by Steve Blair - Tuesday, May 17, 2007
Senate Bill 792 and House Bill 1892 -- in Austin
Yesterday the Texas Senate did a most extraordinary thing. In the Morning it heard and passed its recommendation for S 792 and sent it directly to the Floor of Senate, where it was immediately passed unanimously. Please note -- no public input allowed.
The revised S 792 guts the two year moratorium, on building additional Toll Roads, proposed by House 1892 all across Texas (with North Central Texas excepted).
Rumor in Austin has it that Perry threatened to Veto any legislation from anyone who refused to accept the S 792 as revised by Senator Carona (Williams was the original author by the way).
The effect of this will be the continued building of Toll Roads across Texas -- also called the Trans Texas Corridor by pieces.
More about this latest piece from Perry and Carona may be found at www.TexasTURF.org or www.corridorwatch.org
This affects North Central Texas in a variety of ways; however, take only one piece -- the Regional Transportation Board (RTB), a branch of the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG).
Glen Whitley, who won Vandergriff's seat and a member of the RTB, is the President of the NCTCOG Executive Board. Writing in the Star-Telegram (Sunday, May 6, 2007) in an article titled "The Road to Mobility is Paved With Practicality," he states
"In some circles, it seems that the transportation issue is no longer about which policies best serve communities but how the issue can be used for political gain."
How ironic since he and the Board NEVER gave the Public even one chance to log in to the so called conversation. No issues were ever considered too seriously except one that violates Federal Law, as noted to this Board in a Letter from James D. Ray, Chief Counsel, U. S. Department of Transportation (May 10, 2007) addressed to Amadeo Saenz, Jr., Assistant Director Engineering Operations Texas Department of Transportation.
The Letter states , "First, our major legal concern is that the legislatively enacted revised procurement process for SH [State Highway] 121 seems to directly conflict with Federal Law and FHWA regulations." The Letter clearly addresses the failure to hold necessary Public Forums for the utilization of any Federal Funds for use in Public Works. The Second concern of Ray is the avoidance of the NCTCOG from using the Federally mandated State DOT (Department of Transportation). This point addresses the actions of not allowing other entities to even bid for construction contracts. To this extent, one company alone stands out.
Whitley wrote, "One company has agreed to to spend $5 billion dollars for the right to build and lease the Texas 121 project. . . ." That one company is Cintra-Zachery, which is to be allowed to operate SH 121 as a Toll Road for a period of 50 years.
Background -- Cintra is a wholly owned Spanish Corporation which manages other Toll Roads world wide while Zachery is a Construction Contractor out of San Antonio solely owned by the Zachery Family. Although they are not technically one company, they function as one in this project. That is Zachery is in charge of all construction and Cintra controls the rest, exclusively. This is exactly the deal which Perry offered both for the totality of all TTC Contracts.
Please note that the NCTCOG includes in its own literature, "Tolls remain on project after CDA duration" or after Cintra would have to return SH 121 to the public ownership. The initial Toll Rates (or Toll Taxes as I call them) the NCTCOG defines as varying from 12.5 cents per mile to 17 cents per mile, "These peak and off-peak rates will average approximately 14.5 cents/mile." Please note that these toll rates are regulated ONLY by the operator of the Toll Facility -- without any Governmental or Public oversight.
SH 121 is the first proposed Project of the RTB as they see it as a cash cow project. The six segments which make up the SH 121 Project are projected (by the NCTCOG) to cost an estimated $902.2 million. Of that amount local governments are to contribute $48 million, Texas is to contribute $12.6 million, the Federal Government is to contribute $58.2 million, and Metro Corridor is to contribute $290.4. Other sources will contribute a total of $49.4 million. Metro Corridor would be funded by locally received sales tax revenue, which is currently capped for cities at 2%, but legislation to release the cap for Transportation is in Austin.
Thus $905.6 million will be contributed (which, by the way the NCTCOG calls $989.9 million) for the $902.2 million Project.
Another way to state this is that Cintra-Zachery will not have to contribute even 1 cent to garner a 50 year contract for SH 121 -- which will never again be free of tolls.
Let the DFW Turnpike offer an example of the profitability for this contract. The DFW Turnpike ran as a Toll Road for about 10 years until the bonds were retired and the road became what is currently US 30 between Downtown Fort Worth and Downtown Dallas. SH 121 would operate for about 40 years as free income to Cintra-Zachery, if Cintra-Zachery had to pay for the construction at all, which it does not have to do. $5 billion or more at an expense of nothing.
State and Federal Gas Taxes built the existent portion of SH 121 (the new proposal would carry SH 121 to US 75). Additional State Gas Taxes and local Sales Taxes would pay for the extension. [Federal Funds may not be available after 2010 when EPA (Environmental Protection Administration) regulations may kick in for lack of obtaining clean air standards.]
The most obvious impact of such a project will be two-fold on every consumer in the region. First, increased local sales taxes. Second, increased inflation -- directly for commuters on the road and secondarily for consumers who purchase anything that may reflect the increased cost of transportation of those goods.
Note that SH 121 is only one project for such treatment. The NCTCOG has at least 21 such projects that will completely encircle the whole DFW region, and will increase the cost of living and transporting anything in or out of the DFW region. For reference see firstname.lastname@example.org Consider also, for example, their proposal to make SH 360 a Toll Road between SH 287 and DFW Airport at their minimum cost of 14.5 cents per mile.
For now, what you might wish to do is to contact www.TexasTURF.org and follow their links to your local representatives in Austin about not allowing S 792 to override H 1892 -- demand that at least a moratorium be maintained until Public Input is allowed into the process.
You might also want to contact your local NCTCOG representatives and express your self to them about how they are violating Federal Laws demanding competitive bidding and open meetings. Here are few of the members:
Cynthia White, Chair, Commissioner Denton County,
T. Oscar Trevino, Vice Chair, Mayor, N. Richland Hills
Sheri Capehart, Council Member, Arlington
Jan Collmer, D/FW International Airport
Jack Hatchell, P.E., Commissioner Collin County
Pete Kemp, Council Member, Denton
Carl Tyson, Council Member, Euless
Kathryn Wilemon, Council Member, Arlington
Bobbie Mitchell, Commissioner Denton County
Chad Adams, Commissioner, Ellis County
Perhaps Whitley's article should note that the efforts against the Tolling of Texas are not about politics at all. The arguments are about multiple layers of taxation to support private corporations, and ownership and control of Texas' Roads by Texans after all. And it ain't no single political party that is opposing this, it is people of all parties opposing it.
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