Friday, January 18, 2008

Transit authority to spend $51,000 to repair faulty signs

By GORDON DICKSON - Star-Telegram Staff Writer - Jan. 18, 2008
At every train station in Tarrant County, electronic message boards hang from the platform ceilings. The signs are supposed to project helpful messages to Trinity Railway Express riders, such as "The next eastbound TRE will depart in 11 minutes."

But the signs have been dark for most of the past year because of mechanical problems, Fort Worth Transportation Authority finance officer Rob Harmon said.

On Thursday, the T board agreed to spend $51,215 to repair the signs over several months. The work will be performed by Inova Solutions, the only company to submit a bid.

Even without the signs, passengers can still check times the old-fashioned way: by consulting print schedules posted at each station.

The signs look fancy but don't actually track the precise location of trains, Harmon said.

That may change in the next year or two. Dallas Area Rapid Transit intends to install a more sophisticated passenger information system, which would use sensors to precisely monitor trains in Dallas County, Harmon said. Once that system is up and running, the T likely will tap into it on the Tarrant County side, he said.

Also at the meeting

In other action Thursday, the T board:

Hired Freese and Nichols to design the location of a second track at Richland Hills Station. An extra track stretching a half-mile in each direction from the station would allow faster, more frequent train service. The design will cost at least $129,000.

Discussed a potential First Amendment lawsuit in closed session but took no action. Last month, a passenger complained she was escorted off a bus for reading the Bible to her children. T officials said it was the volume of her voice, not the subject matter, that caused the problem.

ACTION ALERT: Tx House Committee on Transportation Public Hearing on role of MPO and Rural Planning Authorities within COGs

Texas House of Represenatives Meeting Notice - Jan. 18, 2008


COMMITTEE: Transportation

SUBCOMMITTEE: Planning Authorities

TIME & DATE: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, February 06, 2008

PLACE: E2.012

CHAIR: Rep. Fred Hill

The Subcommittee will meet to consider the following:

Charge #5: Examine the role of metropolitan planning authorities in state law, as well as the creation of rural planning authorities to address the planning needs outside of metropolitan planning organizations but within council of government boundaries.

Hearing on Wendy Davis' Candidacy for Sen. Distict 10 Scheduled Monday, Jan. 23

By Tarrant County Democratic Party - Jan. 18, 2008
Hearing on Wendy Davis' Candidacy for Sen. Dist. 10
Scheduled for Monday, January 23rd, 11am

The Firefighters' appeal to Chairman Art Brender's decision to declare Wendy Davis eligible as a candidate in the Senate District 10 Primary will be heard by the Court of Appeals on Monday, January 23rd, at 11am.

The Hearing will take place on the 9th Floor of the Tarrant County Justice Center.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Study to kick-start highway bill lobbying

By Jim Snyder - The Hill - January 15, 2008
Business groups are looking at Tuesday’s release of a transportation study as a start-your-engines moment to what is likely to be one of the most aggressively lobbied highway bills in recent memory.

A panel of public and private officials who reviewed the country’s transportation needs for the past two years wrote the long-awaited report. Congress formed the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission in the last highway bill.

“Every stakeholder in the transportation industry … has been waiting for this report to come out,” said Janet Kavinoky, director of transportation infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Nothing like this has been done before,” said Rosario Palmieri, vice president for infrastructure policy at the National Association of Manufacturers.

The report will examine all four components of the transportation infrastructure system: freight rail lines, highways and bridges, ports, and mass transit systems.

The current highway bill lasts until 2009, but lobbyists anticipate the debate over surface transportation will begin this year given the rising importance of transportation bottlenecks on operating costs. An anticipated $4 billion shortfall in transportation accounts in 2008 is also likely to drive the transportation debate on Capitol Hill.

One key element of the debate is whether the gas tax should be significantly increased to help pay for new spending.

Under the plan endorsed by a majority of panel members, the federal share of transportation spending would increase from 37 percent to 40 percent, according to one lobbyist.

There is a broad coalition of forces arrayed in support of tax increases, but increasing the gas tax is likely to remain politically difficult.

“A special commission came up with an old, cold, bad idea,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee. “This is a disappointment and probably even a big waste of tax dollars,” Grassley said in a statement anticipating the panel’s report.

Transportation lobbyists said the committee itself was split on the need to raise taxes. The Bush administration opposes a tax hike, and current Transportation Secretary Mary Peters reportedly is one of the panel members to have argued against raising taxes as a way to spend more on infrastructure.

However, groups like NAM and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, normally allergic to tax hikes, in this case have joined contractors, civil engineers and others in support of higher user fees.

“This is a priority for [our members] as the costs for logistics are increasing much faster than they have before,” Palmieri said.

The issue of infrastructure spending “has never been more important to them. It is very high on the agenda,” he said.

He noted one estimate that congestion adds $8 billion a year in prices for consumer goods.

Kavinoky, who is also the executive director of Americans for Transportation Mobility, one of several infrastructure coalitions formed in anticipation of the next highway bill debate, defended the tax.

“Right now, a user fee is the simplest and most straight-forward way to collect revenues,” she said.

Even though the bulk of the new money would come from an increased gas tax, long the mainstay in transportation funding, business lobbyists also anticipate the report will recommend the sort of paradigm shift they were looking for.

One lobbyist, for example, expected the report to call for the creation of a permanent commission that would develop a transportation bill through a process that mirrors the Base Closure and Realignment Commission method Congress adopted to handle the politically sensitive work of closing military bases.

Under that scenario, Congress would approve or reject the commission’s transportation report. But lawmakers would not be able to amend the legislation.

The report is also expected to advocate for a performance-based matrix that would tie funding to improvements in safety, congestion and maintenance efforts.

“That is the equivalent of a massive earthquake in transportation policy,” Kavinoky said.

Kavinoky said federal dollars are distributed by program with little regard to how the money will improve performance.

A variety of other funding mechanisms are expected to be proposed by panel members to improve system performance.

Those are likely to include public-private partnerships for toll roads that are controversial in some quarters, and a transit tax to support expansion of public transportation programs.
Read more in THE HILL

ACTION ALERT: NTTA Public Meeting Scheduled for Dallas North Tollway Extension, Phase 4A

By Sherita Coffelt - NTTA - Jan. 15, 2008

(Prosper, TX) - The North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) will conduct an open house public meeting to discuss the design for the extension of the Dallas North Tollway from U.S. 380 north to Farm-to-Market (FM) 428 in Collin County, referred to as the Dallas North Tollway Extension, Phase 4A. The public meeting will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008, at Prestonwood Baptist Church, north campus, 1180 Prosper Trail in Prosper, Texas. All interested citizens are invited to attend this public meeting.

“At this meeting, we will provide information regarding the development of the proposed alternatives to interested citizens and stakeholders and to provide a forum for which the public may provide input and comments,” said Jeff Dailey, the NTTA’s Assistant Executive Director of Project Delivery. “This project will further open a corridor to the northern side of the metroplex. Not only will the project provide direct access beyond U.S. 380, it will serve as an additional step in creating a system link north.”

Maps, drawings and other information about the project will be on display, showing the corridor alignment and preliminary design information. The study team will be available at each display to assist in orientation and interpretation of the drawings and other materials and to discuss environmental effects of the proposed design.

Attendees will have the opportunity to provide the study team with comments and suggestions by providing verbal comments to be documented by a court reporter or submitting written comments. Such comments will assist project personnel with the design decisions associated with this study.

Any interested citizen may present verbal or written comments either at the public meeting or after the meeting to the NTTA by Feb. 7, 2008, in care of Ms. Leigh Hornsby, HNTB Corporation, 5910 W. Plano Parkway, Suite 200, Plano, TX 75093. Comments may also be sent electronically to

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bonehead educators fuel election chaos

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - Jan. 14, 2008
The Texas Education Agency receives my "Bonehead of the Year Award" for scheduling TAKS testing on primary election day without sending clarification to school districts that state law requires that public buildings (including schools) must accommodate elections on election day.

Across Texas County Election officials and County Chairs of both political parties are scrambling to sign election contracts while many school districts are refusing to accommodate the elections. Some counties are suing school districts to get access to the buildings. Some school districts are accommodating the elections. Others are standing firm refusing to accommodate the elections. Citizens are confused. Most news coverage is sketchy and incomplete or inaccurate.

Here is what I've learned about how educators who are charged with teaching our school children civics and government blew this one out of the water!

Some school districts wanted to delay the start of the school year for the Spring Semester. The State Board of Education is responsible for administering a "student assessment instrument and is charged in Texas Education Code Chapter 39.027 (a)(2) with adopting a schedule for administrating the end-of-course assessment.

State law was change so that the Texas public schools' spring semester could start later than last year. A change was made in the Texas Education Code 39.023(c-3) so that this year the first end-of-course assessment tests must be administered at least 2 weeks later than that they were last year.
The language in the Education Code was changed to read:
(c-3)In adopting a schedule for the administration of assessment instruments under this section, the State Board of Education shall require:
(1)assessment instruments administered under Subsection (a) to be administered on a schedule so that the first assessment instrument is administered at least two weeks later than the date on which the first assessment instrument was administered
under Subsection (a) during the 2006-2007 school year;

Texas Education Code 39.023.c-3 does not require that the TEA set the TAKS test on March 4th (election day). It merely requires that the date must be at least 2 weeks later than last year. I have phoned TEA Legal inquiring if they reviewed Texas Election Code 43.031 requiring that public buildings accommodate elections and sent information to the school districts clarifying that TAKS testing cannot hinder the accommodation of elections on election day when they scheduled TAKS testing March 4, 2008? I have not received a response yet from them.

Texas law does not require TAKS testing on March 4th (election day). TEA chose to schedule it on March 4th (one of many dates after the time stipulated by state law that the first end-of-course assessment test must be scheduled.

I think this is a very boneheaded decision by State Bureaucrats. Those who scheduled TAKS testing on election day and those who approved that schedule have thrown the election process into unnecessary chaos. Election administrators, parties, candidates are struggling to determine where the elections will be held. Some counties are suing the school districts to require them to accommodate the elections according to Texas Election Code 43.031. Others moved the elections to other sites, often at an inconvenience to the voters. (When election sites change, a percentage of voters fail to learn the new sites in time to vote - depressing electoral turnout.) Some communities simply do not have suitable alternate sites available in the precincts to hold the elections.

I sent this message to the Texas Education Agency:
You have flunked the test in citizenship and applied civics! Entrusted by the citizens of this state to teach our children about CIVICS, GOVERNMENT, PARTICIPATION in the DEMOCRATIC PROCESS, you either failed to check or chose to ignore that March 4, 2008 is a primary election day. State law requires that public buildings be made available for elections yet you chose to schedule (or approve scheduling) TAKS testing on election day. Your irresponsible, short-sighted, ignorant actions diminishes the ability of election officials and candidates to clearly communicate where the polling places will be in time for ALL CITIZENS to participate. If you allow school districts to refuse to allow the elections to be scheduled in school buildings, you are violating the law and betraying the trust of the citizens. Testing is important. Education is important. Showing our children by EXAMPLE is also important. The message you have sent is loud and clear: Elections don't really matter that much to the Texas Board of Education. Elections are an inconvenience that do not merit careful examination of dates on the calendar which ANY ELECTED OFFICIAL, POLITICAL APPOINTEE, CIVICS TEACHER, REGISTERED VOTER reserves for participating in elections.
The boneheads in your agency who scheduled TAKS testing on Election Day should be informed that it was a MISTAKE. Correct your mistake. Send a strong message to teachers, educators, pupils and your fellow citizens that your agency values our Democratic process enough to relinquish accommodate the elections on school premises March 4th. Make it a policy that all election days will be scheduled on your calendar before you begin filling in dates which are not SET BY LAW.

If you want to write them the email link to their website form is:

I recommend that you also phone them. It is easier to ignore contact forms. When their switchboard also lights up the e-mail responses have greater impact.

The Texas Education Agency is located in the William Travis Building
1701 N. Congress Avenue
Austin, Texas, 78701

Those who oversee (and vote to fund) the TEA include:
Gov. Rick Perry - Tara Balleau (512) 799-9240 is the governor's point person on education.
In the Lt. Governor's office Andre Sheridan (512) 463-0108 is the Education Point Person.

Members of the Texas Senate Committee on Education include:

Chair of the Senate Education Committee: Senator Florence Shapiro (512) 463-0108 (972) 403-3404 - email form

Senator Royce West - (512) 463-0123 or (214) 467-0123
Senator West's education point person is Lajuana Barton

Senator Kyle Janek - (512) 463-0117 (800) 445-2635
Senator Janek's point person on education is Casey Haney email:

Senator Judith Zaffirini (512) 463-0121 (956) 722-2293
Her education point person is Warren von Eschenbach email:

Senator Steve Ogden (512) 463-0105 His education point person is Patty Guerra

Senator Leticia Van de Putte (512) 463-0126 (210) 733-6604
Her point person on education is Ida Garcia email:

Senator Tommy Williams (281) 364-9426 His point person on education is his chief of staff Janet Stieben email:

Senator Dan Patrick (713) 464-0282

I suspect that there may be attempts at TEA (if there is enough outcry)to blame some low level staffer. However, this date was set months ago. It went all the way up the supply chain and officials all the way up signed off on it. The responsiblity for ensuring that directives from the TEA complies with State Law (including State Election Code) rests with the top. The legal team should have reviewed this, conferred with the Attorney General and SOS and issued a directive to all school districts clarifying that if TAKS testing occurs on an election day, the school districts still have to accommodate the elections. The buck rests at the top. They are responsible for triggering law suits between county election officials and school districts throughout Texas, impacting every voter in Texas and sending a very bad message to our school children that elections really aren't that high a priority with this state's "Educators."

I think it is time to EDUCATE the educators.
REFERENCE: Texas Election Code 43.031
Education Code 39.023(c-3)

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