Friday, June 27, 2008

TURF statement on TxDOT selecting private partner to develop TTC-69

TURF - Austin, TX, June 26, 2008

After the overwhelming public feedback preferred the “no build” option and after the Legislature made it clear it wanted time to slow down this train of privatizing our public infrastructure, TxDOT’s selection, today, of a private partner to develop TTC-69 is a total slap in the face to the people of Texas.

This proposal awarded to ZAI/ACS (Zachry American Infrastructure and ACS, based in Spain) is chalk full of egregious taxpayer exploitation. For instance, it tolls loops around Riviera, Driscoll, Corpus Christi and other cities (7 loops total) to fund non-toll improvements to Hwy 77 in yet another Robin Hood scheme. The deal gives ZAI/ACS a guaranteed 12% rate of return on their investment, and it relies heavily on public funds, like federal taxpayer backed private activity bonds (PABs) and TIFIA loans to front the vast majority of the construction costs and then gives all the profit to Zachry & ACS!

They also plan to use taxable zero coupon fixed rate bonds issued by the Corpus Christi Regional Mobility Authority and controversial Transportation Reinvestment Zone (TMZ) funds, which will essentially heist property taxes. The deal also gives ZAI/ACS cherry-picking rights (or right of first refusal) on multiple segments for the TTC-69 without being subjected to a competitive bidding process. The sham of an announcement pandering to landowners promising to use existing highways for TTC-69 wasn’t a concession at all. The private “partners” informed them the new corridor route wasn’t toll viable so they reverted back to using existing freeways (which would have been the tollway’s biggest revenue “competitor”) so as to capture more toll revenue. It was Cintra and Zachry who determined the re-route, not TxDOT being responsive to an outraged public!

“If this isn’t a wake-up call to the Legislature that it’s business as usual at TxDOT until they forcibly restrain them via state law, we don’t know what is. This removes any requirement for competitive bidding, which on its face is an absolute failure of the State's fiduciary duty to protect the taxpayers from monopolistic sweetheart deals and what's certain to be inflated costs. We must make Legislators pay at the ballot box for their malfeasance in granting the authority for such no-bid contracts and for failing to rein-in TxDOT with a GENUINE moratorium last year BEFORE this next private sweetheart deal got signed. If they don’t completely clean house at TxDOT and end this public fleecing, there won’t be enough political cover for the consequences at the ballot box. Enough is enough. End this now!” notes Terri Hall, TURF Founder.

“At today’s Transportation Commission meeting, it was a lovefest between David Zachry and the South Texas politicos pushing this nonsense. TxDOT and their buddies at Zachry/ACS found a way to follow the bare minimum of the law to sign this CDA and continue to steamroll a plan the majority of Texans don’t want. It was also evident the Transportation Commission is desperate to come up with their own alternative reforms since they’re facing an angry public demanding TxDOT be scrapped, a discontented Legislature, and scathing Sunset Commission recommendations,” observed Hank Gilbert, TURF Board member and acting President of the Piney Woods Subregional Planning Commission who attended and testified at today's meeting.

For more detailed analysis of how TxDOT can legally award a Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA) outside the moratorium (SB 792), go to TURF’s web site here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

TXDOT Hearings on 820 Toll Roads July 1

Notice of a meeting July 1
The issue is not just tolls but letting a foreign country control Texas land in perpetuity.

Focus on Local Issue - *TOLL ROADS ACTION ALERT*
You might have seen the article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Friday about the North Loop 820 expansion, and how it will be paid for through very expensive toll roads, to be constructed by CINTRA, Rick Perry's special-interest Spanish corporation that courted the Trans Texas Corridor. In a nutshell, Bud Kennedy is reporting that the proposed toll for EACH WAY in the new toll lanes will be $4.00 for a total of $8.00 roundtrip. Republican County Commissioner Gary Fickes is very much responsible for this situation as he was the one who led the cheerleading effort on the Regional Transit council to get this plan passed.

TXDOT is holding a Public Hearing in Richland Hills to get community input. Let's get out there and show them what kind of "input" we have for them.

Public Hearing for Loop 820 Toll Road
Tues., July 1, 6:30pm
Richland Hills Church of Christ
6300 North East Loop 820
Richland Hills, Texas

Click here for a map

Link to Star Telegram Article about 820 Toll Lanes

Link to TXDOT Public Hearing in Richland Hills

Link to Toll Tag Application

Bud Kennedy: Worst bottlenecks in North Texas? Right here in Tarrant
By Bud Kennedy - Fort Worth Star Telegram - June 20, 2008
We’re No. 1.

But not in a good way.

Northeast Loop 820 in Hurst is the worst bottleneck in all of North Texas, according to a new study that ranks the region’s roads among America’s most choked, behind only Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Washington.

There’s more bad news.

Not only is the 820-Airport Freeway interchange the No. 1 bottleneck — worse than anyplace in Dallas— but the Loop 820 exits at Denton Highway and Rufe Snow Drive are Nos. 2 and 3.

Overall, Northeast Tarrant County drivers face worse traffic than anyone in Dallas or Houston, according to a study of truck GPS data compiled by INRIX Inc. of Seattle.

Only Austin — where Interstate 35 amounts to a 5-mile-long elevated parking lot — has a freeway as crowded as Loop 820, and that city’s traffic overall is nowhere near as bad as Fort Worth’s.

What’s more, the region’s No. 4 worst bottleneck is Interstate 35W north of downtown Fort Worth. It’s congested an average of 7 hours a day.

Basically, Houston and Dallas already fixed their roads. We’re waiting for state money.

I would like to assure you that every county and city official is working on the problem.

But I couldn’t find many of them yesterday. For all I know, they were stalled in traffic at Holiday Lane.

When North Richland Hills Mayor Oscar Trevino called back, he was weaving down neighborhood streets to escape U.S. 377.

He described Loop 820 as "just ugly."

"The people who have to drive that every day don’t say nice things," he said. "It’s bad for our city. Businesses want to come, but they see the traffic and say, 'Why would I get into this?’ "

County Judge Glen Whitley is very familiar with the time-waste potential of Loop 820. He lives in Hurst.

"It’s a big drawback to the whole county," he said. "The traffic north of Fort Worth is so unreliable that nobody can predict how long it’ll take to get to work."

There’s a solution in the making. But lots of Texans won’t like it.

Three Spanish-owned companies are in the running for a $1 billion contract to widen Loop 820 and operate two private toll lanes. The toll would be $4 each way.

The project is part of the North Tarrant Express, a new tollway network slow off the drawing board in Austin.

"We can’t get Austin to move forward," Whitley said. "It’s ridiculous that this is the last part of Loop 820 to be improved."

A public hearing July 1 at 7 p.m. at Richland Hills Church of Christ will give both residents and tollway-haters a chance to vent about both the slow plans and high tolls.

Terri Hall of San Antonio leads an anti-tollway group, Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom (TURF). She said she opposes any private tollway.

"The bottom line is, this the most expensive way to expand that road," she said. "It means the highest possible cost to taxpayers and drivers, and hands over money to foreign companies. When the state has a record budget surplus, it’s hard to see how there’s not money for that road."

Call it the Billion-Dollar Bottleneck.

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