt money from other private lenders. A key phrase to note is tax exempt. That is another way of saying that the tax liabilty will be passed from these lenders to the rest of the taxpayers. Taxes never go away when they are "exempted". They are merely passed along to the next guy up (or more probably) down the ladder!

I've made a number of inquiries about these US government faciliated loans which the changes to U.S. Law allows to enable private equity partners to utilize on public works (highway toll roads) projects. I want to fully understand who holds the bag if the project fails and the "borrower" defaults on the loan. What happens if there isn't the anticipated traffic on a toll road? If the U.S. Government faciliates these tax exempt bonds for the private partner (such as Macquarie or Cintra), does the US Government (i.e. U.S. Taxpayer) stand behind the loan as is the case when a bank forecloses on an FHA home loan or a VA home loan or a Federal Guaranteed Student Loan?

I've asked this question to numerous engineers and officials at TxDOT and RTC meetings and to date have yet to have anyone show me in writing where the US Government isn't standing behind these loans. If a private partner is going to make the profit I think the private equity firm should take the risk. However, I am suspicious.  There is a rush across the pond to court American lawmakers and acquire toll road deals. Is one of the edges of the sword that somewhere there are clauses buried in those mountains of fineprint and legalize which transfer the risk to the taxpayers?

Examining Australian sources, another edge to the sword emerges.  Most of these equity firms are borrowing from retirement funds. The retirement accounts of working men and women and retirees from all over this nation are invested in bonds and stocks.  John L. Goldberg, in "The Fatal Flaw in the Financing of Private Road Infrastructure in Australia" wrote a paper last year which analyzes the cash flow of four private public road infrastructure projects in Australia and probability of solvency/insolvency.

Goldman wrote:

The repayment of debt is clearly on the minds of the toll road owners and operators as revealed by the recent release of a draft prospectus for the so-called Sydney Roads Group (Macquarie Infrastructure Group, 2006). This group consists of three existing toll roads, the M4, M5 and Eastern Distributor. The financial arrangements are similar to those of the M2. In February 2009, the debt of the M4, currently at about $57.6 m must be paid. The method of doing this is said to involve the use of reserves and a securitization arrangement (Alles, 1999) involving the M4 and M5. This means that future cash flow receivables and/or the asset value of the M5 is to be used as collateral for a new financial structure for refinancing. It should be noted that the M5 has a debt of $515m which has to be repaid or refinanced by June 2010. But in the final prospectus, serious doubts have now been raised about the ability to repay the debt or refinance it on

favourable terms (MIG, 2006).

He concludes that the private investors are using various public private road projects as collateral for other projects, creating a " financial house of cards".  Macquaire and Cintra are partners in many projects around the world and have bid on numerous projects in Texas and the DFW area. They are presented to citizens as private partners who will take the responsiblity for risk from the government and taxpayer in exchange for tolls. Citizens' protest that the cost for tolls is higher than those projected if citizens finance road construction with gas tax and public bond financing the old fashioned traditional way goes are unheeded by lawmakers and transportation policy gurus and state and US DOT bureaucrats.

Goldman analyzed their business methodology in Australia and reported:

The data in the financial models attempt to portray the best possible outcome for the consortiums promoting the projects using for example, unrealistic traffic projections, and creative accounting. Despite this attempt the probability of financial failure has been shown to be 100% in every case, in the sense that cash flow will be insufficient to amortize debt. Not only do the models specify unattainable rates of return to investors but the true financial position of the projects is being masked by financial engineering leading to increased debt out of which equity dividends are being paid. Such an approach is unlikely to be sustainable, but may nevertheless lead institutional investors and others to erroneously believe in the long term outcome portrayed by the promoters.

Why does this matter?  It matters because citizens deserve to be able to trust the reliability of financial institutions. It matters because retirement accounts are being invested in bonds to finance private equity firms share of investment in public private partnerships for toll roads (and toll bridges and other infrastructure). If the cards begin to fall, and the toll road private investor public partnership CDA financial house crumbles, then as each card will take down an adjacent investor and that one will take down the next. If the model used to predict traffic, fees, maintenance costs for a 50 year toll road project are faulty and the private equity partner does not get the anticipated return on investment, everyone who loaned money on the project will lose. It is very likely that much of those loans will be held by retirement funds! Ouch! When you lose your retirement account, it is difficult for many people to recoup before they are out of the job market. I know. My 401K account dried up a few years ago when utility. telops stocks switched from reliable investments to swindles!

With retirement account investment in private public infrastructure equity partnership (toll roads) we may see scandals which reek of the hot sultry days of Enron investigations and energy sector manipulation which cost trusting investors and employees their life savings and retirement incomes. As the energy grid spread from state to state, we are watching a network of toll corridors spread throughout the North American continent, attracting international partners who are not totally without controversy in their home countries.

Possible remedies

Protection for retirees who invest in PPP/CDAs presents a classic catch-22. Private partnership who claim to remove the risk from taxpayers on infrastructure projects in return for receiving tolls (retrn on investment) should not have their loans guaranteed by the US Government.  That is unfair to taxpayers!

Goldberg pointed out:

Recent statements about the use of securitization as a means of debt amortization are unconvincing. In the event of corporate collapse, and in the absence of government guarantees, the trust/company structure of these projects will be used to claim limited liability for the entire structure. But such a claim may be rejected by a court, leaving investors liable.

That brings me back to my original quest. Are there guarantees written into these volumes of contracts, bills, agreements, which transfers the risk from the private partner to the U.S. taxpayer?  If you know where the guarantee is that the US Government will not back the tax exempt bonds they faciliate for private partners in public infrastructure projects, please share that with me. I need to see it in writing and be able to verify the source.  There are too many inconsistencies in what transportation engineers and TxDOT and regional transporation policy boys have told me about toll roads, CDAs and the benefit to the public for me to really rely on what they tell me without being able to evaluate it and verify it. This is an instance when if it isn't on paper, published in government documents within the public domain then it is probably more urban legend than reality.

Additional articles on these topics are posted on Grassroots News U Can Use

Parents protest extension of FM 2499

BY SARAH BLASKOVICH, Staff Writer - The Flower Mound Leader Star – Wed., July 11, 2007
Stationed around the room at the City Council in Highland Village Tuesday night was a sea of red. The crimson-colored shirts adorned angry parents and residents who opposed the extension of FM 2499 in Highland Village.

The throng brought their children to the meeting, who stood as representatives of who would be harmed most by the road expansion.

Bill Brennan, a resident who spoke on behalf of the group, pleaded with the council to reconsider the FM 2499 traffic plan, which could detrimentally affect the lung function of children who grow up near a major road, he said.

After hearing several comments and watching the 20-some residents who remained in their seats for silent protest, Mayor Dianne Costa thanked the groups for speaking out. She agreed to personally call the Texas Department of Transportation.

One resident’s concern was a personal account of how it would affect his family.

“I’ve got a five-year-old and a newborn,” said Robert Suarez, another resident who spoke at the meeting. “I can’t help but think that 45,000 cars a day [on FM 2499] will affect the air.” The group cited an article published in The Lancet, a newsletter written by the University of Southern California School of Medicine. The study followed 3,600 children for 13 years and found that, on average, children who grow up within 1,500 feet of a major road have a 10 percent decrease in lung function that is irreversible.

“One thousand five hundred feet equates to five football fields,” Brennan said. “[It affects] approximately 900 households [in Highland Village]…Obviously, we would have a serious public health problem.”

The current plan for the northern expansion of FM 2499 is to build a 4-lane road that would extend from FM 407 up through the Highland Shores and Castlewood subdivisions and into Corinth. The city will also consider expanding the road to six lanes in the future.

Traffic statistics from TxDOT show that about 38,000 vehicles passed through the southern sections of FM 2499 in 2005, and they project about 45,000 cars in the future.

Brennan suggested that further investigation is necessary, but reproducing a comprehensive survey similar to the Lancet Study would take another 13 years and would “penalize thousands of children with irreversible lung damage.”

Instead, he asked the council to conduct an environmental impact study and rethink the road’s path, which would run just 25 feet from some homes in the neighborhoods, Brennan said.

“To proceed with current plans for 2499, with no regard to the Lancet Study findings, is to proceed with intent to harm children in Highland Village,” Brennan said. “It really is that straight forward.”
Read more in the Flower Mound Leader Star

Monday, July 23, 2007

Meetings to Monitor

This is a partial list of meetings. Only Denton, Dallas, Tarrant and Collin County Commissioners meetings are listed here. Please check County website for other counties. Please check city websites for City Council Meetings.

Collin County Commissioner's Court
Monday, July 23, 9 am
210 S. McDonald St., 6th Floor of Collin County Courthouse, McKinney
(Consideration, discussion and any action regarding the Proposed Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA) projects for submittal to the Regional Transportation Council (RTC) and the North Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), Engineering and consideration, discussion and any action regarding 2007 RTC Comprehensive Development Funding Initiatives, Commissioners Court.)
Denton County Commissioners Court meetings are now televised weekly on five cable stations in Denton County. Cable TV Broadcast Schedule

NCTCOG - Managed HOV Lane Pricing
Tue, July 24, 10 am - 12 pm
Where: NCTCOG offices, 616 Six Flags Dr., Arlington TX Executive Director's Conference Room

Tarrant County Commissioner's Court
Tue, July 24, 10 - 11 am

Dallas County Commissioner’s Court
Tues., July 24, 9 am

Denton County Commissioners Court
Tues., July 24, 9 am
(Declare Lakeview Boulevard project as not viable and approve the transfer of funds from Lakeview Blvd. to Lake Lewisville Toll Bridge/FM 720 project for the purpose of acquiring right of way and authorize the Auditor to make payments to TxDOT for the Right of Way agreements, Precinct #1, and any appropriate action. Commissioner Precinct #1)
(Approval of the creation and establishment of a fresh water supply district to be known as “Belmont Fresh Water Supply District No. 1 of Denton County” located in Denton County Commissioner Precinct 4, and appointment of temporary supervisors to serve on the board of the District until permanent supervisors are elected, and any appropriate action.)
Watch live online

NTTA Board Meeting
Wednesday, July 25, 2007 - 8 a.m.
Board Room of the NTTA Administrative Offices
5900 W. Plano Parkway, Suite 200, Plano, TX
See notice

NCTCOG Executive Board Meeting
Thu, July 26, 7:00am - 4:30pm
Where: NCTCOG Offices, 616 Six Flags Dr., Arlington TX Wm J. Pitslick Executive Board Room

NCTCOG - Information and Referral Bidders Conference
Thu, July 26, 3:30 - 5:00pm
Where: NCTCOG Offices, 616 Six Flags Dr., Arlington Tx Tejas Conference Room (map)

NCTCOG - Surface Transportation Technical Meeting (STTM)
Fri, July 27, 1:30 - 4:00 pm
Where: NCTCOG Offices, 616 Six Flags Dr., Arlington, TX Transportation Council Room (map)

NCTCOG - RTC Public Meeting
Mon, July 30, 6:30 - 8:00 pm
Where: Carrollton Public Library at Josey Ranch Lake, 1700 Keller Springs Road, Carrollton, TX 75006

Tarrant County Commissioner's Court
Tue, July 31, 10 - 11 am

Dallas County Commissioner’s Court
Tue, July 31, 9 am

NCTCOG - RTC Public Meeting
Tue, July 31, 12:00 - 1:30 pm
Where: Fort Worth Intermodal Transportation Center, 1000 Jones Street, Fort Worth, TX 76102

NCTCOG RTC Public Meeting
Tue, July 31, 6:30 - 8:00 pm
Where: Irving Central Library, 801 W. Irving Blvd., Irving, TX 75060

Collin County Commissioners Court Workshop
Mon., Aug. 6, 1 p.m.
210 S. McDonald St., 6th Floor of Collin County Courthouse, McKinney
More information

Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security Hearing in Irving, TX
Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2007, 8:00 a.m.
Irving Lecture Hall, Westin DFW Airport, 4545 W. John Carpenter Freeway, Irving, Texas.
The Committee will begin at 8:00 a.m. and hear invited and public testimony on the implementation of legislation and related issues. See notice and agenda.

Tarrant County Commissioner's Court
Tue, August 7, 10 - 11 am

Dallas County Commissioner’s Court
Tue, August 7, 9 am

NCTCOG - RTC - Regional Transportation Council
Thu, August 9, 1:30 - 4:00 pm
Where: NCTCOG Offices, 616 Six Flags Dr., Arlington, TX Transportation Council Room

NCTCOG -Regional Energy Efficiency & Emissions Reductions Initiatives Roundtable
Fri, August 10, 1:30 - 3:30 pm
Where: NCTCOG Offices, 616 Six Flags Dr., Arlington, TX Transportation Council Room

NCTCOG - Amtrak Relocation/Tower 55
Mon, August 13, 3:30 - 5:00 pm
Where: NCTCOG Offices, 616 Six Flags Dr., Arlington, TX Pecan Conference Room

Tarrant County Commissioner's Court
Tue, August 14, 10 - 11 am

Dallas County Commissioner’s Court
Tue, August 14, 9 am

NCTCOG - DFW Clean Cities Advancing the Choice
Wed, August 15, 9:30 - 10:30 am
Where: NCTCOG Offices, 616 Six Flags Dr., Arlington, TX

Tarrant County Commissioner's Court
Tue, August 21, 10 - 11 am

Dallas County Commissioner’s Court
Tue, August 21, 9 am

NCTCOG - Executive Board Meeting
Thu, August 23, 6:00am - 4:30 pm
Where: NCTCOG OFFICES,616 Six Flags Dr., Arlington, TX William J. Pitstick Executive Board Room

NCTCOG - North Texas Anti (Human) Trafficking Task Force
Thu, August 23, 9am - 12 pm
Where: NCTCOG Offices, 616 Six Flags Dr., Arlington TX Metroplex Conference Room

NCTCOG - Surface Transportation Technical Committee - STTC Meeting
Fri, August 24, 1:30 - 4:00 pm
Where: NCTCOG Offices, 616 Six Flags Dr., Arlington TX Transportation Council Room

Tarrant County Commissioner's Court
Tue, August 28, 10 - 11 am

Dallas County Commissioner’s Court
Tue, August 28, 9 am

NCTCOG - DFW Clean Cities Coalition
Thu, August 30, 1:30 - 3:00 pm
Where: NCTCOG OFFICES, 616 Six Flags Dr., Arlington, TX Six Flags Conference Room

NTTA Board to consider toll projects and subcontractors at July 25th meeting

By Faith Chatham - July 23, 2007
The North Texas Tollway Authority Board of Directors will hold their regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, July 25 at 8:00 a.m. in the Board Room of the NTTA Administrative Offices located at 5900 W. Plano Parkway, Suite 200 in Plano.

The Meeting Agenda includes items which impact transportation in the Dallas TxDOT region and the Ft. Worth TxDOT region and the public can comments on items not listed on the agenda: (TxDOT; RTC/NCTCOG; or other items)

The Consent agenda includes consideration of award of contract to Rebcon, Inc. in the amount of $617,252.00 for construction of a sand stockpile for Dallas North Tollway Phase 3 and of a contract to Rebcon, Inc. in the amount of $737,195.10 for construction of a sand stockpile under the PGBT at Alma Road . The board will also consider approval of work authorization 02283-DNT-00-PS-PD with HNTB Corporation to provide corridor-management services for Dallas North Tollway Extension, Phase 4 and Phase 5.

The board will consider approval of a Project Agreement or Term Sheet setting forth the basic elements of the Project Agreement between TxDOT and the NTTA for the NTTA’s delivery and operation of SH 121 and authorizing the negotiation and execution of work authorization MA-WA12 with HNTB Corporation in the amount of $1,300,000 for landscape architectural design services for SH 121 in Collin, Dallas and Denton counties.

Other business includes consideration of an interlocal agreement among the NTTA, TxDOT (Texas Turnpike Authority Division), Harris County (Harris County Toll Road Authority), and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority regarding statewide interoperability for transponder-based electronic tolling on the parties’ respective toll facilities and for a consulting services agreement with Tamer Partners, Inc., for the development, implementation, and management of NTTA customer-relations services and customer-experience initiatives.

Updates will include briefing on migration plan for conversion to all-electronic toll collection (“ETC”) on NTTA facilities and Planning Updates on SH 170, SH 360 and Trinity Parkway and Project updates/discussion on the Dallas North Tollway projects, PGBT (President George Bush Turnpike) projects, Mountain Creek Lake Bridge, Addison Airport Toll Tunnel, Lewisville Lake Toll Bridge, Southwest Parkway – northern section
The Committee will report on the Regional Transportation Council and the Executive Director will update the board on program management and his participation with the City of Carrollton on market-valuation study for Thirty five Riverside property and TxDOT’s request regarding IH 635 project.

Mr. Wageman will brief on the market-valuation process for SH 161.

Persons with disabilities who plan to attend this meeting and who may need auxiliary aids or services such as interpreters for persons who are deaf or hearing impaired, readers, large print or Braille, are requested to contact Robert Andrews at (214) 461-2000 two (2) work days prior to the meeting so that appropriate arrangements can be made.

For more information contact Sam Lopez, North Texas Tollway Authority Public Information Officer - (214) 461-2065.

NTTA on road to more tolls - North Texas Tollway Authority set to expand vision, role with new projects

By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER - The Dallas Morning News - Sunday, July 22, 2007
The North Texas Tollway Authority's second decade promises to be nothing like its first.

Today, at age 10, NTTA is promising to expand its focus beyond Dallas and Collin counties to mesh with state and local plans that will radically increase the number of toll roads in North Texas.

As a result, the authority is poised to exert more influence than ever before over the way North Texas drivers get from one place to another.

"I call it the maturing of the NTTA," said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments. "Ten years ago, the NTTA's attitude may have been, 'We'll do a few projects, but we're not interested in managed lanes, or electronic toll roads. We basically build these big fat cash lanes.' " But that's changing fast, Mr. Morris said.

In addition to building the 26-mile State Highway 121 toll road, NTTA has been asked to build or operate at least five other toll roads, and will partner in several other "priced" projects such as pay-to-use HOV lanes.

Critics: Change needed
Critics caution, however, that as NTTA plays a bigger role in solving transportation problems, it will need to do a better job of paying attention to the whole region.

"I have nothing against them, except for their history," said Denton City Council member Pete Kamp, who said NTTA has long ignored Denton and Tarrant counties. "They are telling us that they are now going to be, and I trust them to be, good to their word. But in the past they've simply been in Dallas and Collin counties."

Bill Hale, the engineer in charge of the Dallas district of the Texas Department of Transportation, said North Texas' transportation solutions have long depended on pooling resources from the state, the region's elected officials and the toll authority. "It's a three-legged stool, and everyone has a role to play," he said.

If that's true, NTTA's leg is about to get a lot stronger, as Mr. Hale conceded in an interview last week.

And that means it will be under more scrutiny, said Mike Nowels, a former Regional Transportation Council member from Lewisville. Answerable only to an independent board of directors, the authority has had too little oversight, he said.

"Does the Dallas North Tollway from [Interstate] 635 south into Dallas, is it really up to standards? Is it anywhere close?" Mr. Nowels asked. "Why hasn't the tollway authority invested in fixing it? It's gridlock every morning and gridlock every evening – and it's been that way for 20 years."

NTTA officials and Mr. Morris said negotiations over Highway 121 are well ahead of schedule. An agreement is expected to be ready before the Texas Transportation Commission meets in Sugar Land on Thursday – a month before the deadline.

If the deadline is not met, the contract will go to Cintra, the Spanish firm that won preliminary approval in February to build the road.

Many of the Regional Transportation Council members who voted to let Cintra keep the contract said they now think NTTA will do a good job.

Mesquite City Council member John Heiman Jr. said many of the "no" votes were cast in opposition to the way NTTA was allowed to make a late bid after Cintra had been named the preliminary winner.

"I didn't vote against the NTTA; I was simply opposed to the process. It was awful," Mr. Heiman said.

Most RTC members have put the differences over Highway 121 behind them and are focused on building the region's badly needed roads, he said.

"There is so much need – and I am not talking about wants, I am talking basic needs of transportation – we're going to need a big head of steam to get it all done," Mr. Heiman said.

Mr. Morris said NTTA must be given the support it needs to live up to its commitments on Highway 121 and other roads it has promised to help build.

"We want them to succeed," Mr. Morris said. "We're going to do everything we can to assist them."

NTTA chairman Paul Wageman said board members have benefited from criticism.

"I think it has been very instructive, and we're changing," Mr. Wageman said. "We're having to grow and adapt to a changing environment. Perhaps we were a little slow to adapt to that as a board, but the board is now fully focused on our road ahead."

That path ahead, he said, includes an increased focus on communities in Tarrant and Denton counties who have long felt ignored by NTTA.

Higher tolls ahead

Still, what has changed most of all is not NTTA, but the way local officials and transportation planners have so enthusiastically embraced tolling as a road-building strategy.

That would have been hard to imagine in June 1997, when the Legislature voted to create NTTA.

Former Dallas County Judge Lee Jackson helped lead the charge to persuade lawmakers to dissolve the Texas Turnpike Authority and replace it with NTTA.

At the time, the authority's only job was to maintain the Dallas North Tollway and collect millions of dollars in tolls. In time, it used those funds and others to build the President George Bush Turnpike, and has since embarked on a handful of other, smaller projects.

But Mr. Jackson, chancellor of the University of North Texas system since 2002, said the philosophy about the role of toll roads in the highway system a decade ago barely resembles what has emerged since the Highway 121 debate began.

"When the NTTA was formed, the idea was that every toll road would be built and operated to the lowest possible cost to the drivers," Mr. Jackson said. "The idea was to set the smallest possible toll rates."

These days, the idea is to set the toll rates high enough to create a rich revenue stream that can be used as collateral for massive upfront loans from banks or bondholders.

In the Highway 121 case, for example, NTTA has promised to pay the state $3.3 billion in cash to help finance a stream of other North Texas projects. The money will come from the sale of bonds secured by future toll revenue that exceeds what is needed to build and operate Highway 121 in Denton and Collin counties.

"Obviously money talks," Mr. Jackson said. Still, he said the new approach is necessary because of the paucity of funds from more traditional sources such as state and federal gas taxes.

Mr. Morris agreed.

"We're in such a financial crisis when it comes to transportation that the gas taxes are basically paying for the maintenance of the roads we already have," Mr. Morris said. "Ten years from now the only improvements we will be able to make will be the ones that are paid for by toll roads."

Fairness of toll rate
Some local leaders say they can stomach the increasing number of toll roads. But they say it's wrong to abandon the old policy of keeping toll rates as low as possible.
Frisco City Manager George Purefoy is among them. It's bad enough, he said, that Frisco's two main avenues to the rest of the Dallas-Fort Worth area – Highway 121 and Dallas North Tollway – both will be tolled.

But what's worse, he said, is that Frisco drivers will be paying artificially high rates just so NTTA can borrow the billions it has promised to pay upfront. He says the higher toll rates amount to an extra tax on drivers unlikely to use the roads on which the extra money is spent.

"Everyone wants to keep focusing on how much money the region is getting from this project, and no one seems to care how much more drivers are going to have to pay," he said. "Our drivers are going to have to pay a toll, an extra tax and then the gas tax, too."

The Frisco City Council is considering filing suit to try to block the toll road, Mayor Mike Simpson said, but no decision has been made.

Last week, Mr. Morris said that legal threat could make it more difficult for NTTA to close the Highway 121 deal within the deadline.

In the meantime, drivers may need to get used to paying higher tolls – a price transportation officials such as Mr. Morris said is needed if residents want to ease the congestion that continues to clog North Texas roads.

Read more

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Spending Campaign Cash 2007: Senator Brimer

Bay Area Houston blog - Friday, July 20, 2007
Spending Campaign Cash 2007: Senator Brimer

Senator Brimer (R-Ft Worth) has been in the news for spending his donors money on a condo owned by his wife at Westgate Condominiums 1122 Colorado St, Austin Texas. The Ethics Commission's rules are very clear:

§ 253.038. Payments Made to Purchase Real Property Prohibited

(a) A candidate or officeholder or a specific-purpose committee for supporting, opposing, or assisting the candidate or officeholder may not knowingly make or authorize a payment from a political contribution to purchase real property or to pay the interest on or principal of a note for the purchase of real property.

Over the last 6 years he has paid over $176,000 to "J B Realty", "JKB Realty", and "Janna Brimer Realty" for rent. These are names of a realty company owned by his wife, Janna. In his July 2007 report, something has changed.

For Jan and Feb he paid JKB Realty over $2900 a month for condo rent. JKB Realty has the mailing address of 1600 W. 7th St Fort Worth Tx 76102, the same address for Senator Brimers Ft Worth office. But for Mar-Jun he spent just over $700 a month to Westgate Condo Assoc for "Condo dues". This is the same condo where his wife owns property.

He has also paid Ed Shack over $6000 for campaign legal services in the past 6 months. Go figure.

Earlier post: Spending campaign cash: Senator Brimer
Bay Area Houston - Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Senator Brimer is one of a very few who use their campaign contributions to pay his spouse rent for a condo. Over the last 6 years he has paid over $176,000 to "J B Realty", "JKB Realty", and "Janna Brimer Realty" for rent. These are names of a realty company owned by his wife, Janna.

Under the Texas Ethics Commission, it is against the law to use your campaign contributions to pay your spouse for real property purchases, but according to the Fort Worth Star Telegram he has found a gaping wide loophole and is exploiting it with his contributions:

Brimer appears to be in a unique situation: He made special property separation arrangements in a pre-nuptial agreement with his wife, Janna Brimer. They publicly disclosed a 1996 "partition" agreement making the Westgate condo and any future proceeds from it her exclusive property.

Brimer appears to be in a unique situation: He made special property separation arrangements in a pre-nuptial agreement with his wife, Janna Brimer. They publicly disclosed a 1996 "partition" agreement making the Westgate condo and any future proceeds from it her exclusive property.

Brimer's lawyer, Ed Shack, acknowledged that there is nothing to block politicians who leave office from benefiting from what was once separate property. But he noted in a letter to Brimer last week that the law gives legislators special legal protection when they use Ethics Commission opinions as guidance in transactions.

That is the same Ed Shack who is representing State Representative Davis, Speaker Craddick, and many more elected officials. Shack is making good money defending those who take money from their contributors to purchase items for themselves.

Other than the $176,000 paid to his wife, Brimer has paid over $12,000 to GMAC for a vehicle lease, nearly $6000.00 for Christmas gifts, a Christmas mailing for $9300, and $4400 for membership in the Fort Worth Club. He also took a $9500 expense for donating a 1976 Cadillac to Huguley Crystal Heart Gala, for a fundraiser.

TxDOT’s Sunset Review Kick-Off Party & Media Blitz

tKeeping An Eye on Williamson County - Friday, July 20, 2007
In what looks like a media blitz to show that TxDOT was right all along, and to justify it’s continuing existence in relation to it’s upcoming Sunset review, TxDOT this week is holding it’s Texas Transportation Forum toll-gasm conference.

Much of the focus has been on a draft report of a soon to be released “independent” report - TxDOT paid $3.5 million for the report - that says:

Texas needs more toll roads, and drivers should pay more to use them, an external audit of the Texas Department of Transportation suggested Wednesday.

(Kuff’s response):
I like that “priced to reflect the value - including the time saved” line. Because, of course, if you keep your toll roads expensive enough to guarantee that they’re never crowded, then it’s a self-perpetuating justification. Better yet, if you ensure that the remaining non-toll roads are sufficiently decrepit and jammed up, you’ll also have a built-in reason to keep raising tolls in the future. What more could a local toll road authority want?

A TxDOT paid for “independent” audit that reaffirms TxDOT’s toll every road stance. That’s just a happy coincidence for TxDOT I’m sure. Although the forum is billed as a chance to, “Experience the vision. Share your ideas. Join the conversation. Keep Texas moving”, in reality it appears to be more a way to bring lawmakers and those who make money off of government transportation deals together:

…the need for toll financing and other alternatives to gasoline taxes is a major theme of the conference that brought together public officials and private contractors from across the state.

The audience that packed the Hilton ballroom found in each chair a Texas Department of Transportation brochure titled “TxDot: Open for Business — A Guide to Accelerating Transportation Projects.” [.PDF]

The booklet explains various strategies approved by the Legislature in 2003 to supplement tax revenue with toll financing, public-private partnerships and regional mobility authorities.

The conference coincided with the release of an audit by TxDOT, suggesting the state’s best chance for keeping up is to build more toll roads with higher fees.

Now the report, as Move It! explains, has one point that may be worth further exploration. It’s a plan based on making ALL drivers pay a user fee based on vehicle miles traveled:

A long-term answer is to switch from a tax on gas to a tax on how much people drive, called a vehicle miles traveled charge or VMT charge. Oregon finished testing such a system in March and a report is due this summer.

“Texas needs to lay the ground work to move to a VMT charge over the next 20 years,” the report says. (see Oregon Test [.PDF]).

The technology for the implementation may still be a little ways off but this has the potential to be a fair, broad-based tax that charges drivers for the amount of driving they do.

One last thing. Gov. Perry was quoted as saying this:

And the fuel tax “has problems on its face,” he said. Unlike toll roads, which typically have a free alternative, fuel taxes are paid by all drivers, and hit rural residents hardest.

“The boys out in Lubbock, Odessa and Marfa really don’t see the benefit in it for them,” he said.

When Gov. Perry runs around the state telling Texans that we have to build the Trans-Texas Corridor, and take away precious farmland and family legacies, he says it must be done to benefit all of Texas. The “conservative” staple excuse of using economic development as the reason when it benefits their cause. But in those sentences he’s refuting that statement by saying that toll roads only benefit urban/suburban Texans. Which is it governor? Either our highways are built for the benefit of ALL Texans and should be funded by ALL Texans or they shouldn’t. You can’t have it both ways.

Again I’ll refer you back to EOW’s earlier post on the “independent” audit, It’s Not The Size Of The Shorfall, It’s How It’s Made Up That Matters. No matter how we want to slice it, the ultimate question is, How do Texans want to pay to make up for the disrepair and neglect our state leaders, and ultimately ourselves, have allowed our transportation infrastructure to fall into in this state? EOW believes the best way to do this is in the fairest, and most broad-based, way possible, which at this time happens to be raising and indexing the gas tax.

Read more

Fair Use

FAIR USE NOTICE: This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Material from diverse and sometimes temporary sources is being made available in a permanent unified manner, as part of an effort to advance understanding of the social justice issues associated with eminent domain and the privatization of public infrastructure. It is believed that this is a 'fair use' of the information as allowed under section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 USC Section 107, the site is maintained without profit for those who access it for research and educational purposes. For more information, see: To use material reproduced on this site for purposes that go beyond 'fair use', permission is required from the copyright owner indicated with a name and an Internet link at the end of each item. [NOTE: The text of this notice was lifted from]

See ARCHIVE on side bar

Content is being archived weekly. Many pertinent articles regarding Transportation in the DFW Region are in the archives.

A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have. - Thomas Jefferson

The Opnions On this Site are Diverse

DFW Regional Concerned Citizens attempts to examine issues from all directions. When a story says "By Faith Chatham" it contains my viewpoint. When it is by others, but posted by Faith Chatham, it is from someone else's viewpoint. When I discover contents which is on topic for this site, I frequently link to other sites. Usually those sites contain content which differs from my viewpoint (and frequently that of other members of DFW-RCC).