Saturday, May 12, 2007

Next: Buying the Brooklyn Bridge

The Fort Worth Weekly
May 9, 2007
Next: Buying the Brooklyn Bridge
The Fort Worth Weekly speaks out on Fort Worth City Town Hall meeting limiting discussion of use of the revenue from gas-drilling in the city to how much should be banked instead of opening it to public comment on what the highest priorities are for its use.

Private Public Partnership for Low Cost Housing in Fort Worth Exposed

Betty Brink of The Fort Worth Weekly exposes problems with the city's low cost housing program in her May 9, 2007 article:
Broken Homes
The city housing agency might not pass inspection

Seems private public partnerships in housing are as difficult to keep free from corruption as are transportation CDA's!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Texas Wildlife Refuges Fast-Tracked for Border "Fence"

by blogger "Land of Enchantment"
posted on TEXAS KAOS Wed May 09, 2007 at 20:55:04 PM CDT
The first name given by Spanish explorers to the Rio Grande was actually the Rio de las Palmas, after the extensive forests of sabal palm trees along its lower reaches. Those forests are mostly gone now, replaced by grapefruit orchards and other farmland. Only small patches of it remain, in sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, such as Sabal Palms run by the Audubon Society east of Brownsville, Texas. The bird life at this southernmost point of the lower 48 has a Central American feel.
READ MORE of this stunning environmental post

Someone’s crying, Laura, kumbaya

Dave Levinthal of the Dallas Morning News reports on a call for harmony during the tense dramatic Dallas 2007 city elections. Opposition to the Trinity Toll Road is a hot topic in this year's election. His post on the "education technicans" employed by backers of the Trinity River Tollway Project is worth our attention. Angela Hunt's letter to Laura Miller in response to harassment of signature seeking petitioners is included in the article. Levinthal doesn't mention in this article that the supporters of the Trinity Toll Road, (Laura Miller and many corporate sponsors including Baylor Health Care System, University of North Texas, and Mary Kay) have established a non-profit educational foundation to promote the project. Some opponents charge that there are violations to the election code in using governmental and corporate money to hire consultants who are interferring with petitioners collecting signatures in opposition to the Trinity Toll Way. Things are getting interesting in Dallas. There have always been bodies were dumped near the levee of the Trinity. We'll watch to see if any political skeletons emerge from relationships with this project.

Road plan at heart of debate Park project gets broad support, but some want to slam brakes on tollway

08:22 AM CDT on Friday, May 11, 2007
By BRUCE TOMASO / The Dallas Morning News

In the latest fight over the Trinity River Corridor Project, there's one thing both sides agree on:

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since 1998. That's when Dallas voters overwhelmingly approved a $246 million bond proposal to transform the river from a ditch to a downtown jewel.

To City Council member Angela Hunt, the changes made to the plan over the years are so radical and disruptive that the current project is no longer what voters approved.

In particular, she's irate that the "Trinity Parkway" – originally a divided highway with four northbound lanes on the downtown side of the river bottoms and four southbound lanes on the Oak Cliff side – has morphed into a high-speed toll road, all on the downtown side, that will whisk motorists past the river park and lakes while providing little or no access to those recreational amenities.

Read more

House Members Must be Drinking Even Stronger Kool-Aid than Normal

Editorial by Faith Chatham
Legislation passed by the Texas House this week includes deplorable language which stands among some of the worst policies forwarded by that sometimes demenented institution.
1. While refusing to fix Transportation Funding so that Texans can have necessary state infrastucture built and maintained on tax money and pushing approval of 50 year toll contracts with private companies, the Texas House voted to cut gasoline taxes this summer by 20 cents a mile. If they truly cared about high gasoline cost, they could pass a windfall profit tax to hit at the gougers. Instead they send the message that Texas is not in a Transportation funding crisis. Attempting to justify the tax cut by taking the money of the general fund is a sham when they are refusing to stop the diversions from transportation into other uses, refusing to index the gas tax, and refusing to fully fund the Mobility Fund so that the state will have sufficient transportation funds to leverage on the bond market for transportation project financing.
2. The House passed HB 2268 which gives TxDOT, an out-of-control agency which needs an immediate, through investigation and reorganization, more authority.
House Bill 2268 let's TxDOT acquire land before a toll or road project is approved, before environmental studies are completed, before public hearings take place, etc. In short, it lets TxDOT lock in a route in advance, and then pretend like all the public input and research might actually change their decision. - Sal Costello


EDITORIAL by Sal Castello
May 11, 2007

A new bill that gives the rogue agency TxDOT more authority, HB 2268, just passed out of the House and is now heading for the Senate.

Rep. Krusee will have others hold hold up this horrible bill and claim it is a solution citizens have been asking for, but it does just the opposite and gives TxDOT MORE power to steal our land and our roads! House Bill 2268 let's TxDOT acquire land before a toll or road project is approved, before environmental studies are completed, before public hearings take place, etc. In short, it lets TxDOT lock in a route in advance, and then pretend like all the public input and research might actually change their decision.
Contact ALL Senate Transportation Committee members and tell them, “Kill HB 2268 in committee. We do not want to give TxDOT more power."

Phone the capitol and ask for each Senator 512-463-4630 (John Carona, Kirk Watson, Kim Brimer, Rodney Ellis, Robert Nichols, Florence Shapiro, Eliot Shapleigh, Jeff Wentworth, Tommy Williams). To email: (replace with each senator's first or last name, for example '')


Rick "Mr. 39%" Perry will wave a 6 page letter at his press conference Friday from the Federal Highway Administration (to compete with a good letter Hutchison extracted from Secretary Peters) in order to justify vetoing the private toll moratorium bill, HB 1892.


Governor, lawmakers try to work out agreeable toll road legislation

By Mark Lisheron
Friday, May 11, 2007
At the same time both sides in a state transportation fight were expressing optimism Thursday that a compromise could be reached, each was assessing differently the risks of losing billions of dollars in federal funding for Texas highways.

The main point of contention between lawmakers and Gov. Rick Perry is a bill passed by the House and Senate that would limit toll road contracts with private companies.

A day after Perry threatened to call for a special session on the question of private toll roads, his spokesman Robert Black said lawmakers and the governor are "very enthusiastic" about making a deal.

"We don't have a lot of time, but we have enough time," he said.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate's Transportation and Homeland
Security Committee, said Thursday that he and other negotiators might reach an agreement as soon as early next week.
Click here to see complete article

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Cintra proposes to use $2.6 Billion in U.S. Federal Money on the $2.8 Billion SH121 Project

Editorial - By Terri Hall

Problem: Spanish company to take taxpayers for 50 year toll ride

Solution: Index gas tax

Wonder why all the fuss over toll roads? Well, we’re not talking about traditional toll projects. Governor Perry and his Transportation Commission are pushing private toll road deals that limit free routes and allow the private operator to charge very high tolls. Take a gander at what the winning bidder, a Spanish company named Cintra, is telling their shareholders about the Hwy 121 private toll deal in Collin and Denton counties:
“Provides a corridor to Dallas on which there is no alternative roads.”
– Page 6, It will connect I-35 with US-75

“No planned proposed improvements to free alternative routes in the long term. Concessionaire is entitled for compensation in case existing long-term planning is modified.” – Page 11

You see, as ex-Transportation Commissioner Senator Robert Nichols, who is a stickler for details and who is also the author of a bill to halt CDAs, has noted the devil is in the details. These private toll contracts called Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDAs) include non-compete agreements like Cintra brags about to its shareholders. This means there will be no improvements made to existing roads nor any new free routes built within a certain mile radius of the toll road. Doing so would compete with or reduce toll revenues, and a private company simply won’t allow that.

Toll rates $1.50 a mile

TxDOT promises toll rates of 12-15 cents a mile, but the reality has been 44 cents up to $1.50 PER MILE on similar projects that just opened in Austin. You see, when TxDOT has admitted it costs 11 cents just to collect the tolls, they can’t possibly cover the operation or maintenance of that road with 12-15 cent tolls much less pay the private toll operator their guaranteed 12% profit. In fact, TxDOT’s mantra is that the private company will charge “market rate,” which essentially means tolls without limit since there will be few if any alternatives. Bottom line: using CDA private toll contracts is THE most expensive option for motorists. Yet the Governor and his cronies claim they’re doing all this without raising your taxes. Who do they think they think they’re fooling?

Dennis Enright, an expert in these public-private partnerships testified on March 1 to the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee that CDAs cost 50% more than traditional public toll roads. He also stated it’s always better to keep these toll projects in the public sector (having a tolling authority or TxDOT do them) rather than to privatize our highways in these monopolistic 50-year contracts.

What’s perhaps even more appalling is that the U.S. Government was involved in facilitating some $2.6 billion of this $2.8 billion project. So who’s really bringing the money to the table? The U.S. taxpayer, not the private company as TxDOT claims. So the taxpaying public will pay billions both on the front end with federally backed bonds and loans and on the back end of this deal through tolls for the next 50 years just to accelerate the construction of a single 10 mile stretch of highway.

This same company won a deal to build SH 130, won the development rights to build the first 600 miles of the Trans Texas Corridor (called TTC 35), and is one of two foreign companies bidding to takeover existing highways SH 281 and Loop 1604 in San Antonio and turn them into tollways. Senator Eliot Shapleigh asked TxDOT in a recent Senate Transportation Committee hearing if giving that much of our state highway system to a single foreign company for the next half-century gave him pause. TxDOT dodged the question.

So what’s the solution?

Pass the CDA moratorium

It’s past time to rein-in TxDOT’s push to privatize and toll our public highways in these very controversial deals that amount to horrific public policy. HB 2772 and SB 1267 have more than two-thirds majority support and would place a 2 year moratorium on CDAs giving the Legislature time to get the details of these contracts right before signing away our public highways for 50 years! Senate and House Transportation Committee Chairmen Senator John Carona and Mike Krusee are tying them up. Let’s get these bills to the floor for a vote in time to override a promised gubernatorial veto.

Index the gas tax

Let’s assume that even though TxDOT’s budget has tripled since 1990 and doubled since Rick Perry took office, and even though TxDOT has $7 billion in bonds available to them, that we are still short of cash for highways. A recent Texas Transportation Institute study showed that indexing the gas tax to inflation is all that’s needed to meet our future transportation needs without tolls. Politicians in the House, in particular, need to have the political will to enact the most affordable, most sensible financing solution. All the options we’re faced with are tax increases of one sort or another since tolls are clearly a tax, an aggressive one in the hands of a private company. The gas tax increase would cost perhaps $50 - 100 more a year versus $2,000-3,000 more a year per motorist in tolls!

However, before adding ONE DIME to TxDOT’s budget, the Legislature must also pass Senator Wentworth’s bill to stop any further hemorrhaging of the gas tax that’s been going to non-transportation sources and frivolous earmarks. The taxpayers won’t tolerate putting more money into a leaky boat. That’s what got us into this mess in the first place. So since an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure, let’s revisit the gas tax to prevent this shady widespread shift to private tolling and be done with it.

UPDATE: Financial analysts say NTTA proposal flawed - could bankrupt toll authority - Proved flawed and from TXDOT!

The article in Concession Texas was attributed to Goldman Sachs. It has been revealed that the letter was an internal working document from a highly placed TxDot employee who had project oversight for SH121. Brett Shipp of WFAA Channel 8 broke the story that:
NTTA Chairman Paul Wageman told lawmakers that he could top the Cintra deal and keep toll road money in North Texas.

Days later, a mysterious letter began making the rounds in Austin blasting the NTTA proposal. It alleged "there is a serious flaw," and also said the "NTTA proposal begins to make no sense."

The critical letter also found its way onto a toll road news web site, where it was billed as an analysis prepared by investment banker Goldman Sachs. Sachs says that characterization is false.

News 8 has learned the letter originated in a state office building at the Dallas division of the Department of Transportation.

Deputy engineer Robert Brown admits that he was the author
Full Report

Concession Texas
Posted Tuesday, May 8, 2008 18:29
A KPMG/Goldman Sachs analysis of the North Texas Toll Authority (NTTA) and Cintra proposals for a toll concession on SH121 says NTTA have used an unrealistically low discount rate on future revenues - giving only the appearance of a superior bid. They say unless NTTA were able to increase toll rates more than the the Dallas Regional Transportation Council (RTC) limits in force on the TxDOT-selected Cintra proposal, the public toll authority could be bankrupted.

The terse 2-page paper being circulated in Dallas says the NTTA proposal is seriously flawed with its low 5% discount rate. They say that unlike the Cintra offer, the NTTA proposal makes no allowance for risk.

They also suggest NTTA's proposal underfunds operations and maintenance.
Click Here to read the entire article

Mother Jones reported in January that
the Amount that Goldman Sachs gave to a PAC established by its lobbying firm, Hillco Partners, to push a 2001 Texas ballot measure allowing privately operated roads: $10,000

The Charles Webster, staff reporter for a Trenton, NJ publication cited
The report in Mother Jones magazine found that Goldman Sachs has set up an infrastructure investment arm, and has been working closely with Australian-owned Macquarie Infrastructure Group (MIG) and the Spanish construction firm Cintra to leverage lease deals for public roads and building projects for public highways.

The article describes efforts by Goldman Sachs officials to convince government officials around the country of the benefits of privatizing public roads. But the article also points out that Goldman Sachs is playing more than one side of the transaction.

On one end, Goldman Sachs is advising government entities how to proceed with the transaction, the investment firm is also working in tandem with its friends at MIG and Cintra.

On the another side, an account has created by Goldman Sachs to funnel investors’ money into an investment fund with the sole purpose of investing in highway infrastructure projects. More than $3 billion has already been accumulated into the account.

Webster wrote:
Ohio, Kansas and other states could also be headed in the same direction.

To-date, Goldman Sachs has been hired by four government entities to advise them on how to proceed with privatizing highways.

In the past five years, Goldman Sachs has helped turn over several highways from state-owned to privately run, including the 99-year lease deal of the 7.8-mile Chicago Skyway in 2005.

Shipp followed up his May 14th story the next day with a report that TxDOT has decided to allow NTTA to bid on the SH121 project.

Federal Highway Department objects to NTTA bid for SH121

A letter from the US Department of Transportation to Michael Behrens, Executive Director of TxDOT received April 26, 2007 objects to the procurement methods utilized by TxDOT on the SH121 bid. It also states that CINTRA has applied for a Federal loan for up to $700 million dollars on the SH 121 project. I thought the point of using private partners was that 1. private financing would be used instead funding by taxpayers 2. The DFW area was out of compliance with Federal Air Quality and could not qualify for federal funding.

What is true? What is a misconception? What is the understatement of the truth and what is the overstatement of the facts?

Click here to read the letter.

Lawmakers race to rework transportation measure

Posted on Wed, May. 09, 2007
AUSTIN — Under threat of a special session this summer, a key lawmaker said Wednesday that the Legislature plans to scuttle a sweeping transportation measure considered destined for a veto and send the governor a new bill more to his liking.

“I’m not canceling my vacation plans just yet,” said state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, who chairs the Senate’s committee on transportation and homeland security.

Two well-placed sources said earlier in the day that Perry would call lawmakers back to Austin unless they undo an element in House Bill 1892 that could cost Tarrant County and other areas tens of millions of dollars for road construction projections.

That feature would undermine plans by local officials in North Texas to spread those dollars all over the region in an effort to ease ever-growing urban and suburban traffic congestion. At risk would be such planned projects as the North Tarrant Express and the western link of Texas 121.

Full story

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