Follow the Money - Local Politicians Campaign Contributors
Saturday, August 4, 2007
Twenty-three bridges in Tarrant County fared worse in their most recent inspections than the bridge that collapsed Wednesday in Minneapolis, a Star-Telegram review of federal records shows.
A few have been repaired or replaced since the inspections. The low scores for the others don't necessarily mean the bridges are in danger of crumbling, officials cautioned.
"Texas bridges are safe," Randy Cox, director of the Texas Department of Transportation's bridge division, said Thursday. "If it gets to the point where we find a bridge can no longer safely handle a load, we close that bridge."
Nonetheless, inspectors hired by the state to conduct routine examinations of the bridges found an assortment of potential problems, including damage to piers, footings, railings and decks.
Some of the bridges are along busy commuting corridors, including:
The Texas 10 bridge over Northeast Loop 820 in Hurst, where motorists headed toward Hurst Boulevard or Baker Boulevard often feel the pavement shaking as big rigs roll by.
The historical Main Street bridge over the Trinity River near downtown Fort Worth, one of the region's oldest transportation landmarks.
The reports are included on a National Bridge Inventory database kept by the Federal Highway Administration. They include details of the most recent safety inspections, from 2004 to 2006. The database may not reflect current conditions.
The data show that 12.4 percent of the nation's nearly 600,000 bridges were rated "structurally deficient." In Texas, 4.5 percent of the nearly 50,000 bridges were deemed structurally deficient, as were 2.7 percent of Tarrant County's roughly 2,700 bridges.
The state Transportation Department declined to comment on specifics about the Tarrant County bridges. Agency officials said they have asked the state attorney general's office for an opinion as to whether bridge inspection records must be made public under freedom of information laws. The reports contain information that might help terrorists, a spokeswoman said.
Some of the bridges have been repaired, including a Keller Smithfield Road bridge in Keller and a Pipeline Road bridge in Hurst. At least one, the Duncan Perry Road bridge over Interstate 30 in Arlington, has been rebuilt.
Each bridge receives a sufficiency rating -- computed by a formula that considers dozens of factors noted during an inspection -- with scores from zero to 100. A score of 80 or less indicates some rehabilitation may be needed; a 50 or less indicates replacement may be in order. The Minneapolis bridge had a sufficiency rating of 50, according to federal bridge inventory data.
The data also rate a bridge's components on a scale of 0 to 9. A zero represents a failure, and a 9 is excellent; 6 is satisfactory; 5 is fair; 4 is poor; and 2 is critical.
The Minneapolis bridge was inspected in 2005 and scored a 4 for its structural members -- typically the support system between the pavement and the piers or footings.
It received a rating of 6 for its substructure, which includes "piers, abutments, piles, fenders, footings or other components," according to federal documentation. The deck -- or pavement, sidewalks and rails -- was rated 5.
The Star-Telegram reviewed records of more than 1,000 bridges in Tarrant County and found that 23 were considered structurally deficient and had earned sufficiency ratings lower than the Minneapolis bridge.
The Main Street bridge across the Trinity River in downtown Fort Worth has a sufficiency rating of 33.8, according to a March 2005 inspection. The deck and substructure were rated satisfactory, but the superstructure was rated poor.
The scouring, or effect of erosion on the bridge's foundation, was not inspected, according to the federal inventory data.
About 14,000 cars cross the bridge, which was built in 1914, each day, according to 2004 estimates included in the inspection records.
Fort Worth last repaired the bridge in the late 1980s and took X-rays of the entire structure, said George Behmanesh, the city's assistant director of transportation and public works.
"Although the rating is low, that bridge is safe because it is way overdesigned," he said. "It has huge columns. If it were a standard modern bridge, we would be concerned about it."
The Seventh Street bridge over the Trinity and Forest Park Boulevard scored even lower -- 33.2 -- and its deck and substructure were rated fair. Its superstructure received a poor rating, which can include "advanced section loss, deterioration, spalling or scour," federal records show.
An estimated 19,000 cars cross the bridge daily, according to 2004 figures.
Fort Worth is negotiating with Transportation Department officials to repair the Main Street bridge and replace the Seventh Street bridge, Behmanesh said.
"Both of those bridges were designed and built during a time when they poured an excessive amount of concrete," he said. "There is some erosion and cracks, but because of the size of the columns, we are in good shape. That's what saving our necks."
Behmanesh said the city recently closed a bridge in far north Fort Worth in Denton County. He said the Litsey Road bridge, which crosses Henrietta Creek, was closed because of its poor condition.
"We are willing to close a bridge if we feel it is unsafe," he said.
The Texas 10 bridge over Northeast Loop 820 in Hurst carries more than 11,000 cars daily. It scored 48.8, just below the rating of the Minneapolis bridge.
The inspection data did not include counts for the nine lanes of traffic beneath the Texas 10 bridge -- which, if it collapsed, could cause numerous fatalities and create a rush-hour nightmare comparable to what happened in Minneapolis.
Th Texas 10 bridge, built in 1963, received a poor rating for its deck and a fair rating for its substructure.
The Transportation Department hires contractors to inspect bridges at least every 24 months, and that work is supervised by a professional engineer, Cox said. Texas has far more bridges than any other state.
Bridges over bodies of water at least 4 feet deep are also inspected at least once every five years by a specially trained dive team, he said.
In June, state officials announced that they would transfer more than $6 billion from the new-construction fund to the maintenance fund to get more life out of the aging highway system, including bridges.
"The challenge for Texas is that, as our system ages, demand is increasing," agency spokesman Chris Lippincott said.
An outside expert reiterated the state's assertion that Texas bridges are safe.
Most bridges frequented by Texas motorists have redundant support and likely would remain standing even after severe damage.
Therefore, bridges that fare poorly in inspections are probably not a public danger, said Todd Helwig, who is researching ways to strengthen bridges at the University of Texas at Austin.
"I know people are going to be worried whether they should drive across a bridge, but I don't bat an eyelash," he said.
By the numbers
49,829 Number of bridges in Texas as of September.
2 Number of years between bridge inspections; some are evaluated more often.
5 Years between inspections of underwater foundations and columns.
2011 Year by which Texas hopes to have 80 percent of its bridges in good condition or better.
288 Bridges a year that need to be improved to meet the goal.
Tarrant Co. Bridges Ruled Structurally Deficient - backlog of structurally deficient bridges in need of repair has become a national crisis.
(CBS 11 News) FORT WORTH The CBS 11 Investigators have learned the locations of all structurally deficient bridges in Tarrant County.
The Texas Department of Transportation refused to release the information, citing Homeland Security limitations, but the information is freely available through the Federal Highway Administration.
Click here to see a list of Tarrant County bridges that are structurally deficient according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Many of the bridges cited in Tarrant County cross major highway arteries including:
The east and westbound lanes of the Highway 183 bridges over Loop 820
The bridge where the northbound lane of Interstate-35W crosses over Highway 121
The west frontage road of Highway 360 over Interstate-30
Geoffrey Orsak, Dean of Engineering at SMU, says the backlog of structurally deficient bridges in need of repair has become a national crisis.
Orsak says "Just like any of us at home, we often want to defer maintenance on whether is the dishwasher or the toilet and got and buy that new TV. And the same thing happens with our infrastructure. It's just not that sexy to spend money on maintenance."
Friday, state inspectors from the Fort Worth District of the Texas Department of Transportation started checking out bridges in a nine county area. They focused on steel arched bridges like the one where Lancaster Avenue crosses over a branch of the Trinity River east of downtown Fort Worth. It's similar to the one that collapsed in Minneapolis.
Inspector Rocky Armendariz hammered and listened for a hollow sound that could signal a weak foundation. "We have a feel for how bad or how serious a problem might be getting. It gives us a good feel," says Armendariz. "We know our bridges."
The Lancaster Avenue bridge was once listed on the structurally deficient list but it was rehabilitated nine years ago. Inspections are not foolproof. Minnesota was ranked as the second best bridge testing state in the nation, yet it was the scene of this week's deadly collapse.
A 2001 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation found inspections were all over the map. Sixty-percent of the inspectors tested did not correctly identify cracks in test bridges.
Read story view video © CBS Broadcasting Inc
Bureau of Transportation Annual Report Transportation Statistics Dec. 2006
RELATED STORY: Dozens of N. Texas Bridges Structurally Deficient
Friday, August 3, 2007
Minneapolis Bridge Collapse Complete Coverage
Robert Riggs - CBS 11 - Reporting
(CBS 11 News) DALLAS The CBS 11 Investigators have learned there are more than 100 structurally deficient bridges in North Texas. That means the bridges have major deterioration, cracks, or other flaws that reduce the ability to support traffic.
CBS 11 News Investigator Robert Riggs obtained a confidential list of structurally deficient bridges in Dallas, Denton, Collin, Kaufmann and Ellis counties. At least 15 of the bridges in those counties are in worse condition than the bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis.
In Dallas County the list of structurally deficient bridges includes:
The north and southbound lanes on Interstate 45 where it crosses over Interstate 30 near downtown Dallas.
The Old Houston Street viaduct where it crosses over Interstate 30 and the Trinity River on the southside of downtown.
The northbound lane of the Interstate 35E bridge over the Trinity River.
And northeast of Dallas, where Big Town blvd crosses over interstate 30.
To see the complete list in .pdf format, click here.
Ali Abolmaali, Professor of Structures at the University of Texas at Arlington told Riggs, a structurally deficient bridge could be a disaster waiting to happen. "It depends on the combination of loads that causes the failure," Abomaali said.
And it is that uncertainty after the Minneapolis bridge collapse that has many concerned. Abolmaali says old bridges weren't designed to handle today's heavy volume of traffic. "If it is structurally deficient and if it is not rehabilitated they should be concerned."
The Texas Department of Transportation refused to release the same information for its Fort Worth district, which includes Tarrant, Erath, Hood, Jack, Johnson, Palo Pinto, Parker, Somervell and Wise counties. Although, CBS 11 has filed a public records request seeking the information.
The City of Fort Worth did share details on several bridges it is watching carefully. In March, Fort Worth engineers found a structural deficiency in the Litsey Road bridge over Henrietta Creek and immediately closed it to traffic.
Four bridges in Fort Worth need work, according to city officials, but there's not enough money right now. Those bridges include northbound North University Drive, southbound North Riverside Drive, Silver Creek Road at Silver Creek and Silver Creek Road at Silver Creek Tributary.
Three bridges in Fort Worth are scheduled to be replaced and currently do have the necessary funding for the work. Those include:
East First Street over West Fork Trinity River
Precinct Line Road over Walkers Branch
West Seventh Street over Clear Fork Trinity River.
Statewide, more than 2,100 Texas bridges have been classified under the same "structurally deficient" rating given to the span that collapsed in Minnesota. That's just four percent of the state's approximately 50,000 bridges.
TxDOT spokesman Mark Cross says Texas bridges are inspected at least every two years -- and those with critical issues are checked out more frequently.
In 2006, the Texas Department of Transportation published a report on all the bridges in the state. To read that report in .pdf format, click here.
We also obtained an audit by the U.S. Department of Transportation that has some additional information on aging bridges in Texas. The document also contains a good graphic explanation of how bridges become structurally deficient. To read that report in .pdf format, click here.
You must have the latest version of the free Adobe Reader software to read .pdf documents. To download it, click here.
Here's What's Hot Today On CBS11TV.COM:
SLIDESHOW: Mississippi River Bridge Collapses
How Safe Are North Texas Bridges? Video
SLIDESHOW: Gas Explosion Rocks Dallas
Dozens Of N. Texas Bridges Structurally Deficient
Animated Doppler Radar
© CBS Broadcasting Inc.
Link to CBS 11 Website
For those in North Texas, please try to attend and give testimony against toll proliferation, market-based tolls (highest possible tolls), and the Trans Texas Corridor.
Read these for more background...
-- TxDOT "audit" claims we need to pay even more than tolls and gas tax!
-- Market valuation hits the fan
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.
INVITED TESTIMONY: TRANSPORTATION
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)
INVITED TESTIMONY: HOMELAND SECURITY
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
Recommendations: Write out your testimony and attach supporting documents to enter into the record. Send copies of your testimony by e-mail to DFWRCC@gmail.com.
Minnesota bridge tragedy causes citizens to cry foul - Collapse due to frivolous earmarks, starving the gas tax & diverting road & bridge funds
San Antonio, TX – Citizens against the push for privatizing & tolling our highways in order to address our Nation’s aging infrastructure see the Minnesota bridge tragedy as a transportation wake-up call.
“It’s criminal that our politicians passed a highway bill in 2005 that funded a $223 million bridge to nowhere in Alaska instead of retrofitting this heavily traveled bridge on one of America’s most heavily traveled interstates,” fumes an incensed Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texans United for Reform and Freedom (TURF). “We have serious misplaced priorities in this country and politicians who are derelict in their duties.”
The 2005 federal highway bill (SAFET-LU) had 6,000 earmarks for frivolous Congressional pet projects taken from our gas taxes at a time when the Bush Administration was pushing the privatization & tolling of our highways saying new taxes were necessary to address congestion and aging infrastructure. By design, they want to DOUBLE TAX toll the traveling public to plug their own leaky boat.
“What we have are politicians who are now blaming the taxpayers for NOT giving them enough of our money to pay for infrastructure when, in fact, it is they who have habitually pilfered and diverted billions from both federal and state gas tax funds
In Texas, twenty-five percent of fuel taxes are diverted to public schools and another 5% to things that don’t relate to highways. The Texas Legislature has diverted $10 billion from the state highway fund in the last 20 years alone while also defrauding taxpayers into thinking the only way out of our infrastructure woes is to now toll us for what our taxes have already built and paid for and to sell our highway system to the highest bidder while STILL failing to keep our bridges and highways safe.
“Let the revolution begin! The public WILL rise-up to boot these politicians out of office if indictments don’t do it first. Heads need to roll rather than to come after us for tolls,” remarks Hall.
By Stephen Long - PM - Wednesday, May 30, 2007
MARK COLVIN: Jim Chanos was the first big US investor to expose Enron as a fraud.
Tonight, he's told PM why he thinks that Macquarie Bank is a 'house of cards'.
Macquarie's staff have made billions by buying assets around the world and spinning them off into funds and trusts controlled by the bank. The bank collects fees all along the line.
But Mr Chanos says this economic model can't last. His key concern is that the Macquarie Bank funds pay their shareholders not out of income they earn, but from borrowed money.
They continually revalue their assets, then borrow against the asset values to fund payments to investors.
He also says the structure encourages serial overpaying for assets, and that Macquarie is relying more and more on unsustainable self-dealing between the bank and its funds to make money.
This report from our Economics Correspondent Stephen Long.
STEPHEN LONG: Jim Chanos has made a fortune picking stocks that are ripe for a tumble.
He was the first big investor to say Enron was a fraud.
He's not saying there are crooks at Macquarie Bank. Simply, that the model that's made the bank billions is unsustainable.
JIM CHANOS: I guess the heart of our criticism of the bank is the model itself, this so-called Macquarie model.
STEPHEN LONG: The Macquarie model is now world famous. The bank scours the world buying assets, everything from toll roads to bowling alleys, and selling them into separate trusts that the bank controls.
This generates triple fees for Macquarie Bank: one for the up-front purchase; a second for selling the assets into the trust; then ongoing management and performance fees from the funds.
There's been much discussion in Australia about whether this raises a conflict of interest.
Jim Chanos' critique is more fundamental.
JIM CHANOS: The underlying economics, in my opinion, are flawed. Being the top bidder for these assets and then flipping them into the trusts leads to an unsustainable economic engine at the trust level. And when that breaks down all of the fees and whatever's being paid begin to break down.
STEPHEN LONG: Macquarie's funds pay their investors out of borrowed money and that's one of Jim Chanos' key concerns.
They revalue the assets they own then borrows money against the re-valuations to fund the payments to investors, a strategy that could founder when, inevitably, the period of cheap credit and asset price inflation comes to an end.
JIM CHANOS: And this is the real crux of the problem on an ongoing basis. If you look at the financial accounts of the trusts you'll see that in almost all the cases the companies are using Australian re-valuation accounting which is legal under GAAP (Generally Agreed Accounting Principles) in your country to write up the value of the assets annually and put that through operating income and into equity.
STEPHEN LONG: And your worry then is that the payments to the stockholders are being funded essentially by debt and re-valuation not out of income.
JIM CHANOS: Re-valuating and borrowing against that stream. So you need willing lenders, you need a credit environment that looks the other way, or you need a credit environment where the people lending are just lending on reputation and not numbers.
STEPHEN LONG: The man who blew the lid on Enron has other concerns, too. He says the fee structure encourages serial overpaying for assets because Macquarie gets fees based on the size of the assets it spins into its trusts.
He says the Macquarie model relies increasingly on unsustainable self-dealing between Macquarie and its funds.
And then there's the huge levels of debt and leverage.
JIM CHANOS: Capital gains alone in the fiscal year 2007, the year ending March 2007, capital gains alone of Macquarie flipping these types of assets into the trusts and elsewhere accounted for half, roughly half, of the pre-tax income of the bank. And that alone should be enough to call into question the quality of earnings.
STEPHEN LONG: If we came to the end of this extraordinary period we've been in, of cheap credit and escalating asset prices, asset price inflation, where would that lead Macquarie in terms of those capital gains?
JIM CHANOS: Well, I think that they would be greatly diminished or non-existent.
STEPHEN LONG: Although they're perfectly legal and transparent, Jim Chanos says the techniques Macquarie Bank uses have some similarities to those used by Enron.
JIM CHANOS: Let's just say, Stephen, I'm apparently not the first one to make those observations. That's exactly what they appear to be doing.
STEPHEN LONG: Macquarie Bank's boss Allan Moss says short of complete disaster, people will keep driving on toll roads no matter what.
Jim Chanos says that misses the point.
JIM CHANOS: All I would tell your listeners, Stephen, is simply just go in to the trusts, financial statements, and simply extract out the asset re-valuation number which is basically management's guess as to how much, what the asset's worth and just see what the cash flows look like if you take that out.
In many cases the cash flows are diminished or actually go negative. That's the simple litmus test to the Macquarie model.
STEPHEN LONG: Well, Jim Chanos, how concerned should we be that pension funds in Australia are major investors in the Macquarie Bank trusts?
JIM CHANOS: Well, if I was a pensioneer, in your country and my pension fund accounts owned some of these trusts, I would urge the managers to look at the financial accounts closely and not just look at the yield they're getting but look at how that yield is being received.
Is it actually from the economic output of the assets or is it from asset re-valuation which is simply writing up the paper value of the assets and borrowing the money against it.
These pension funds, which are answerable to the pensioneers in your country, if they're comfortable with that, well, great. If I was a pensioneer I wouldn't be.
STEPHEN LONG: Plenty of people disagree. Brian Johnson of JPMorgan is Australia's top rating banking analyst. He says Jim Chanos will join a long line of people who've lost money betting against Macquarie.
BRIAN JOHNSON: A lot of money is being lost basically shorting Macquarie Bank over the years. And while the model is certainly not without risk, the fact is the size of this potential market is absolutely massive.
STEPHEN LONG: So take your pick. Macquarie is either poised to run the world or heading for trouble.
MARK COLVIN: Stephen Long.
We were told Macquarie Bank's Chief Financial Officer, Greg Ward, would respond to Stephen Long's story, but he is yet to call.
Controversy erupts over leaser of U.S. toll roads - Foreign firm part of public-private partnerships funding highway network
Investment analysts in New York and Australia charge that Macquarie, the Australian conglomerate leasing U.S. toll roads, is a "house of cards" that has made billions by spinning off the highway assets into over-valuated investment trusts controlled by the bank.
Macquarie has been an active participant in the "public-private partnerships" sponsored by Mary Peters when she was head of the Federal Highway Administration.
As documented on the FHWA website, Macquarie recently concluded long-term leasing deals on the Chicago Skyway and the Indiana Toll Road.
In both projects, Macquarie has partnered with Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, S.A., the Spanish investment consortium also involved in financing and leasing the Trans-Texas Corridor.
The criticism of Macquarie can be traced to a paper published last year by John L. Goldberg, an honorary associate at the School of Architecture, Design Science, and Planning at the University of Sydney in Australia.
Titled "The Fatal Flaw in the Financing of Private Road Infrastructure in Australia," the paper argued equity investors in Macquarie investment trusts are likely to suffer heavy losses by excessive valuations Macquarie makes of financed toll roads that are packaged together to be sold to pension funds and other institutional investors.
Goldberg also argued that government guarantees on Macquarie projects are often buried in the confidential part of toll road "comprehensive development agreements," such that the public taxpayer liability only comes to light when a toll road project fails.
Jim Chanos, a founding principal in the New York investment firm Kynikos Associates, has been equally critical of Macquarie.
Kynikos, founded in 1985, specializes in short-selling the stock of companies the firm believes are overvalued by the financial markets and likely to fall in price. Chanos distinguished himself as one of the most active critics of Enron prior to the company's fall.
In a May 30 radio interview with Australian talk-show host Mark Colvin, Chanos charged that the "Macquarie model" was seriously flawed.
"The bank scours the world buying assets," Chanos told the radio audience, "buying assets, everything from toll roads to bowling alleys and selling them into separate trusts that the bank controls. This generates triple fees for Macquarie Bank: one for the up-front purchase; a second for selling the assets into the trust; then ongoing management and performance fees from the funds."
Chanos charged that the loser in the scheme was the investor.
"If you look at the financial accounts of the trusts," Chanos explained to the Australian talk show, "you'll see that in almost all the cases the companies are using Australian re-valuation accounting which is legal under [Generally Accepted Accounting Practices] in your country to write up the value of the asset annually and put that through operating income and into equity."
Chanos argued that the practice only works in a financial environment in which cheap credit is readily available and valuations for infrastructure projects are generally rising.
"You need a credit environment that looks the other way, or you need a credit environment where the people lending are just lending on reputation or not numbers," Chanos said.
Eventually, he contended, the self-dealing between Macquarie and the Macquarie-controlled funds into which the infrastructure assets are sold is likely to crash.
"All I would tell your listeners," Chanos said in the radio interview, "is simply just go to the trusts, the financial statements, and simply extract out the asset re-valuation number, which is basically management's guess as to how much, what the asset's worth and just see what the cash flow looks like. In many cases, the cash flows are diminished or actually go negative. That's the simple litmus test to the Macquarie model."
Still, Chanos argued that despite the problem in the underlying cash flows, Macquarie makes hefty profits.
"Capital gains alone in the fiscal year 2007, just for flipping these types of assets into the trusts, accounted for half of the pre-tax income of Macquarie Bank," Chanos asserted.
Macquarie Bank has hit back strongly against both critics.
According to newspaper reports in Australia, Macquarie Bank executive Warwick Smith complained to University of Sidney Vice Chancellor Gavin Brown, demanding that the university dissociate itself from Goldberg over his critical research.
In response, Brown issued a statement clarifying that Goldberg is not an employee of the University of Sydney, though he has been given the title of honorary associate by the Faculty of Architecture. In his statement, Brown claimed Goldberg "speaks as an individual and the university accepts no responsibility for his comments which it does not endorse."
In the subsequent controversy that erupted in Australia, Goldberg was featured as a case study in "Silencing Dissent," a book critical of the administration of Prime Minister John Howard, published in Australia by Clive Hamilton, the executive director of a prominent Australian think-tank, and his co-editor Sarah Maddison.
In the book, Hamilton and Maddison charged that the Howard government used strong-arm tactics to challenge the tax status of non-government organizations and ruin the reputations of academics who were critical of governmental policies, including the sale of highway infrastructure leasing rights to private investment concerns in Australia.
Macquarie used a similar personal attack to discredit Chanos following the interview on Australian radio.
In a May 31 statement posted on the Macquarie website, the investment group charged that Chanos, "a hedge fund short-seller of equities," had an economic self-interest in advancing "incorrect claims" that could cause the stock price of Macquarie to fall.
When contacted for comment, Macquarie's New York representative referred WND to the company's online statement, in which Macquarie asserts that all assets acquired by funds controlled by Macquarie are valued directly from the market and subject to the approval of independent directors of the funds.
The published Macquarie response to Chanos also cited a May 25 Bloomberg report which quoted Chanos as saying Kynikos maintains a short position on Macquarie.
Short-selling is a Wall Street practice in which an investor borrows and sells stock the investor does not own, anticipating the stock will go down in value. The short-seller profits by buying shares at a lower price to replace the shares that originally were borrowed and sold at the higher price.
Short-sellers lose money if the price of the stock increases and the cost to purchase shares to replace those borrowed is greater than the price for which the borrowed shares were sold.
Macquarie Infrastructure Group is a separate subsidiary from Macquarie Bank.
The website of Macquarie Infrastructure Group bills the company as "one of the largest private developers of toll roads in the world."
What do Joseph Farrah, Phyllis Schlafly, and Duncan Hunter all have in common? A concern about the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) and moving toward a North American Union (NAU) and all that comes with it, like the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC). And it’s not just conservatives, but those across the political spectrum...Republicans and Democrats and everyone in between. This past week in Dallas, Farrah, Schlafly, and Hunter all addressed the attendees of the Freedom 21 Conference, the patriot’s answer to the United Nations’ Agenda 21 for global governance. This year’s topic addressed the NAU and TTC.
There’s no better place to discuss the formation of the NAU than Texas. We’re ground zero for the global push for the free flow of people and goods through Mexico via the TTC. The best resource for someone wishing to “connect all the dots,” examine the evidence, and get beyond the accusation of “conspiracy theory” should read Dr. Jerry Corsi’s just released New York Times bestseller, The Late Great USA, The Coming Merger with Mexico and Canada.
Presidential candidate Congressman Duncan Hunter gave a surprisingly substantive speech (not the usual soundbite fluff we get from the top tier), which noted the military threat from China, not just its economic one. He railed against our failed trade agreements and other policies like the Value Added Tax (VAT) and China’s manipulation of currency that have contributed to the dollar’s race to the bottom making way for a North American currency like the Amero to emerge.
Ms. Schlafly’s address connected the dots and named names of how we’ve arrived at this threat to our sovereignty and charged the crowd with how to defeat it! To the naysayers: government documents and Corsi’s book document it, and 13 state legislatures have now passed resolutions against the SPP, NAU, and NAFTA superhighways.
The fact that Corsi’s book has shot to the top with NO publicity in the mainstream media and the fact that World Net Daily didn’t even print enough books in the first printing for it to sell enough copies to become a New York Times bestseller speaks to the grassroots hunger to get this issue front and center before the American people before its too late.
Mr. Farrah shared that this couldn’t have happened without the new media, like World Net Daily. He also noted how members of BOTH parties began a more fervent push to renew the Fairness Doctrine AFTER they suffered a MAJOR grassroots defeat on the immigration bill. It’s certainly no coincidence! They don’t want talk radio to sound the battle cry or to hear from YOU; they simply want to ram their agenda through without accountability and laugh all the way to the bank!
Many of the speakers at the Freedom 21 conference not only educated attendees about the NAU and TTC, they equipped them with the tools they’ll need to keep the grassroots drum beat going to defeat EVERY SINGLE SHRED of NAU initiatives from free trade agreements, eroding private property rights, outsourcing jobs, importing labor, and open borders, to the push to sell off our public infrastructure through privatized toll roads using Public Private Partnerships (PPPs).
Mark my words, using the tools they gave the grassroots, the phones of the elites (not just in government but those who will profit from this scheme) are going to start ringing throwing these guys into abject panic!
There’s no sugar coating it nor denying it; our sovereignty WILL BE erased, incrementally, like the European Union, or through the next national crisis if the people living in the last beacon of freedom, the United States of America, don’t rise up to defeat it!
What started as a fight against toll roads has led to our stumbling across a HUGE can of worms none of us could fathom at the outset. But millions of ordinary Americans are also beginning to connect the dots and the uprising has already begun through the defeat of the immigration bill.
There are many battles yet on the horizon, but suffice it to say…it all leads back to Texas and our gigantic job ahead of us, to defeat the Trans Texas Corridor and stop the free flow of people and goods across our border.
Goldman Sachs Guru Warns of War-Debt Failure - Is America becoming a global credit risk? How to get back on track
Will Moody's downgrade America's debt next? Actually, that's already happening; our credit rating is collapsing with the dollar.
Foreign banks are dumping dollar reserves, while we gorge on , cheap toys and bad pet food. Actually, our biggest "terrorist" threat is internal: Distorted values are downgrading our nation's "creditworthiness." We're like out-of-control kids with stolen credit cards, spending our future with no plans to repay.
Recently Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International), appeared before the U.S. House Budget Committee to "discuss an issue of great economic, financial and national security importance to our country -- the growing dependence of the United States on foreign capital." Currently we import $1 trillion new debt annually, with no repayment plans. That's a historic break from over two centuries of American policy.
Hormats was in Washington with warnings from his brilliant new book, "The Price of Liberty: Paying for America's Wars." He traces the history of American wartime financing from the Revolution through the War of 1812, the Civil War, the two World Wars and the Cold War to the present.
Conclusion: "One central, constant theme emerges: sound national finances have proved to be indispensable to the country's military strength" and long-term national security.
1776 to Iraq, national security demands fiscal responsibility
America's long tradition of war financing began with Alexander Hamilton: "In January 1790, Hamilton, by then the country's Treasury secretary, confronted the American people with a stark fact: the nation had run up a huge debt fighting the Revolutionary War. This debt, he wrote, was the 'price of liberty,' and the new government had to repay it.
The future creditworthiness of the United States, and ultimately the security and ability to finance future wars, would depend on how successfully and faithfully this was done."
Hamilton's principles have kept America's credit strong through every war since the Revolution ... until the Iraq War. Since then, "although U.S. leaders have warned that the war against terrorism could last for decades, the country lacks a multidecade financial strategy to address the challenge."
Iraq tossed the lessons of history out the window. Hormats says that despite the oft-repeated remark that 9/11 "changed everything, in the area of fiscal policy, however, it changed nothing. The country is pursuing a pre-9/11 fiscal policy in a post-9/11 world." That assessment comes from someone who worked inside Washington for over a decade before joining Goldman Sachs in the 1980s.
Unsustainable debt is weakening national security
America's new faith-based guns-and-butter policy is hurting both guns and butter. The war is costing us $12 billion a month. Hormats examined the Congressional Budget Office's projections for domestic costs: "In 2006, spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest on the federal debt amounted to just under 60% of government revenues" and "if they continue on their current path, they will account for two-thirds by 2015."
• Social security from $550 billion to $960 billion
• Medicare from $372 billion to over $900 billion
• Medicaid from $181 billion to $390 billion
Worse yet, these commitments will continue skyrocketing in later decades. The CBO projects the federal debt rising from 40% of GDP to 100% in the next 25 years: "Continuing on this unsustainable path will gradually erode, if not suddenly damage, our economy, our standard of living, and ultimately our national security."
Hormats warns of the risks of this gross departure from Hamilton's principles: "Of late, the precedents and experiences of past generations have been cast aside. The 9/11 attacks were seen by many legislators as a license to spend more money on non-security programs, and Americans have not been called to make sacrifices. Tax cuts and spending increased on politically popular security-irrelevant domestic programs have been enacted as if there were no expensive defense programs to be funded."
Turning point in Iraq, where 'deficits don't matter'
In my opinion, the turning point occurred in late 2002. Remember, the Afghan War was hot. America was in recession and a bear market. The surpluses of the 1990s rapidly disappeared. Corporate scandals were damaging our global standing. Washington was pushing a second round of tax cuts. And the Iraq invasion was imminent.
Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, true to Hamiltonian principles, warned the White House of a coming fiscal crisis. The vice president retorted: "Reagan proved deficits don't matter." (Hormats tells me Reagan never said that.) Soon after, Cheney "fired" O'Neill ... and Hamilton's principles of sound war financing were dead.
Unfortunately, Washington's radical new faith-based financing is sabotaging national security. America's unsustainable deficits are making us extremely vulnerable to terrorists whose goal is to "attack the United States, perhaps with chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons capable of killing enormous numbers of people and seriously disrupting the American economy," targeting a "major port or transportation center."
Hormats says America is now "relying on faith over experience, hoping that sustained growth will erase deficits and that the ballooning costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will be manageable in the coming decades without difficult reforms."
Yet economists now estimate these entitlements can only be "reformed" by either a cut in benefits or an increase in taxes greater that 40%. In short, today's faith-based economics is failing us.
The current Treasury secretary also appears to be supporting this new approach: Henry Paulson, former Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, recently told Fortune that "this is far and away the strongest global economy I've seen in my business lifetime."
Well, that sure sounds to me like yet another rejection of Hamiltonian principles in favor of the new faith-based policy, which assumes that global economies will always be strong and, therefore, foreign capital will indefinitely bankroll America's war machine at a low cost.
The danger is, it also assumes that American taxpayers will be able to indefinitely pay the interest costs of our burgeoning foreign debt ... on top of exploding unfunded domestic entitlements in Social Security and Medicare.
Time to rediscover 'Hamilton's gift' of war financing
Hormats was being much too diplomatic in summing up his warning to the House Budget Committee: "If government debt continues to pile up, deficits rise to stratospheric levels and heavy dependence on foreign capital grows, borrowing the money will be very costly. If America remains on its dangerous financial course Hamilton's gift to the nation -- the blessing of sound financing -- will be squandered."
The truth is, America's leaders have already squandered "Hamilton's gift," and along with it, more than two centuries of experience, replacing it with a new "faith-based" policy: "Deficits don't matter."
No wonder Main Street Americans have a "gut instinct" that we're a disaster waiting to happen. Not only are we "transferring an inordinate burden to future generations," says Hormats, Washington's undisciplined spending and total lack of a financial repayment plan is undercutting our national security and exposing America to the worst-case scenario: Another domestic terrorist attack that would trigger a "massive disruption of our economy" and a meltdown of America's credit rating throughout the world.
The truth is, America desperately needs a new "Hamilton" who understands that in calculating "the price of liberty," not only do deficits matter, Americans must have a plan to repay our debts ... if we want a strong credit rating that insures our national security for future generations.
We warned the Texas Legislature this would happen if they passed that "compromise" bill, SB 792, that Rick Perry rammed through in the last weeks of the 80th session. TxDOT would use these new market-based tolls to rob us blind and them come back for more...without accountability, without representation. Toll taxes, especially market-based tolls, are runaway taxation without representation, and it's the POLITICIANS WHO ALLOWED THIS TO HAPPEN that will pay dearly!
When people can scarcely fill their tank with gas at $3/gallon, it boggles the mind to think there's a stitch of validity to this argument that motorists can and should pay the highest possible tolls. The bond buyers in an investment grade toll viability study for 183A in Austin said toll roads are no longer viable at $3 a gallon for gas. So from whence shall the toll money come? Short of taking food off the table and shoes off our children's feet, there's only so much the family budget can pay toward transportation before other necessities suffer. These are the same politicians who fail to fix runaway annual appraisals that lead to out of control property tax rates that, in turn, have caused every major Texas city to be in the top 10 for foreclosures in the country! Mad yet? Read on and then VOTE THE BUMS OUT!
Jaime Castillo: Toll road proponents: Motorists can — and should — pay more
San Antonio Express-News - 07/22/2007
They say you don't kill the messenger, but can you at least throttle him?
The "him" in this instance is Dye Management Group Inc., which recently completed a draft audit on toll roads for the Texas Transportation Commission.
After taking a look at existing toll rates of 10 to 15 cents a mile in Dallas, Houston and Austin, the firm determined that local toll authorities aren't charging drivers enough.
The logic — a term that should be used loosely — is that motorists can and will pay more, which would bring in more cash for the state's yawning road needs.
"Tolls charged by local authorities are lower than studies indicate that their customers would be willing to pay," the audit reads. "As a result, congestion goals will not be met."
Translation: "If you want to raise funds for other projects, keep jacking up the toll price until drivers cry 'uncle,' and then back it off a penny or two."
As reported by Express-News transportation writer Patrick Driscoll, the audit "mirrors much of what officials have been saying for years."
Hope Andrade, a transportation commission member from San Antonio, told Driscoll:
"It just confirms the emergency situation that we're in. We can no longer support toll rates that are not market value."
If this were part of a political handbook on winning support for toll roads from a skeptical public, charging "market value" — or as much as you can get — on tollways would be relegated to the section titled: "How to lose even more support in 30 seconds or less."
And this isn't the fault of people like Andrade, either. State and federal lawmakers continually saddle transportation officials with a losing poker hand.
In the last 16 years, the state's population — and construction costs — have grown exponentially. Yet, the gas tax — the primary source of highway funding — has been frozen since 1991.
And not only has it remained static in an ever-changing world, state lawmakers can't keep their hands off of it either.
Continuing its long-running budgetary shell game, the Legislature's latest two-year budget will see one-tenth, or $1.6 billion, of the highway fund diverted from building and maintaining roads.
With fiscal constraint apparently off the table, raising the gas tax must be looked at seriously. While difficult with gasoline prices hovering around $3 a gallon, it could be done if the entire state leadership — the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker — supported the change.
That way, lawmakers, who already quietly concede that the gas tax is too low, could stick their necks out and not fear being singled out as the pigeons that supported higher taxes.
The alternative is to unnecessarily gouge those who will use toll roads. If the recommendations by Dye Management Group are the guide, toll riders will soon have the privilege of paying the highest tolls possible and paying the 20-cent-a-gallon gas tax.
A recent trip to the car dealer landed me in a shuttle van with several other car-less souls.
The shuttle van driver, exasperated by a 15-minute wait to go a couple of miles on U.S. 281 North, said to no one in particular:
"This almost makes you want to see toll roads."
To which, a homeowner who lives near the intersection of 281 and Bulverde Road blurted out:
"I don't care what they do as long as they do something soon."
With that kind of captive — and infuriated — audience, state and local transportation officials are banking that they will get their way eventually.
But it still doesn't make it right.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
SUGAR LAND, Texas – Psychologist Anthony Rogers regularly finds himself working in Houston – driving solo and stuck in traffic.
Car-poolers and buses zip by in the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, only furthering his stop-and-go frustration.
"I look over at the HOV lanes and think, 'There's plenty of room over there. I'd be willing to pay to use that lane,' " Mr. Rogers, a San Antonio resident, said as he finished a cup of Starbucks in this booming suburb south of Houston.
He may soon be able to do just that. And by next year, some Dallas drivers will, too.
On Thursday, the Texas Transportation Commission gave a hearty amen to Houston-area transit officials' plan to convert five of their six HOV lanes to tolled lanes.
If the plan is approved – and it could be presented to the commission as soon as next month – solo drivers in Harris County, like Mr. Rogers, will be able to pay for an easier commute.
Dallas catching up
HOV lanes are less common in Dallas than in Houston, where their use has steadily expanded for nearly 20 years. But the Dallas area is catching up fast. New HOV lanes will open on Interstate 30 from the Dallas-Tarrant county line to Loop 12 at 6 a.m. Tuesday. Other HOV lanes are set to open this fall along Central Expressway, and an existing lane on the LBJ Freeway will be extended by September, Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials said.
Plans to make Dallas-area HOV lanes paid lanes are in the works. By next year, HOV lanes along I-30 between Arlington and Dallas will become the region's first such paid lanes, TxDOT spokesman Mark Ball said.
Houston plan praised
But Houston's more sweeping proposal to convert all but one of its lanes to pay-as-you-go won enthusiastic response from the Texas Transportation Commission at its meeting in Sugar Land on Thursday.
"This is very visionary, and I think the rest of the state will be watching," said Commissioner Hope Andrade of San Antonio. Other commissioners had similar reactions.
The commission sets highway policy in Texas and governs the Texas Department of Transportation.
The conversion in Houston could cost $50 million and take a year or more, and officials from METRO, the Harris County counterpart to DART, haven't formally decided to make the switch. But plans to do so are far along.
Carlos Lopez, traffic operations director for TxDOT, told the commissioners Thursday that a formal request could appear on their agenda as early as August.
"It's almost a no-brainer," Mr. Lopez said after the meeting. HOV lanes have extra capacity, he said, so they should be monetized to let solo drivers pay to use them. Drivers in the regular lanes will benefit, he said, because the paying drivers will be gone.
Dallas-area officials haven't indicated what they'll charge drivers on the new HOV lanes along I-30 when they become paid lanes next year. Lone drivers will likely pay twice as much as two-person car-poolers, and vehicles with three or more passengers will be free, DART officials have said in the past.
It won't be cheap
Solo drivers in Houston will pay a steep price to ride on the HOV lanes.
Mr. Lopez said they'll likely pay as much as $4.50 each way during peak hours. During less busy times, it may be as low as $1.25, he said.
Mr. Lopez cautioned, however, that rates will depend on how popular the lanes are with solo drivers. The top rate will have to be high enough, he said, to prevent too many solo drivers from crowding the lanes.
TxDOT officials said peak pricing in Orange County, a suburban area near Los Angeles, runs as high as $9 each way.
The market rules
Commissioner Ned Holmes said Houston's use of so-called "congestion pricing" to regulate traffic is one of the best aspects of the plan. He said the strategy is a way to use market forces to help regulate traffic.
Not everyone is singing hallelujahs over what critics describe as "Lexus Lanes" for the wealthy, however.
The new lanes, often called High Occupancy Toll, or HOT, lanes, are in use or in the works in a handful of other communities across America, including Northern Virginia.
Arlington County, Va.'s, Chris Hamilton said he's not sold on them. HOV lanes there have worked, and he's worried that allowing solo drivers to use them for a fee will ruin them.
"I am not convinced there is excess capacities in the HOV lanes," said Mr. Hamilton, a frequent blogger about commuting who also works for the county encouraging commuters to car-pool and use transit.
"One person's excess capacity is another person's congestion.
"We're concerned that the new lanes will just lead to more congestion for the folks who are already van-pooling and using transit.
"We don't want those people to get mired into heavy traffic once these hot lanes start."
Officials from Harris County and TxDOT said they'll give the HOT lane idea a lot more study before approving it anywhere in Texas.
By MONTY MILLER JR. - Denton Record-Chronicle - Wed., August 1, 2007
DENTON – County Commissioner Cynthia White was fined $600 for missing three deadlines to file required campaign finance documents, after a Denton County resident filed a complaint against her last month.
The Texas Ethics Commission assessed the fine last week.
"I have been very busy the last year and a half," Ms. White said. "I'll try not to let it happen again."
Dianne Edmondson, Denton County Republican Party chairwoman, said elected officials make mistakes like everyone else, but Ms. White should be more careful in the future.
"I think it must happen fairly often, although it shouldn't happen," she said.
Oak Point resident John Rademacher filed a complaint against Ms. White in late May.
Mr. Rademacher could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Ms. White, a Republican who is up for re-election next year, filed the missing documents with the Denton County Elections Administration in late May. The documents covered the period between Jan. 15, 2006, and Jan. 15, 2007, and showed that Ms. White had not accepted any contributions or spent any campaign money during that time.
"I didn't have any activity during that period, but I understand that I should have filed them," she said.
Texas law states that elected officials must file campaign finance reports twice a year, whether they raise money or not.
Ms. White said she paid the fine last week.
Tim Sorrels of the Texas Ethics Commission said he could not comment on the case.
Ms. White, of Aubrey, was first elected to the Commissioners Court in 2000.
She said she is running for re-election in 2008 and is raising funds for the campaign.
Read more in the Dallas Morning News
Texas Department of Transportation lists road and brige projcts, including current tolled projects, by district on their website KEEP TEXAS MOVING. Each TxDOT District has a separate webpage accessible from the TxDOT Keep Texas Moving Page.
A lot of information is available about projects in the district from this page. If you are researching a particular road project, scroll down the right side bar on the DFW Regional Concerned Citizens Page and check SPECIFIC PROJECTS for other links. Frequently we link to presentations at public hearings, engineering specs, drawings, environmental studies and other information there by project.
The Fort Worth TxDOT District includes Erath, Hood, Jack, Johnson, Palo Pinto, Parker, Somervell, Tarrant and Wise counties. The District Homepage provides links to Construction Projects, Contractor Information, Transportation Studies. Citizens can see the etails on the contracts let in two sections on that site:
MONTHLY STATE LET CONSTRUCTION REPORT by month and Letting Schedules for Constuction.
These reports show the contractors and subcontractors for all TxDOT projects in the Fort Worth District, date work began, working days charged, additional days granted, and date completed. There are also links to similar information on maintenance in the District.
Projects under construction and in planning are shown on the TxDOT Keep Texas Moving Fort Worth District page.
Currently they have links to five projects:
Colleyville Boulevard - SH 26
Right-of-Way Acquisition is Underway
TxDOT is well underway in the process of acquiring the right-of-way necessary for the SH 26 widening project. The Department has contacted the affected property owners along the highway corridor for the purpose of: 1) informing them of the State's intent to acquire right-of-way for the project, and 2) educating the property owners about the process that will be followed in acquiring the right-of-way. A team of appraisers has also been at work appraising the affected properties to determine "Fair Market Value".
When Will Construction Begin?
Construction is currently slated to begin in Fall 2009. However, that date could change depending on the amount of time it takes the State to acquire over 200 right-of-way parcels necessary for the project. Once the right-of-way is acquired, utilities, such as water lines, phone lines, and power poles, must be relocated to accommodate the highway widening.
Highway 377 Reconstruction
TxDOT’s Fort Worth District is currently planning improvements for the widening of U.S. 377 from FM 51 to FM 167 South from four lanes to a six-lane divided highway. It will include interchanges at SH 144 and Business 377, as well as the widening of the Lake Granbury Bridge. In addition to the highway widening, the project will include drainage structures, traffic signals, bridge widening, pavement markings and signage.
The U.S. 377 reconstruction project is not funded at this time. It is still in environmental review and preliminary design. After the environmental document and geometric schematic are further refined, they will be reviewed by TxDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Once approval for further processing is received from the FHWA, a public hearing will be scheduled.
The DFW Connector is a TxDOT project dedicated to improving mobility along SH 114 and SH 121 in a safe, efficient, reliable and environmentally sensitive manner.
The DFW Connector is committed to working in partnership with corridor communities, roadway users and other interested parties to accelerate construction on this corridor.
North Tarrant Express
There are Project Studies for 6 segments on the website. The North Tarrant Express is dedicated to improving mobility along North Interstate 35W, Northeast Interstate 820 and SH 121/183 Airport Freeway through a regionally supported managed lane system. This corridor is important to the future of North Tarrant County – the fastest growing area in North Texas.
North Tarrant Express is committed to working in partnership with corridor communities, roadway users and other interested parties to accelerate construction on this corridor.
The SH 121/Southwest Parkway project will be a new four- to six-lane divided toll road which will extend about 15 miles from Interstate 30 to Farm to Market Road 1187. The goal of this project is to improve mobility and air quality in southwest Tarrant County.This project has been in the planning stages since the 1960ies. It was funded as a non-tolled boulevard in the 1980s and identified as a project which was a good candidate for tolling in the 1990ies. It has evolved into a tolled freeway. Environmental documents and the Environmental Assessment are on line. There are also links to NTTA and NCTCOG.
SH 121/Southwest Parkway will continue with a 14-mile toll project on a new location in Johnson County from FM 1187 to US 67 in Cleburne, also known as Chisholm Trail.
Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin on both projects in 2008/2009 and end in 2011.
The MPO or Municipal Planning Organization for this region is the NCTCOG.
State Infrastructure Bank Loans for transportation projects in the Fort Worth District are listed on the Fort Worth Keep Texas Moving page.
The goal of the SIB program is to provide innovative financing methods that add to the list of options available to communities to assist them in meeting their infrastructure needs. The SIB program allows borrowers to access capital funds at, or lower than, market interest rates.
Four Projects are listed in the Fort Worth District at this time, three in Parker County and one in Wise County. Of special interest is the "Improvements along I-20 - New Frontage roads - SH 171 & FM 51 which is to utilize pass-through toll financing to help acelerate project delivery by up to 10 years." The project is described as "Contstruction of SH 171 & FM 51 New Frontage roads south along I-20 to provide rural access to surburban areas and to reduce congestion and delays and improve air quality by allowing traffic to move more efficiently. It is listed as "Improvements to I-20.
Loan estimate: $52.4 Million.
Start date: 10/01/1007
Borrower: Wise County, TX.
The two other projects in Parker County are in the City of Weatherford. The US 180 Improvement project loan for $240 thousand was approved in August 2003 on an estimated $2.1 million dollar project. This poject is for widening one mile of FM 2552to 4 lanes with a turn land and relocation of utilities. The City of Weatherford borrowed $193.52 thousand for eleven years at 4.2% interest.
The City of Weatherford also borrowed $240 thousand for ten years at 3.8% to improve US 180, relocate utilities due to bridge and approaches replacement of US 180 overpass. This est. 7.3 million project is in planning.
In Wise County a loan was approved in March 2004 for US 380 Expansion. Work is underway for utility relocation on US 380. The project is estimated to cost $34.6 million and Wise county borrowed $4.1 million from the State Infrastructure Bank at 4% interest for 20 years on this project.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
The segment is located from just east of Business 121 to the west side of FM 2281, a distance of 7.39 miles, in Dallas and Denton counties. The non-tolled area is just south of the existing SH 121 Tollway currently being run by TxDOT since its opening last year.
TxDOT‚s meetings will be on Tuesday, August 7, 2007 at 6:00 p.m., at Coppell Middle School - North, 120 Neches Trace, Coppell, Texas 75019 and Thursday August 9, 2007, at 6:00 p.m., at City of Lewisville, City Hall Council Chamber, 151 West Church Street, Lewisville, Texas 75057,
State law authorizes TxDOT to lease, sell, or transfer a toll project or system that is part of the state highway system, including a nontolled state highway or a segment of a nontolled state highway converted to a toll project, to a governmental entity that has the authority to operate a tolled highway. In North Texas that agency is the NTTA.
Descriptions, maps and drawings showing the proposed portion of State Highway 121 to be transferred and other information concerning the proposed transfer are on file and available for public inspection and copying by contacting Bill Compton, P.E., Texas Department of Transportation, 4777 E. US Hwy 80, Mesquite, TX 75150-6643, telephone 214-319-4489.
The House on Tuesday approved a bill to make sweeping changes to the way lawmakers deal with lobbyists. The vote was 411-8.
The bill aims to bring more transparency to so-called "earmarks," or special-interest spending in particular lawmakers' districts. It also would increase disclosure requirements for lobbyists who "bundle" campaign contributions for federal office seekers and slow the revolving door of senators who leave office to lobby their former colleagues.
The Senate plans to vote on the bill later this week.
Read more & Listen
Monday, July 30, 2007
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
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
Sunday, July 29, 2007
It was Dec. 16, 2004, and Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, was sitting pretty. He was virtually a guest of honor at a meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission, across the street from his Capitol office. A little more than a year before, as chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Krusee had successfully carried the behemoth House Bill 3588. Among its many and complex provisions, the bill helped smooth the way for Gov. Rick Perry to get the Texas Transportation Commission to approve early plans for the Trans-Texas Corridor. Stretching from Mexico to Oklahoma, the corridor would be a mammoth transportation project running parallel to I-35. As conceived, it would include free and tolled highway lanes, as well as rail and utility lines, and would be built and maintained by the privately held Spanish company Cintra (an international operator of toll roads and car parks) and the San Antonio-based Zachry Construction Corp.
At the Texas Transportation Commission meeting, attended by the governor himself, Krusee didn't say much. Actions spoke louder than words -- and on this day, the commission was acting on a project he had fought long and hard to convince legislators to support. By way of acknowledgment, commission Chairman Ric Williamson duly praised Krusee for his work at the Capitol. Krusee had a flight to catch, but first he took the floor for a brief stroll down memory lane.
"I started thinking about the first time that I met Ric Williamson," Krusee recalled, according to a meeting transcript. It was 1992, and Krusee had just been elected to the House; then-Rep. Williamson invited the 32-year-old Krusee to his apartment. "So I went over there, and Ric had one of his good friends over there, and that was the night I met Rick Perry, who was the ag commissioner, and we talked long into the night about accomplishing great things for Texas, about how to be a great leader for Texas. And we weren't thinking about how to be on Texas Monthly's 10 best [list] -- but you know, Ric, I think we were talking about days like this.
"And you know, governor," Krusee continued, "A little over two years ago when you made that presentation [about the Trans-Texas Corridor] in the auditorium at the Capitol, and I was in the audience, and like everybody else out there, I didn't really fully grasp what the hell you were talking about." The audience laughed.
"You do now, don't you?" asked Perry.
"I do now," Krusee replied. "And I want to congratulate you on your vision and your leadership, and the commission and your staff on your hard work, because you have made this, I think sincerely, the most historic day in transportation, not just for Texas, but for the United States since Eisenhower." With that, Krusee left the meeting.
Flash forward nearly 21/2 years -- to May 2, 2007. Chairman Krusee stood on the House floor, without a single transportation ally. Every House member present, except Krusee alone, voted in favor of HB 1892, which included a two-year moratorium on many of the public-private partnerships such as the one the Texas Department of Transportation had developed with Cintra-Zachry to build the Trans-Texas Corridor. "Who knew that trying to reduce congestion could be such a lonely fight?" wondered Coby Chase, who monitors the Legislature for TxDOT.
Perry eventually vetoed HB 1892, but a nearly identical Senate substitute, Senate Bill 792, later handily passed both the House and Senate, and Perry signed it into law. The massive bill forbids TxDOT from negotiating a tolling agreement with a private company until Sept. 1, 2009, exempting some projects already under way. Even among those exempted projects, some got swept up in the post-session, anti-privatization maelstrom. For instance, at its June meeting, the Texas Transportation Commission awarded a contract for the State Highway 121 project (in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex) to the North Texas Tollway Authority -- after initially awarding the contract to Cintra.
SB 792 also states that if a company paid TxDOT money up front for the rights to build a toll road in a particular region, TxDOT must use that money on other projects in that region. It requires TxDOT to give local tolling agencies preferential treatment over private companies by giving them free right-of-way and the right of first refusal on building toll roads. In essence, the Legislature left private companies interested in transportation on the bench for the next two years.
Politics or Policy?
So what happened? How could Rep. Krusee, four years earlier, convince all but three members of the House to approve legislation that enabled private companies to build highways, only to find that entire concept rejected out of hand this year? Not surprisingly, it depends on whom you ask.
"What happened was," Krusee said after the session, "TxDOT was going not just against the traditional rural opposition to road building but against Dallas and Houston in a turf battle over who would build the roads." In Dallas, Houston, Austin, and elsewhere, public toll-road authorities were getting outgunned by private companies like Cintra, and they weren't happy, Krusee says, so they asked their legislators to give tolling authorities right of first refusal. Krusee didn't take it personally that he seemed to be the only member of the House who wanted private companies to continue building roads. "I think it was a political vote," he said. "Members thought it was necessary to vote that way to get votes back home; they felt like they'd be criticized for voting against it."
Chase agrees with Krusee and points to the larger political context. "During this last election cycle, we had a candidate for governor; she liked to campaign against foreigners and against toll roads," Chase explained, in reference to gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who ran against Perry as an independent. "And then we had the [federal] Dubai Ports issue, and this was such a misleading discussion in the public. ... This Dubai company wouldn't own any port; they were just going to run them, and the government would lease it to them. Then Cintra becomes the successful proposer on the corridor and ... it kind of kick-started the 'no foreigners doing business in Texas' discussion."
But David Stall, of the anti-Trans-Texas Corridor group CorridorWatch, has a less benign explanation. Stall says legislators belatedly did their homework on public-private partnerships. "The Legislature did not recognize the shift in transportation policy that they were creating" in 2003, Stall said. "We started to see some handwriting on the wall in 2005, with some moratorium bills that didn't go anywhere. The reason they didn't go anywhere was we were still educating people. I think if legislators were educated in 2003 on what the corridor was, if they had understood it, they would not have voted to authorize its creation."
Looking for Consensus
Enter former Austin mayor and freshman Sen. Kirk Watson. Watson wasn't around in 2003 for the original vote on the corridor and agreements with private companies to build toll roads. But he came to the Lege with voices ringing loudly in his ear -- those of his new constituents. "Part of the reason there is this vitriolic, partisan [no-toll or toll] debate is that we haven't had a thoughtful, systematic, transparent means of analyzing what we want to do," he says. "There are clearly two agreements in this community -- one, we are too badly congested, and two, we want it fixed. When we get to three -- how to do it -- now it's not as unanimous."
Watson is unconvinced that letting a private company pay for, build, and make a profit on a new road is the best way to go. "I was skeptical of these comprehensive development agreements -- how long they were, their noncompete clauses. ... I happen to be a believer that if you're going to privatize, it should be for the stuff the public can't get done. I wasn't convinced -- at beginning or end of session -- that we weren't going to just have privatization on stuff that we couldn't get done in the public sector."
In other words, Watson didn't want profit-minded private companies building roads that could be built by government -- especially if, under noncompete clauses, the state has to pay the companies back for highways that take traffic (and potential income) away from the private toll roads. "I wanted to allow local communities to have more say," Watson explained. "It struck me that one of the things that was missing in the process was we needed more accountability in the system, and that probably meant elected officials having a role." That potentially means fewer deals with private companies and more for state tolling authorities or transportation commissions.
Watson had more than just his own rookie legislative voice to add to the discussion -- in January, he became chairman of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (the group in charge of the region's transportation projects) and vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. At his suggestion, CAMPO indefinitely postponed any talk of a second phase of toll roads until it can take more time to sort out how best to finance transportation projects.
But the Legislature's decision to halt most road-building agreements with private companies leaves Central Texas in a bind, as Krusee sees it, when it comes to decongesting traffic. "To my mind, the bad thing about what the Legislature did this session was it took that option away" -- the option to have a private company get started now on building a given road. The Legislature's action doesn't mean that Austin or the surrounding jurisdictions can't build any more toll roads, but it means they can't call on a private company to do so. So as Krusee sees it, we're back at ground zero: Lacking sufficient up-front public funding, the state, via TxDOT, had been looking toward private companies as ideally positioned to help build roads quickly and efficiently, based on the promise of future toll revenue. Now that option is off the table, at least temporarily.
With toll roads built by private companies, says TxDOT's Chase, "You [the state] give up some future revenue to get a project now. You get a guaranteed price on the project, you are guaranteed the project will be returned to you in a certain condition, and the price you pay is you say the company can realize a profit on this over a certain amount of time. Some people had concerns of unlimited company profits without ever reading what the contracts were -- the companies can't raise tolls any time they want. If the profits get to a certain point, it goes back to the region to build more roads."
Often, as was the case with Cintra and the Trans-Texas Corridor, the company pays a large sum -- generally billions of dollars -- to buy the rights to build a road, which could mean the state could get other projects started more quickly using those advance funds.
Even Watson, skeptical as he is that a private company can handle transportation any better than the state, admits that a moratorium on deals with private companies could make it harder to do anything significant about area congestion for the next couple of years. "We're going to need to be honest about limitations of financing tools," he says. "In the state appropriations bill, there was an effective decrease in transportation money, when you consider inflation. There has been more moving of funds from transportation. Many people say they want an increase in gas tax; the House approved a gas tax holiday that would have taken away gas tax money for three months out of the year [that measure died in the Senate]. The money offered to states from federal government is being decreased; we just got notice that federal money rescinded $72 million more. We're going to have to start being honest about the limitations we have on being able to meet the need to fix the problem."
Stranded on the Highway
To that end, Watson has been meeting every two weeks with a CAMPO's Mobility Finance Task Force, which includes elected officials, outside transportation experts, even the executive director of the Community Partnership for the Homeless. Meanwhile, TxDOT has given preliminary approval to a set of toll projects in the Austin area, including some "managed lanes" (for use, say, by carpoolers or during rush hour) as well as the second phase of toll roads Watson doesn't want to talk about for now. TxDOT is also holding a series of public meetings later this year to explain the ramifications of what the Legislature did in suspending many of the proposed deals with private companies.
"We're doing things that no other department of transportation is doing," says Chase. "We're learning it as we go, and we have never ever had to engage the public on this large a scale in our 90-plus years of existence. And in many cases, we underestimated that challenge."
That last sentiment could also apply to those who want to do something about Austin's traffic congestion. If the Lege managed to placate the anti-toll crowd, at least for the time being, it didn't do much to make it any easier to travel on Central Texas highways, nor to address long-term projections that show regional traffic only getting worse. More broadly, the moratorium doesn't begin to address larger questions raised by traditional highway approaches to transportation: land use, mass transit options, pollution and global warming issues, or even integrated urban planning that might make transportation issues less intractable and expensive.
Those are the kind of issues that Sally Campbell hoped the Legislature would consider. Campbell is the executive director of Envision Central Texas, a 6-year-old nonprofit coalition aimed at addressing regional growth. Campbell wanted to hear more discussion and action on giving counties more control over land uses around future highways and relocating Union Pacific away from rail lines that commuters could use. "When we truly want to see this multimodal transportation system develop, the next step is to look at the transit options. And right now, we're trying to figure out what will work and what's the logical system. If you can think about commuter rail from San Antonio to Georgetown by relocating Union Pacific, that makes a whole other mode within the realm of possibility."
But rail relocation, and most other proposals for broadening the state's transportation options, remained stuck at the station during the 80th Legislature. What most legislators wanted to discuss was how to pay for new roads and where to put them. Whether Krusee's interest in more privatization or Watson's desire for greater accountability in transportation policy ultimately win the day in the current discussions, it could be two years -- or more -- before getting around seems much easier, even though commuter rail could start running through the region by the end of 2008.
That will be just in time for the 81st Legislature -- and a whole new set of political detours during the next round of transportation debates.
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