Saturday, October 20, 2007

When NO means YES and YES means NO - Dallas Votes Nov. 6th on whether they want a toll road in Trinity Park

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - Oct. 21, 2007
Photos used by permission of Tom Blackwell
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Flags mark the route of the proposed toll road in Trinity Park, Dallas. Voters will decide whether they want the toll road through the park.

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Below is a picture of the park where the proposed Trinity Toll Road is planned. Opponents (urging voters to vote YES) say too much land will be taken out of the park. The Toll Road will be high speed, without access to the park.
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How Represenatives from NCTCOG Region rank on the Environment - 2007 Texas Legislature

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - Oct. 20, 2007
Snapshot from Texas League of Conservation Voters Scorecard for 2007 Texas Legislature

A look at the scores Average House score: 56%
Avg. Republican score: 32% F
Avg. Democratic score: 84% A
Perfect 100s: 11
Overachievers (A+): 36
Failures (F): 56
House Republicans over 50%: 2
House Democrats below 50%: 3
Highest Republican score: Kirk England (69%)
Lowest Democratic score: Joe Pickett (37%)
Now that Kirk England has switched parties, that means the highest scoring Republican got less than 69%.

At the top:
Burnam, Lon (D) 100% A+
Coleman, Garnet F. (D) 100% A+
Dunnam, Jim (D) 100% A+
Gallego, Pete (D) 100% A+
Howard, Donna (D) 100% A+
Miles, Borris (D) 100% A+
Naishtat, Elliott (D) 100% A+
Oliveira, Rene O. (D) 100% A+
Rodriguez, Eddie (D) 100% A+
Thompson, Senfronia (D) 100% A+
Bolton, Valinda (D) 96% A+
Davis, Yvonne (D) 96%
Escobar, Juan Manuel (D) 96% A+
Farias, Joe (D) 96% A+
Escobar, Juan Manuel (D) 96% A+
Herrero, Abel (D) 96% A+
Hochberg, Scott (D) 96% A+
Hodge, Terri (D) 96% A+
Leibowitz, David McQuade (D) 96% A+
Martinez, Armando (D) 96% A+
Noriega, Richard "Rick" (D) 96% A+
Olivo, Dora (D) 96% A+
Vaught, Allen (D) 96% A+
Veasey, Marc (D) 96% A+
Vo, Hubert (D) 96% A+
Pierson, Paula (D) 95% A+
Allen, Alma (D) 93% A+
Anchia, Rafael (D) 93%
Ortiz Jr., Solomon (D) 93% A+
Strama, Mark (D) 93% A+
Castro, Joaquin (D) 92% A+
Hernandez, Ana (D) 92% A+
Lucio III, Eddie (D) 92% A+
Martinez Fischer, Trey (D) 92% A+
Raymond, Richard (D) 92% A+
Chavez, Norma (D) 91% A+
Gonzalez Toureilles, Yvonne (D) 89% A
Alonzo, Roberto (D) 88% A
Garcia III, Juan (D) 88% A
Mallory Caraway, Barbara (D) 88% A
Moreno, Paul (D) 88% A
Cohen, Ellen (D) 88% A
Farrar, Jessica (D) 87% A
Villarreal, Michael (D) 86% A
Dukes, Dawnna (D) 85% A
Flores, Ismael "Kino" (D) 82% A
McClendon, Ruth (D) 80% A
Quintanilla, Chente (D) 80% A
Giddings, Helen (D) 79% B
Eiland, Craig (D) 78% B
Dutton Jr., Harold V. (D) 77% B
Menendez, Jose (D) 77% B
Frost, Stephen (D) 72% B
England, Kirk (R -switched to D) 69% B
McReynolds, Jim (D) 69% B
Puente, Robert (D) 68% B

Here are NCTCOG (DFW REGIONAL) Incumbents scores which are lower than B:

Hill, Fred (R) 44% D
Mowery, Anna (R) 37% D
Keffer, Jim (R) 35% D
Laubenberg, Jodie Anne (R) 35% D
King, Phil (R) 32% F
Geren, Charlie (R) 31% F
McCall, Brian (R) 31% F
Miller, Sid (R) 31% F
Paxton, Ken (R) 31% F
Patrick, Diane (R) 30% F
Goolsby, Tony (R) 30% F
Harper-Brown, Linda (R) 30% F
Jackson, Jim (R) 30% F
Solomons, Burt R. (R) 29% F
Hancock, Kelly G. 28% F
Zedler, Bill (R) 27% F
Orr, Rob (R) 26% F
Madden, Jerry (R) 27% F
Brown, Fred (R) 26% F
Smith, Todd (R) 26% F
Truitt, Vicki (R) 23% F
Crownover, Myra (R) 23% F
Branch, Dan (R) 22% F
Pitts, Jim (R) 22% F
Hartnett, Will (R) 21% F

See the Scorecard and examine the votes by issues ranked to determine the scores.
Look at previous session's scores.

When examining votes on toll road, there was less difference by party than was reflected by donors. The votes on the environment do reflect distinct party differences. This is sad. Republican voters also need clean air. Republican voters also have to breathe dirty air and children of Republican voters suffer from asthma and allergies at the same rate as children of Democratic voters. We do not know how distinct a difference will be shown when campaign donor bases are examined on a per vote basis by Legislator.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Transportation authority agrees to take bids from drilling firms

By GORDON DICKSON - Star-Telegram staff writer - Fri., Oct. 19, 2007
FORT WORTH -- The Fort Worth Transportation Authority agreed Thursday to seek bids from companies that want to drill for natural gas on or near T property, including bus and rail parking lots, the East Fort Worth transfer center and the T headquarters on East Lancaster Avenue.

Trinity Railway Express drilling rights were leased in 2006. Several companies have since approached the T about permission to drill nearby.In other action, the T board:

Agreed to a new contract with Yellow Checker Shuttle to run the Airporter bus service from downtown Fort Worth to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport for up to five more years. The company has operated the service since 2002.

Yellow Checker will operate under a one-year contract, with four one-year renewal options. The company will pay the T $1,200 a year for use of the Airporter Park & Ride lot at 1000 Weatherford St.

Also, Super Shuttle will continue to run the Route 30 circulator bus service from the Trinity Railway Express' Centreport/DFW Airport Station to area employers.

That agreement also is a one-year contract with four one-year options. Super Shuttle has performed that service since '02.

Welcomed two new board members: Gary Cumbie, special assistant to the Tarrant County College chancellor, was appointed to the T board by Fort Worth Councilman Danny Scarth and replaces Paul Geisel; Rosa Navejar, president of the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, was appointed by Fort Worth Councilman Sal Espino and replaces Ed Canas.

Agreed to help Burleson, Cleburne, Crowley and Joshua conduct a rail study.
Read more

Ken Allard: Give TxDOT red light before it goes too far

By Ken Allard - San Antonio Express-News - 10/17/2007

Forgive me, fellow Texans, but I'm just a newcomer who looks ridiculous in a cowboy hat and doesn't even own an SUV. Quickly recognizing Eastern transplants, tourist shops try to sell me bumper stickers: "Wasn't born in Texas, but I got here just as soon as I could."So can you help me connect these dots while we wait for the daily Boerne-Loop 410-airport-Seguin-San Marcos traffic jam to clear up?

News item No. 1: Pleading a funding shortage, the Texas Department of Transportation announced it will cut $1.8 billion in road construction, including at least $57 million (apparently earmarked in a weak moment) to widen clogged San Antonio highways.

News item No. 2: Today, Travis County District Judge Orlinda Naranjo will decide if TxDOT officials acted illegally in spending taxpayer funds to drum up political support for toll roads (TxDOT's preferred solution to the state's transportation crisis).

News item No. 3: A private contractor received more than $750,000 from TxDOT to send road condition surveys to 150,000 presumably startled motorists whose license plates were "randomly recorded" by TxDOT surveillance cameras hidden in orange barrels on Interstate 35 from Laredo to Dallas.

As a one-time regular on his MSNBC simulcast, I would often hear radio shock jock Don Imus exclaim, "You just can't make this stuff up!" Indeed you can't when it comes to TxDOT, which gives an entirely new meaning to the phrase "out of control."

Has no one in the Lone Star State ever heard of "checks and balances"? (Hint to local high schoolers about to endure new rounds of standardized testing: This term does not refer to financial matters!)

Had TxDOT somehow been cast as a character on "The Sopranos," the only question would be: How long before Paulie Walnuts takes 'em out to get whacked?

While the arrogance of government agencies and personalities is the hardiest of all perennials, there is always the inevitable downside.

A powerful congressman such as Wilbur Mills winds up cavorting with stripper Fanne Fox in the Tidal Basin. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover is eventually revealed to have had a fondness for basic black, apparently accessorized with really nice pumps and pearls.

So just how far can TxDOT push its luck before somebody wakes up and gives the agency its long overdue comeuppance?

Had anything like the trifecta of excesses outlined above occurred in Washington rather than Austin, the offending agency director would have been instantly summoned to appear before investigating committees, with the usual tiers of media mavens and photographers-in-waiting. With cameras scrutinizing every flinch, the tough questions for the TxDOT director would begin.

Who decides which road improvements are funded by your agency — and with whose concurrence? What public input is solicited, and why should the public believe TxDOT when you say you're running out of money?

What gives you the idea that a taxpayer-funded public agency has any business using those tax dollars to lobby for its own interests? And why waste almost a million dollars on a "Big Brother" survey about road conditions that your department should have understood to begin with?

Until such questions are asked and answered, simply think of TxDOT as a state agency being gradually auctioned off to a hot-bidding coalition of builders, developers, heavy equipment contractors and construction magnates.

One thing is certain: We are quickly losing much of San Antonio's special character to chaos — unbridled expansion, high-density housing and utterly unplanned growth. Despite growing questions about its transparency and competence, TxDOT acts as an obliging accomplice while fields, forests and the last remnants of an irreplaceable frontier culture are bulldozed into 24 lanes of privatized, toll-bearing concrete, complete with access roads.

Know what San Antonio will look like if these guys win? Houston!

Know what we are if we let that happen? Stupid!

Reasons enough to demand that our political leaders bring TxDOT's antics to a screeching halt before it starts putting up toll booths at the end of your driveway.

(Got here just as soon as I could to warn you.)

Highway 121 project receives federal environmental clearance

By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER - The Dallas Morning News - Thursday, October 18, 2007
The federal government issued an environmental clearance Wednesday for the controversial -- and much delayed -- State Highway 121 toll road project. That clearance was required before the Texas Department of Transportation could sign the project agreement already negotiated and agreed to by the North Texas Tollway Authority.

Mark Ball, a spokesman for TxDOT's Dallas district, said it was not immediately clear how soon the department's executive director would sign the project agreement.

NTTA, which has promised to pay $3.3 billion for the road contract, has already signed the agreement and has been waiting for weeks for TxDOT's signature. The latter was delayed, however, until final federal environmental clearance was achieved.

Faced with the delay by the Federal Highway Administration, the Texas Transportation Commission voted Aug. 23 to cancel a deadline that had initially stipulated that if NTTA could not sign an agreement by Aug. 29, the deal would revert to Spanish builder Cintra.

Now that the federal clearance has been issued, TxDOT is expected to sign the agreement. Once it does, NTTA will have 45 days to close its financing and make the upfront payments. The payments are in return for the right to build the 26-mile toll road in Collin and Denton counties and collect tolls for the next 50 years.

Already, local governments in North Texas have proposed hundreds of transportation projects that would be paid for by the money NTTA has promised to pay.

The initial $3.3 billion figure may be adjusted somewhat, thanks to the variations in the bond market that have taken place because of the mortgage market crisis, regional transportation and NTTA officials have said.

Read more in the Dallas Morning News

Highway 121 money split - Denton, Collin get most of $3 billion; some in Collin upset

By THEODORE KIM - The Dallas Morning News - Friday, October 12, 2007

ARLINGTON – After years of arm-twisting over the sale of the State Highway 121 toll road, the payoff is finally here.

And while nobody got exactly what they wanted, forgive Denton County for smiling a little more than its neighbor to the east.

On Thursday, the Regional Transportation Council approved the division of the roughly $3 billion payout from the sale of the toll road to surrounding counties.

The decision came despite the grumbling of leaders in Collin County, who said the divisions will shortchange their county out of millions.

At stake is billions of dollars that will be generated almost immediately under the state's deal to sell tolling rights on Highway 121.

Earlier this year, the North Texas Tollway Authority agreed to pay the state $2.5 billion up front and $833 million in additional revenue for the right to collect tolls on the road for the next 50 years.

The council, a 40-member panel of local officials that sets transportation policy, was tasked with dividing that payout among area counties.

Under the plan, the majority of the money was set aside for Denton County, which will receive $1.56 billion, and Collin County, which will get $1.18 billion. The proposal was based in large part on estimates of how many vehicles will use the highway in each county in the future.

Those amounts fall far short of the roughly $9 billion in total requests the counties had initially made to the council for road projects.

Moreover, the counties will actually receive somewhat less because, in part, the earmarks include the cost of finishing Highway 121, slated for completion by decade's end.

Because of that, some officials said they felt the agreement unfairly penalizes Collin County. Denton's segment of the road, funded largely by gasoline-tax revenue, is mostly complete. Collin's half is being built now and will be funded by its portion of the toll-road deal.

Of Collin's payout, about half – $600 million – will help the NTTA finish the project. By comparison, Denton will contribute about $41 million to the project from its payout.

"Why are the construction costs of [Highway] 121 being added to the county's share?" asked Plano City Council member Loretta Ellerbe, the only transportation council member who voted against the plan. "It makes no sense."Thursday's action is the latest development in the closely watched sale of Highway 121, which runs about 30 miles between Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and U.S. Highway 75 near McKinney.

The project has come to symbolize the new and controversial way that communities nationwide are paying for roads and highways.

With gasoline-tax revenue unable to cover growing transportation needs, political leaders here and elsewhere have pioneered the practice of selling long-term tolling rights on roads in exchange for large upfront cash payments.

While others echoed Ms. Ellerbe's dissent, the transportation council said they generally supported the plan.

Member Cynthia White, a Denton County commissioner, encouraged her colleagues to set aside regional biases in favor of curtailing growing traffic across the area.

"All these [road] projects are interdependent," she said.

Another member, Collin County Commissioner Joe Jaynes, said he voted for the plan because in the end it will mean hundreds of millions for new roads.

"Nobody was completely satisfied," Mr. Jaynes said. "I think that's a sign of a good compromise."
Read more in the Dallas Morning News

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Turf prevails as Judge grants continuance, allows discovery - TURF attorneys may depose top TxDOT officials

By TERRI HALL - Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom (TURF)- Oct. 18, 2007

Austin, TX – Thursday, October 18, 2007 - In Travis County District Court today, Judge Orlinda Naranjo granted Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) a continuance allowing TURF to force the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to move to the discovery phase and depose top TxDOT officials, including Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson himself. Allowing discovery is vital for TURF to force TxDOT to hand over key documents that they’ve been withholding via Open Records requests. TURF is seeking to immediately halt the illegal advertising campaign and lobbying by TxDOT. LINK.

The State was attempting to throw us out of court with their favorite “get out of jail free” card (called the plea to the jurisdiction), but TURF’s attorneys, Charlie Riley, David Van Os, and Andrew Hawkins outmaneuvered Attorney General counsel Kristina Silcocks to file a motion for a continuance to allow TURF to move to the discovery phase to gather evidence to show TxDOT’s top brass broke the law with the Keep Texas Moving (KTM) ad campaign and lobbying Congress to buyback interstates.

“This is a great victory for Texas taxpayers!” an elated Terri Hall, TURF’s Founder and Executive Director proclaimed. “This egregious misuse of $9 million of taxpayer money by a rogue government agency is one MAJOR step closer to being stopped.”

The tide seemed to turn when Riley showed the affidavit by TxDOT’s Helen Havelka was false. TURF uncovered this August 13, 2007 memo by Coby Chase through an Open Records request showing the Keep Texas Moving campaign was not over and in fact it has multiple phases planned with the next one fashioned to influence the upcoming Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) hearings planned for early 2008.

With a clear attempt to mislead the court by causing Judge Naranjo and the public to believe the KTM Campaign was over when in fact it isn’t, the State’s credibility and case went downhill from there.

“I wonder what TxDOT’s top brass is saying tonight as they’re being informed they’ve now been added as defendants and may be deposed under oath about their lobbying and ad campaign activities,” pondered Hall. “My guess is the phones are ringing and the paper shredders may just get fired-up.

This lawsuit is brought pursuant to § 37, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. TxDOT’s expenditure of public funds for the Keep Texas Moving campaign is illegal, and an injunction prohibiting any further illegal expenditures in this regard.

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

On Monday, September 24, Judge Orlinda Naranjo did not initially grant a temporary restraining order (TRO). TxDOT unearthed a law that says they can advertise toll roads (Sec 228.004 of Transportation Code) and the citizens invoked another that says they can’t (Chapter 556, Texas Government Code). The burden to obtain a TRO is higher than for an injunction.

“TxDOT is waging a one-sided political ad campaign designed to sway public opinion in favor of the policy that puts money in TxDOT’s own coffers. School Boards cannot lobby in favor of their own bond elections, and yet TxDOT cites its own special law to line their own pockets at taxpayers’ expense,” says an incredulous Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.

Hall also notes that TxDOT’s campaign goes beyond mere advertising, “It’s propaganda and in some cases, the ads blatantly lie to the public! In one radio ad it claims it’s not signing contracts with non-compete agreements in them, and yet last March TxDOT inked a deal with Cintra-Zachry for SH 130 that had a non-compete clause (which either prohibits or financially punishes the State for building competing infrastructure with a toll road). Read about it here.”On this link scroll down to radio ad “continuing maintenance”).

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

Updates to TURF’s petition and supplemental affidavits will be posted soon.

Senate Committee on Transportation & Homeland Security Meeting Schedule Nov. 07-Nov. 08

Thursday, November 8, 2007 10:00 AM
Senate Committee on Transportation & Homeland Security
Location: Museum of Art, 1 Arts Festival Plaza,
El Paso, Texas

Tuesday, February 8, 2008 8:00 AM
Senate Committee on Transportation & Homeland Security
Location: Capitol Extension, Room E1.016

Tuesday, May 20, 2008 8:00 AM
Senate Committee on Transportation & Homeland Security
Location: Capitol Extension, Room E1.016

Tuesday, August 5, 2008 8:00 AM
Senate Committee on Transportation & Homeland Security
Location: Westin Hotel, DFW Airport, 4545 W. John Carpenter Fwy. Irving, Texas

Tuesday, November 18, 2008 8:00 AM
Senate Committee on Transportation & Homeland Security
Location: Capitol Extension, Room E1.016


Events LINK:

Receive Notification on Schedule Postings
For those who want to receive weekly e-mail notification regarding all posted senate committee schedule notices

TxDOT coached on thwarting toll foes on talk radio

Peggy Fikac - Express- News Austin bureau AUSTIN — 10/17/2007
When Texas transportation officials talk about bridges these days, they don't necessarily mean steel spans and concrete girders. Instead, they are being taught how to "bridge" from off-message questions to their own talking points in a toll-road campaign.
"You will often be asked questions that don't get to the points you wish to make or that you don't wish to answer," says a "radio interview techniques" section of Texas Department of Transportation documents released under the Public Information Act. "You can use bridging to turn the question to your points."

One useful phrase, suggests the document — prepared by consultants who are to be paid $24,500 for talk-radio training for the campaign, and tweaked by the department — is this: "I think what you are really asking is ..."

The document also offers this timeless advice: "Keep calm. Leave wrestling to the pigs. They always end up looking like pigs."

The training document is part of the multimillion-dollar Keep Texas Moving campaign, the subject of a court hearing today.

The hearing comes after activist Terri Hall of the San Antonio Toll Party and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom filed a court petition to stop the agency from spending public funds on the campaign, projected to cost $7 million to $9 million in highway money.

Hall also wants to block any lobbying attempts by transportation officials to persuade Congress to allow more toll roads.

The Keep Texas Moving campaign has a focus on toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor network. Both are touted by GOP Gov. Rick Perry and others as necessary in the face of congestion and gas-tax revenues that fall short of meeting road needs. Criticism has centered on the potential corridor route and on the state partnering with private firms to run toll roads.

In her court filing, Hall contends that transportation officials, in promoting the initiatives, are violating a ban on lobbying and on using their authority for political purposes.

The state says TxDOT is allowed by law to promote toll projects and that its campaign is a response to a call from the public and from elected officials for more information on road initiatives.

State District Judge Orlinda Naranjo of Travis County last month refused to order an immediate stop to the spending. Naranjo today will consider a state request that she dismiss the case.

The state contends the legal complaint is moot because an existing contract for media services was due to end Sept. 30.

Thompson Marketing of San Antonio got a state contract of nearly $2 million last year for the first phase of the project, which included a marketing development plan and such items as TV and radio spots, print ads, internet banner ads and billboards.

The company billed the agency in March regarding a Senate transportation hearing and in April and May for "legislature, media monitoring for strategic planning, messaging." Lawmakers this year worked to curb new private toll projects.

The state plans no more spending on "any future media placement under the current Keep Texas Moving campaign" but still needs to pay Thompson Marketing for some previous work, said an affidavit by Helen Havelka, the campaign's manager.

The agency also has a $20,000 contract for talk-radio training for transportation officials with the Rodman Co., which subcontracted with ViaNovo, whose team includes former Bush strategist Matthew Dowd. It plans another $4,500 training class, and the two consulting companies plan two telephone town-hall meetings at a cost of $17,480.

Rodman and ViaNovo worked on the radio training guide, said TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott, who also had input on the document, titled "Talking on Talk Radio."

"The talk radio environment runs the gamut from productive and thoughtful to vitriolic and silly," Lippincott said. "We certainly want to prepare (agency spokespeople) for all possibilities, and that includes everyone from a skeptical talk-show host to an outright hostile caller."
Read more in the San Antonio Express News

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Please see ACTION ALERT on sale of Christmas Mountain to private investors

Dallas lawmaker stalls funding for Fort Worth's river project - A Trinity tug of war

By MARIA RECIO - Star-Telegram Staff Writer - Oct. 17, 2007

Much of the area to the northwest of downtown Fort Worth would be redeveloped as part of the Trinity River Vision. The $435-million project would create an urban waterfront on the Trinity, opening it to recreation, green spaces, and residential and commercial development.

WASHINGTON -- For the first time in seven years, Congress has approved a massive $23.2 billion water projects bill that includes years of backed-up requests for flood control projects and improvements to rivers and harbors by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The bill includes funds for an $80 million Johnson Creek restoration project in Arlington, but there is something missing from Tarrant County's wish list: funding for a key aspect of Fort Worth's Trinity River Vision project. That's the city's $435 million showcase effort to redesign itself by creating an urban waterfront on the Trinity River, opening it to recreation, green spaces and residential and commercial development.

The tangled tale involves some political miscalculations, confusion over the changing nature of the project and the always baffling congressional funding process.

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, the central figure in the case, has worked tirelessly to promote the project in recent years. But this year she ran into a formidable obstacle: Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, the new chairwoman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee.

The roadblock put up by Johnson is unlikely to stall Fort Worth's project for long. But it's a reality check and a reminder that nothing is certain in Congress and that local opposition to a local project can make things more difficult. Tarrant County Democrats oppose the project, and they are taking their complaints to new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Granger and others pushing for Trinity River Vision are confident that they will prevail and get full funding for Fort Worth's signature project.

Project history

Beginning in 2000, Granger, a former Fort Worth mayor, used her position on the House Appropriations Committee to direct funding, initially in small amounts, for environmental studies on the Trinity River project. Then, in 2004, after a water resources bill collapsed, she bypassed regular channels and obtained congressional authorization of $220 million for the Central City project, which is the Corps of Engineers' name for the flood control work in Fort Worth.

Granger's 2004 move was something of a coup because she succeeded in getting the Central City project "authorized" on an appropriation bill.

Congressional committees are split into authorizing panels, which set policy and overall funding levels, and the appropriations committee, which amounts to check-writers who direct the specific annual amounts that agencies can spend.

Members zealously guard their turf, as Granger discovered this year.

Johnson, who became chairman in January after the Democrats won control of Congress, blocked Granger's request for an authorization for the full cost of the Central City project, which incorporated $27.3 million for a neighboring project called the Riverside Oxbow. Under the plan, flood controls involving costly easements in west Fort Worth could be replaced by diverting water to the 600-acre Riverside Oxbow, which includes a dry bend of the Trinity in east Fort Worth.

But Johnson did not consider the Fort Worth Central City project to be one that was already in the works for Corps funding. Rather, she declared it would be considered a new project.

"We had taken a vote on our committee and unanimously said we would not consider any new projects," Johnson said in an interview. "We'll consider it when we start a new bill."

Johnson said that work will begin shortly on a new bill, assuming that the current water projects bill becomes law. Congress appears to have the votes to override a threatened veto from President Bush, who believes the bill is too costly.

Granger said she talked to Johnson about the Central City project in March, although the Dallas Democrat said, "I wasn't even aware of it until the day we were doing a mark-up," or vote, on the water projects bill.

Help from Hutchison

Stymied on the House side, Granger turned to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who inserted $247 million for the project in the Senate version of the bill -- the amount approved in 2004 plus the $27.3 million for the Riverside Oxbow.

When the bill went to a conference committee this summer to work out the differences between the House and Senate bills, Johnson again opposed the Trinity project and the funding was removed in the final conference even though the overall bill grew from $14 billion in the Senate and $15 billion in the House into a $23 billion projects bill.

"That was a problem on the House side," Hutchison said in an interview. "We definitely tried and Kay [Granger] tried very, very hard to get it in." Neither Hutchison nor Granger was on the conference committee.

Johnson, for her part, said, "I didn't want to add any new projects" and said she had the support of the leaders of her panel in the negotiations.

Johnson was successful in securing funds for her own Trinity River project in the bill: $298 million in authorization for flood control, wetlands and bridge modifications for Dallas' Trinity River Corridor. The Dallas project is separate from Fort Worth's but one House aide said that Johnson was clear "that there would be one Trinity River project" in the bill.

Johnson also did not block the $80 million Johnson Creek project in Arlington.

By Aug. 1, when the House passed the conference report bill on water projects, Granger was already looking ahead to next year's Water Resources Development Act. The conference report did not include the Central City funding and could not be amended on the floor.

In August, Granger brought Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to tour the project area.

"I have a very strong commitment to put it in whatever measure I can," Mica said Wednesday in the Capitol. "I guess there was some conflict with Ms. Johnson." Of the project, he said, "It makes a lot of sense, in my opinion. Hopefully, we can get a meeting of the minds and get it in the next measure."

Granger was upbeat in a recent interview. "It will be in the second WRDA bill," she said of the Fort Worth project.

"I don't consider it a setback," she said. "The next WRDA bill won't be so huge," making it more likely the project could stay in.

As for Johnson, Granger said, "She had a briefing -- absolutely." And the Central City project, said Granger, "is not a new start."

Although Granger stressed that the entire $435 million Trinity River Vision project, which splits costs 50-50 between federal and local sources, will have to be authorized "at some point," she said the Corps will continue to get funding for it through the appropriations process.

"I'm not worried about it," said Granger, noting the project is ahead of schedule. "We're in fine shape. There's no concern."

In the appropriations bills for fiscal year 2008, House-passed bills include $8 million for construction, $1 million for bridge construction and $550,000 for economic development for Central City Fort Worth. The levels will still have to be negotiated with the Senate.


The Tarrant County project that did receive funding in the recent water bill is the new Johnson Creek restoration project that has been more than a decade in the works. The project, expected to start soon, will help stabilize creek banks, add trails and other recreational amenities, and a new pedestrian bridge between the new Cowboys stadium and the future Glorypark development. Local officials have said the total cost of the project is expected to be $50 million. But the water bill said the overall cost is $80 million, with as much as $52 million coming from the federal government.

Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


By Sam Lopez - NTTA - Oct. 16, 2007

There will be some temporary closures at the south end of the Dallas North Tollway this weekend, so that construction crews can switch traffic onto new portions of roadway.

The northbound IH-35E entrance ramp to the Tollway will be closed on Sunday, October 21 from 12:01 a.m. until 6 a.m. The Harry Hines Boulevard and McKinnon Street entrances to the Tollway will also be temporarily closed. Motorists wanting to travel north on the Tollway may enter the facility via the Wycliff Avenue Main Lane Toll Plaza or any other entrance ramps north of that location. From 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Sunday, only one lane will be open northbound on the Tollway from Harry Hines Blvd./ McKinnon St. to the Wycliff Avenue Main Lane Toll Plaza.

Southbound traffic will also be affected as only one lane will be open from Wycliff Avenue to Harry Hines Blvd./McKinnon St. from 10 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20 until 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 21.

The southbound Tollway exit ramp to IH-35E will not be affected.

Trans Texas Corridor I-69 SECRET meeting in Fort Bend

By Terri Hall - T.U.R.F. - Wednesday, 10 October 2007

In this article, Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton repeatedly refers to Texans' FREEways as "assets" as if the PUBLIC'S highways are theirs to sell to the highest bidder on Wall Street! To make matters worse, they're holding a SECRET, CLOSED DOOR meeting to discuss the next controversial leg of the Trans Texas Corridor, TTC 69. Also noteworthy, businesses, ie - the Chamber of Commerce, are invited to the table, but NOT the taxpaying public whose community will be paved over by this corridor! How is this getting "community feedback?" Secrecy and involving multi-national corporations has become standard operating procedure for these trade corridors.

TURF's Board member, Hank Gilbert, is mentioned in the article.

Link to article here.

Trans-Texas Corridor talks include Fort Bend officials
Committee formed by state Transportation Commission

By ZEN T. C. ZHENG - Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle - Oct. 8, 2007,

A controversial plan to create an interstate highway from the Texas-Mexico border to Texarkana is gaining momentum in Fort Bend County as local leaders are set to begin meeting in two weeks to brainstorm on how the project should be carried out in this area.

Ted Houghton, Texas Transportation commissioner, who was in Rosenberg Wednesday to promote the project, will be in Sugar Land Oct. 26 to discuss the Trans-Texas Corridor-69 proposal with the 24-member group formed by the commission.

'Transportation crossroad'
Houghton said the project, which would turn Fort Bend and its vicinity into a "transportation crossroad," would enable fast cargo deliveries to various ports with rails or truck lanes and increase mobility for passengers with high-speed toll lanes generally along U.S. 59."We need to bring in the money to create economic opportunities," Houghton said at the annual Fort Bend Regional Infrastructure Conference sponsored by the Rosenberg-Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce.

However, the project has drawn opposition from environmentalists, property-rights proponents and those who see the corridor as part of a proposal to create a North America Free Trade Agreement highway to connect Mexico to Canada through the U.S. heartland.

Meeting closed to public
The group to meet on Oct. 26 at Sugar Land City Hall comprises county judges, mayors of cities along the proposed route, leaders of area chambers of commerce and various ports including those of Houston, Freeport and Victoria, and representatives of metropolitan planning organizations. Members are mostly from the Fort Bend, Wharton and Victoria areas.Houghton told the Chronicle Wednesday that the meeting will be closed to the public and media.

He said the group, one of six formed in the project area from Brownsville to Texarkana, will have the opportunity to help tailor the project to "local needs."

"It's a positive thing. We are letting these regions plan it out," Houghton said. "We hope by mid-next year, the group will come up with some recommendations to tell us what they would like to see built."

The Interstate 69 project is part of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor network at least seven years in planning by the Texas Department of Transportation and supported by Gov. Rick Perry.

1,200-foot wide corridors?
The network is conceived as a cross-state road system of new and existing highways, railroads and utility rights of way. It would have separate lanes for passenger and truck traffic, freight and high-speed commuter rails, as well as infrastructure for utilities including water, oil and gas pipelines, electricity and telecommunications services. One revenue option to support the network would be toll fees.I-69 would generally follow the U.S. 59 footprint with a section along U.S. 77 from Texarkana to three possible terminals along the Texas-Mexico border: Brownsville, McAllen and Laredo.

Another major component of the network, Trans-Texas Corridor-35, would run along Interstate 35 from Denison to the Rio Grande Valley. Two other possible routes would run along Interstate 45 from Dallas to Houston and Interstate 10 from El Paso to Orange.
According to Gaby Garcia, a spokeswoman for the state transportation agency, each of the two proposed major corridors would stretch about 600 miles and cost $12 billion only for the road portion, excluding rails and utility infrastructure.

Houghton said that critics' assertion that the corridors would be 1,200 feet in width is not true. However, he said the exact width couldn't be determined until a definitive plan is shaped with sufficient local input.

County judge's endorsement
Houghton said he and Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert "had a great conversation" about the project during a private meeting.While asking Houghton to present a "fine print" of the plan, Hebert said he supports the project.

"I'm excited about it. We need the road," Hebert said Wednesday.

However, some local community leaders deplore what they perceive to be a lack of awareness among Fort Bend residents about the Trans-Texas Corridor concept.

The county's Democratic Party on Sept. 29 brought Hank Gilbert, a Tyler rancher who lost his race for Texas commissioner of agriculture last year, to Sugar Land to rally support for his crusade against the project. Event organizer Jenny Hurley said about 50 people attended the meeting.

Grand Parkway not a part?
Some opponents of a state plan to extend the Grand Parkway as a toll road from U.S. 59 south and then east to link Texas 288 are concerned that the expansion project could be part of the I-69 project. But, Houghton dismissed that notion.However, former Texas Transportation Commissioner John W. "Johnny" Johnson in 2000 told the Chronicle that I-69 was being proposed to pass north and west of Houston, merging with segments of the Grand Parkway, including the stretch between the Katy Freeway and U.S. 59. Johnson also said the proposed Grand Parkway segment south of U.S. 59 could be used as a continued truck route from I-69 to reach the Port of Houston via Texas 288 and Beltway 8.

"A Beautiful asset"
Calling U.S. 59 "a beautiful asset," Houghton said tracing I-69 along U.S. 59 would mean less additional land needed for the project, thus having less impact on the community along the route."We have already the asset. Now we're trying to enhance the asset," he said.

With the project, U.S. 59 at all its intersections would be turned into overpasses, he said.

Houghton said project planners have been examining a variety of ways to fund the project. However, funding remains a difficult task, he said.

"We have looked at everything possible," he said.

The state's goal is to begin construction on the project in two to three years and have it completed within five to 10 years, Houghton said.

EXCLUSIVE: SECRET briefing on toll rates for BIG BUSINESS before public gets access

By Terri Hall - T.U.R.F. - Tuesday, 16 October 2007
The San Antonio Mobility Coalition, SAMCo, run by Joe Krier, along with the San Antonio Free Trade Alliance will be hosting a secret meeting October 19 at the Valero campus prior to even the PUBLIC getting access to toll rates and the toll rate escalation for 281 on October 22. The highway lobby that feeds at the public trough was slated to get advance access the PUBLIC hasn't been privy to. This is especially distressing considering SAMCO and the Free Trade Alliance are taxpayer funded. Citizens have to take time off work and head downtown to a place where parking is scarce (MPO mtgs at Via) just to hear this information on their own dime, yet our public agencies bring this vital toll tax information right to the business community's doorstep while they're all on the clock (some of whom are on the taxpayer's dime, too!).

It's an outrage that those who will profit off these toll plans get special treatment at the taxpayers' expense! However, through a turn of events, we asked that the tolling authority brief citizens FIRST on the toll rates at our Tuesday meeting and they AGREED! The taxpayers demanded transparency, sunshine, accountability, and that the public get TOP PRIORITY, and now the PUBLIC gets to scoop the HIGHWAY LOBBY!

Government ought to be operating without even the APPEARANCE of impropriety, this SAMCo meeting smacks of corporate cronyism and backroom deal-making which has become the norm with Perry and his highway dept.

Not only will the hogs at the trough be treated to the potential pricetag road contractors can reap for tolling our public highways, the stated purpose of the meeting is to strategize on how to influence the upcoming MPO vote that must approve the toll rates to move forward.

The purpose of the briefing is to provide:

1) An advance preview of the US 281 and Loop 1604 financial plans prior to these critical MPO meetings;
2) A forum to discuss cooperative action and joint strategy to support the financial plans and SMP amendments at the October 22 and December 3 MPO meetings.
3) Coordination of supportive resolutions, letters, emails, testimony, editorials, etc. prior to the final MPO votes.

Read the entire invitation here.

This meeting is significant because we caught them with their hands in the till using taxpayer money to lobby against the taxpayer and caught BIG BUSINESS getting special privileges NOT afforded the public until an MPO mtg Monday, Oct 22. Why does BIG BUSINESS need to know the toll rates and 281 profit levels before the general public?


Mad yet? Read the list of the corporations involved in SECRET meetings with the U.S., Canadian, and Mexican governments to push for a North American Union in what amounts to forming a trade cartel. Time to dust off the anti-trust unit at the Justice Department!

Full World Net Daily article here.

As WND previously reported, the North American Competitiveness Council, or NACC, dominated the SPP closed-door meetings with the SPP trilateral working groups, the trilateral cabinet members in attendance and President Bush, Mexico's President Felipe Calderon, and Harper at the third annual SPP summit in Montebello, Quebec, on Aug. 20-21.

WND has also reported the NACC is a shadowy council of 30 top North American multinational corporations self-appointed by the Chambers of Commerce in each of the three countries to constitute the sole outside advisory to the SPP.

The 30 companies composing the NACC are listed on a memo posted on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce website.

In the United States, the companies on the NACC are:

* Campbell Soup Company
* Chevron Corporation
* Ford Motor Corporation
* FedEx Corporation
* General Electric Company
* General Motors Corporation
* Kansas City Southern
* Lockheed Martin Corporation
* Merck & Co., Inc.
* Mittal Steel USA
* New York Life Insurance Company
* Procter & Gamble
* Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
* Whirlpool Corporation

No union leaders, public interest groups, environmental advocates or news media have ever attended the closed-door of the NACC with the SPP.

According to a document on the Commerce Department's SPP website, the organization of the NACC was agreed upon by the three leaders on March 31, 2006.

"We are pleased to announce the creation of a North American Competitiveness Council," the White House announced the same day.

"The Council will comprise members of the private sector from each country," the White House said, "and will provide us recommendations on North American competitiveness, including, among others, areas such as automotive and transportation, steel, manufacturing, and services. The Council will meet annually with security and prosperity Ministers and will engage with senior government officials on an ongoing basis."

Read these to open your eyes to other secret meetings for special interests:

Secret meeting on TTC 69, corporations invited, public/press is not.

More secret meetings with corporations invited, public/press shut out.
here, here, and here.

17 cents will get you a mile on U.S. 281

By Patrick Driscoll - San Antonio Express-News - 10/16/2007

Noisy, anxious speculation over how much motorists will pay to use toll lanes on U.S. 281 has ended with a silent revelation.

Barring legal action and a dramatic turnaround in the courts, drivers in two- and three-axle vehicles could pay 17 cents a mile when the first four miles of U.S. 281 toll lanes open in 2012, according to documents posted on the Web without fanfare Monday.

Rates might increase 2.75 percent a year through 2017 and then 3 percent annually after that, about as fast as consumer inflation has been rising.

The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, which will develop the U.S. 281 tollway, negotiated for months behind closed doors with the Texas Department of Transportation to set the toll rates and had carefully kept the numbers hushed.

But the local Metropolitan Planning Organization must sign off on the deal, and following its habit of releasing information before meetings, posted the proposed toll fees. The organization meets next Monday.

"There you go," spokesman Scott Ericksen said. "It's just our process."

Now that the rates are out there, a furious long-running debate over toll roads will now shift to new ground.

"I'm just glad we're finally getting down to the nitty-gritty," said Jim Reed, a mobility authority board member.

Terri Hall, founder of San Antonio Toll Party and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, said the fees, while comparable to Houston and Dallas, are higher than some other states — a claim borne out by a recent state audit.

"Texans have to be asking themselves, 'Why do we have to pay so much?'" she said.

Vic Boyer, director of the public-private San Antonio Mobility Coalition, said business and road industry officials are so far warm to the rates.

"I think they feel fairly comfortable with what they've seen," he said.

Rebuilding U.S. 281 into a tolled expressway with nontoll frontage roads from Loop 1604 to Marshall Road is just a start for the mobility authority.

The agency hopes to use $258 million in public funds and sell bonds backed by decades of toll fees to add $1 billion worth of toll lanes to highways:

The first 4 miles of U.S. 281 — which officials say will cost $200 million, a third more than estimates earlier this year. Construction starts next summer.

U.S. 281 toll lanes to Comal County. No timetable has been set.

Loop 1604 from Culebra Road to U.S. 281. Construction starts in late 2009.

Plans also call for tolled interchange ramps along Loop 1604 to give motorists faster shots to other freeways such as U.S. 281. The proposed toll rates under consideration for 2012 suggest charging 57 cents for each ramp.

Emergency and military vehicles would get free passage on toll lanes. VIA Metropolitan Transit would get a $42,000 a year break, enough to allow buses and vans to ride free, but the agency would have the option of spreading its exemption among other vehicles, such as vanpools.

In 2012 trucks would be charged 46 cents a mile on toll lanes and $1.15 per interchange ramp.

There would be no tollbooths. Instead, motorists would pay via an electronic scanning system.

"Our goal is to be reasonable, to keep it affordable," mobility authority Chairman Bill Thornton said.

The authority will brief the nonprofit mobility coalition at a private meeting Friday at Valero Energy Corp. to strategize support for toll plans.

"We want everyone to have a chance to see this, to ask questions," Boyer said. "We were on the ball and asked for it."

When Hall heard about Boyer's meeting, she called Reed to set up a presentation for toll critics, which will be held at 6 p.m. today at Chester's Burgers at 16609 San Pedro Ave. She said she wants to know how much profit U.S. 281 toll lanes will generate.

"That's the real crux of the matter," she said. "That'll be interesting."

What's it going to cost?

The Alamo Regional MObility Authority on Monday released rates for toll lanes in 2012.
Vehicles - 2-3 axles incl. govt.: 17 cents cost per mile / Interchange ramps 57 cents

Vehicles - More than 3 axles: 46 cents cost per mile/ Interchange ramps $1.15

Vehicles - Emergency, miliatary and most public transit: No charge cost per mile; No charge interchange ramps.

Rates will increase 2.75% annually now through 2017 and 3% annually after that.

Planned toll lanes to open in 2012 on U.S. 281 are from HWY 1604 to Marshall Road.
Read story and see graphic in San Antonio Express-News.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Texas leads nation in number of water polluters

By R.A. DYER - Star-Telegram staff writer - Fri. Oct. 12, 2007
AUSTIN -- Texas led the nation in the number of facilities discharging pollution at levels exceeding federal clean water guidelines, according to a new report from an environmental watchdog group.

The Austin-based Environment Texas said that in 2005, 318 facilities in the state reported 1,340 incidents in which they discharged more pollution than permitted under the federal Clean Water Act. The group also reported that more than 53 percent of Texas' industrial and municipal facilities discharged more pollution in 2005 than permitted under the law.

"With so many facilities dumping so much pollution, no one should be surprised that more than half of Texas waterways are unsafe for swimming and fishing -- but we should be outraged," Environment Texas Citizen Outreach director Brad Hicks said in a statement.

Harris County was No. 1 among all U.S. counties for the most facilities that exceeded their Clean Water Act permits at least once, according to the report.

The report was released Thursday to commemorate the 35th anniversary next week of the Clean Water Act.

About the report

Using information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gathered under the federal Freedom of Information Act, Environment Texas reviewed the extent of discharges for all facilities that exceeded their Clean Water Act permits in 2005. The director of Environment Texas said 2005 was the last full year for which comprehensive data was available.

In Tarrant County

During the study period, the only Tarrant County entity to report pollution discharges that exceeded the allowable levels was the city of Azle. The report lists seven such discharges by the municipality. Azle utility manager Rick White said the discharges occurred at a wastewater plant at Ash Creek and were largely due to malfunctioning equipment. He said the equipment supplier corrected the problem.

"Everybody has problems but we haven't had any significant problem since then," he said.

Other findings

Nationally, more than 3,600 major facilities, or 57 percent, exceeded their Clean Water Act limits at least once in 2005. The facilities exceeded the limits a total of 24,400 times during that period, which means that many exceeded their permits more than once and for more than one pollutant, according to the report.

Texas is not among the 10 states with the highest percentage of major facilities that exceeded their limits at least once. Those states are Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Ohio, Connecticut, New York, North Dakota, California, and West Virginia.

Texas is among the 10 U.S. states with the most violations during that period. The others are Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, California, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida.

The report also noted that California, Pennsylvania and Ohio were the states with at least 100 incidents that were at least 500 percent above the permitted level.

Pollution problems

More than 20,000 bodies of waters in the United States are too polluted to meet basic quality standards, according to the EPA.

Water pollution also caused more than 25,000 beach closings and advisory days in 2006, the most in 17 years, according to the report.

In 2006, more than half the states -- 32 -- had statewide fish consumption advisories in place because of toxic pollution, according to the report.

About 850 billion gallons of raw sewage is dumped into U.S. waterways each year, according to the report.

The Clean Water Act

Signed into law Oct. 18, 1972, the Clean Water Act set goals to have all U.S. waterways swimmable and fishable by 1983 and to eliminate all discharges of pollutants by 1985, according to information from Environment Texas. Under the law, facilities are called upon to report any improper discharges. Government regulators can then assess penalties, although in Texas they typically do not, according to a recent state auditor's report.

Read more

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