Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Legislation to abolish the Corridor

David Leibowitz (D-San Antonio) has pre-filed HB 11 which would repeal any authority to create and/or operate the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The link to HB 11 is
http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/Search/DocViewer.aspx?K2DocKey=odbc%3a%2f%2fTLO%2fTLO.dbo.vwCurrBillDocs%2f81%2fR%2fH%2fB%2f00011%2f1%2fB%40TloCurrBillDocs&QueryText=HB+11&HighlightType=1

This is very long, and if it doesn’t work, go to Texas Legislature Online at
www.capitol.state.tx.us
and enter HB 11 in the search box.

HB 3588 in 2003 contained the enabling legislation for the TTC. This new HB 11 would take away that authority to create the TTC. No entity, either TxDOT or Cintra, would be able to create the TTC.

An interesting question: what would happen with the agreement with Cintra if the TTC is killed by the legislature? As I understand it, the most recent contract between TxDOT and Cintra on the TTC is only a planning contract. The $3.5 million contract signed in 2005 is an agreement for Cintra to do a master plan that would show how to finance and build TTC-35.

If HB 11 or similar legislation succeeds in killing the TTC, I assume that Texas would owe Cintra only the $3.5 million for the planning contract. We'll see how it all unfolds during the upcoming session.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Coupland grain elevator tower--now you don't.


This photo is too dark to tell. I'll try to get a lighter one. The sunrise is still pretty.
Trust me, the tower is gone.

Coupland grain elevator tower--now you see it . . .

For many decades, the tower of the grain elevator along the railroad tracks graced the Coupland skyline.

Seen at sunrise, the tower is the triangular structure to the left of St. Peter's Church.

The elevators were recently torn down.

Monday, December 15, 2008

National Review article advises Obama to do like Rick Perry

The topic of Texas transportation and the stimulus package have been commented upon in National Review in an article called Wrong Road on Transportation, by Sam Staley and Adrian Moore. The general drift of the first part of the article is generally OK, about thinking of new and better ways to do transportation and using the stimulus funds in the best way to create needed jobs.

Then, they lurch right off the tracks when they come to specific recommendations.

Fortunately, we have the tools and the incentive to embrace the innovation necessary to reestablish the U.S. as a world leader in infrastructure investment. Many of President-elect Obama’s transportation advisers are poised to embrace many of these innovations, if they are appointed to key posts in the administration. Central to the reform efforts will be an expanded
role for
technology and the private sector in providing new, high-quality infrastructure.

Hundreds of billions of dollars are available worldwide for infrastructure investments in the U.S., an unintended but happy side-effect of the “flight to quality” brought about by the collapse of world financial markets. Experience in China, Australia, India, France, Spain, and elsewhere has demonstrated the importance of letting the private sector take the lead in proposing, developing, and implementing these solutions through long-term agreements with governments called public-private partnerships (PPPs).

Transportation policy may be one area where an Obama administration will leave a positive legacy for the nation and its cities. While Republican governors such as Rick Perry in Texas and Mitch Daniels in Indiana have staked out ambitious and politically courageous positions supporting PPPs . . .
I say that fortunately, I hope, the Obama administration will not take the advice of National Review, and will not go down the road of Gov. 39%, attempting to use eminent domain to take land throughout the country for the benefit of foreign corporations such as Cintra.

Full article:

http://nrd.nationalreview.com/article/?q=MTk5OTgzMDllMjlhNzA5ZTM2OTI1NzFlNDEzODY3ZDk=



Saturday, December 13, 2008

David Brooks--don't use the stimulus to encourage sprawl

David Brooks has a column in the New York Times warning about the "new" Obama stimulus funds being used to further the "old" transportation modes, rather than developing new ways of transportation to help the new suburban centers that are developing and the urban centers that are being revitalized.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/09/opinion/09brooks.html

He speaks of the recent population dispersal, where "Forty-three million people moved every year, and basically they moved outward — from inner-ring suburbs to far-flung exurbs on the metro fringe."

He says that these people now realize they want closer community and social contacts, leading to a new trend: "Meeting places are popping up across the suburban landscape. There are restaurant and entertainment zones, mixed-use streetscape malls, suburban theater districts, farmers’ markets and concert halls. In addition, downtown areas in places like Charlotte and Dallas are reviving . . .

"If, indeed, we are going to have a once-in-a-half-century infrastructure investment, it would be great if the program would build on today’s emerging patterns. It would be great if Obama’s spending would actually encourage the clustering and leave a legacy that would be visible and beloved 50 years from now."

"To take advantage of the growing desire for community, the Obama plan would have to do two things. First, it would have to create new transportation patterns. . . Second, the Obama stimulus plan could help localities create suburban town squares."

"But alas, there’s no evidence so far that the Obama infrastructure plan is attached to any larger social vision. In fact, there is a real danger that the plan will retard innovation and entrench the past. . . . The quickest thing to do is simply throw money at things that already exist."

"Before the recession hit, we were enjoying a period of urban and suburban innovation. We could have been on the verge of a transportation revolution. It looks as if the Obama infrastructure plan may freeze that change, not fuel it."

Burka comments on Hutchison poll

At Texas Monthly, Paul Burka comments on the poll showing KBH ahead of Perry by 24% among Republican primary voters.
http://www.texasmonthly.com/blogs/burkablog/?p=2162#comments

Among other things, he notes:

"What is surprising — according to the Hutchison camp — is that his support among Republican primary voters is down 10% since his 2006 race. . . . When you’re down by 24 points, you can’t just run on your record. Perry is going to have to engage in a big-time negative campaign."

A commenter to Burka's post believes:

"Any credible Democrat would beat Perry in the next general election. He has virtually no independent support and is damaged goods within the GOP. . . . The state is not working. Perry cannot win reelection. KBH is the best hope of keeping the seat in GOP hands."

And it's still 2008. We seem to have entered the land of the perpetual campaign. Shaping up to be good entertainment, in the manner of the soap opera.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Kay Bailey Hutchison starts out with big advantage over Gov. 39%

KC Jones, political director of Texans for Kay, reports that a statewide poll conducted right after Sen. Hutchison formed her Exploratory Committee for Governor gives Kay Bailey a 24-point lead over Perry among Republican primary voters. Fifty-five percent would choose Hutchison for their nominee, with only 31 % going for Perry. This is even 8 percentage points lower than the last general election total for Gov. 39%.

More results here:

http://www.texansforkay.com/assets/2008/12/12/Summary_of_Findings_TX_Statewide.pdf

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Kirk Watson on Central Texas transportation projects

Eye on Williamson has commentary on the stimulus package and Central Texas, including the difference of opinion between Sen. Kirk Watson and TxDOT about prioritizing projects. Comments plus excerpts from news articles and quotes from Watson are here:

http://eyeonwilliamson.org/?p=3498

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Another hint that the transportation powers that be want to get their hands on the Obama stimulus funds

Today's Statesman has an op-ed by Emil Henry, identified as assistant secretary of the Treasury from 2005 to 2007. The piece is called "Why the right can get behind an infrastructure program."

Several of his comments raise red flags. Why has this commentary come out now? Why is he advising some sort of new partnership between "conservatives" who may not have supported Obama and those who are now in a position to hand out the goodies of the stimulus funds?

Henry says:

"Party leaders are giving voice to historically underemphasized concerns such as the impact of airport, seaport and roadway congestion on productivity. . . . Barack Obama has indicated his intention to make infrastructure spending a central tenet of his economic plan and may even promote establishing a stand-alone agency in the form of the National Infrastructure Bank.

[Hope there will be sufficient safeguards against TxDOT looting this Bank.]

"By investing in the reduction of air, automotive and rail congestion . . . we will increase productivity and foster competitiveness.

[He offers no proof of this congestion that is decreasing productivity.]

"The nation also lacks high-speed rail."

[Again, no proof that the nation needs high-speed rail. Recent studies have shown that in most locations, high-speed rail is not the most efficient transportation method.]

"Investment in public transit, energy-efficient buildings, renewable energy and the systems required to implement roadway congestion pricing . . ."

[This means tolling your highways and charging you to enter a certain part of town, among other things.]

"Conservatives know that the private sector is better than the government at designing, building, operating and financing infrastructure." [Oh really. I don't think this is a given at all.] "This, combined with the magnitude of the spending required, means government will have to tap private capital and expertise. Conservatives can supply leadership in private-sector participation, encourage public-private partnerships and help ensure that central planning and prioritization are rooted in clinical cost-benefit analysis, not politics.

[Sure, there were no politics in the Gov. Perry, TxDOT, Cintra schemes, where consultants moved around revolving door style.]

When an opinion like Henry's appears, we can wonder if these thoughts occurred to the author just out of the blue. What prompted this column at this time? Is the author a disinterested expert wanting what is best for the country, or is he perhaps connected with some entity who would profit from stimulus funds being directed to the public-private partnerships advocated by TxDOT, such as its joint efforts with Cintra? Could this author be on some board or be acting as a consultant?

If this commentary is part of an organized effort to put the federal stimulus funds into the hands of those whose schemes were being thwarted by efforts by citizens at the state level and by current economic realities, we need to be aware of this and to let those in charge of the stimulus funds not to fall for this.

See the entire column at
http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/12/09/1209henry_edit.html

Monday, December 8, 2008

What might stimulus funds mean for transportation in our area?

TxDOT eyes funds

The new administration has proposed a $700 billion stimulus package, intended to create jobs by, among other things, rebuilding infrastructure. The headline of the Austin Business Journal article on November 24 causes the blood to run cold in those who have been fighting the ill-conceived schemes of TxDOT: "TxDOT has eyes on proposed stimulus funds.”

TxDOT has “notified the state’s Metropolitan Planning Organizations to begin identifying ‘ready to go’ projects that could qualify for a new $700 billion federal stimulus proposed this week by President-elect Barack Obama.”

“ Joe Cantalupo, executive director of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, says . . . the list is in progress and declined to name specific projects . . .”

TxDOT compiles list of projects

On December 5, the Statesman’s Ben Wear said, “Texas . . . says it has $6 billion worth of projects that could break ground by August.” State transportation departments came up with their projects at the behest of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. TxDOT claims that their “list of 852 projects was heavy with maintenance work and bridge repairs, with relatively few big new roads or road expansion projects.”

Bruce Melton, P.E., looks at the projects’ costs

Bruce Melton, P.E., a member of the fix290 group, has a commentary “Stimulus Package—Numbers you won’t believe!” He quotes from Ben Wear’s article, “The state agencies compiled the list at the request of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials. That trade group’s lobbyists wanted to be able to assure Congress that if it made the money available in the form of an economic stimulus package, it would get spent quickly enough to actually put people to work right away and stimulate the economy.”

Bruce says, “The key words above are ‘trade group’s lobbyists.” He goes on to explain “What the real numbers say.” “From the TxDOT list. the Austin Region total is $985 million, $504 million is for 290E, and there are another $184 million in other new construction projects in the Austin District bringing the total to $680 million for 11 new construction projects that predominantly or entirely include new lanes, overpasses or something blatant that shows these projects are obviously ‘new’ construction. [Bruce’s point is that this proposed new construction goes against the stimulus goal of maintenance and repairs.] This is 70% of the $985 million total for the Austin Region.

"Note, Ben’s quote above—when analyzed for the number of projects is correct. There are 95 total projects in the Austin Region—89% are for repair, rehab or maintenance.

“(Note: I have only looked at the projects that each individually total more than $10 million.)

“Total for all of Texas $6.207 billion. New construction is ALMOST HALF! Just 7% of all of the proposed stimulus projects in Texas account for 46% of the money. There are some funky statistics happening here folks.

“Oh yeah, Austin tops the list. (Dallas/Fort Worth beats Austin, but only if you add them together.)

“(In millions)
$985 Austin
$924 Fort Worth
$676 Houston
$595 Dallas
way down the list
$133 San Antonio”

[end of Bruce’s comments]

So far, the Obama administration has seemed to prefer that the proposed stimulus spending go for maintenance and repairs on existing roads and bridges, and not for new capacity unless it involves public transit.

It does seem that if the expansion of 290 East is really needed and/or if they are determined to build it whether it is needed or not, it would be better to use stimulus funds rather than proceed with the tolling plan. Right now, it hard to determine if the expansion is needed, because the final traffic study figures have not been released to the public, and the last few years of figures seem to show traffic decreasing on 290 East.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Receive entire CAMPO 290 E vote analysis from Vince

The previous post excerpted a report from Vince May about the recent CAMPO 290 East vote. If you'd like to receive his entire analysis directly from Vince, please email him at vjmay@copper.net.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Report and analysis of CAMPO 290 East vote from Vince May

The following post is a report by Vince May of CAMPO's action on 290 East tolling. These are excerpts:

"I [Vince speaking] was at the CAMPO meeting on Dec 1. This message will, hopefully, help explain what happened. First I will talk about one scene that encapsulates the evening.
CTRMA executive director, Mike Heiligenstein, was called to answer some CAMPO board members' questions. A member wanted to know about the new tax that will be charged on flyovers. Mike hemmed a bit but said that he would charge somewhere between 20 and 25 cents per use, despite the fact that he had asked for authority to charge up to 50 cents, (and that's what CAMPO gave him.) Now, go to CAMPO's web site and look at the background document for agenda item #8. It was written by Phil Eschelman, of URS, the company that has been paid $2 million to create the 290E Traffic & Revenue Study (which will remain a closely guarded secret until the bonds are sold.) Phil explains, on page 7, that the minimum toll charge on 290E was set at a threshold of 25 cents because CTRMA will be paying a private company close to 25 cents per transaction for toll collection. About ten years from now CTRMA will have at least 1,000,000 transactions per weekday. The company would earn ~$200,000 per day for debiting users' TexTag accounts. Or, $64 million per year, for a job that requires a couple of computers and a dozen workers.

The real highlight of the hearing was the dividing of the spoils. CTRMA had 3 options for pricing 290E. They could have charged 12 cents per mile, or less, with the intent of paying for the road and having no 'profit'. CTRMA chose to charge 25 to 27 cents per mile, plus annual increases exceeding CPI, and expects to earn large profits. 290E might only return 1.8 times coverage so backstopping the deal with 183A credit doesn't mean that it would lose money. It would simply earn less profit than desired.
One faction wanted the booty to be spent on building the Green Line, a CapMetro passenger rail line that would run from downtown Austin to Manor and Elgin. (Losers?) Another faction wanted the loot to subsidize developers' new subdivisions. (Partial winners?) Other thieves wanted to get the windfall for building the downtown trolley car line. (?) CTRMA and TxDOT wanted the booty for seeding more toll roads. (Partial winners.)

If people shun the toll lanes, unlikely, or Austin's economic and population growth slows, very likely, the profits could dwindle. Losses are even possible. JP Morgan would have to go begging for another bailout. The state of Texas would probably cover any shortage. One thing is certain; the people who use 290E got mugged. People who will use other Phase II roads will be mugged too. This has been CAMPO's plan ever since Gov Perry rammed HB 3588 through the legislative sausage machine. The American Statesman has known it too. Next year they will print the truth, after the T & R Study is released.

Austin area taxes will go through the roof. Can you pay an extra $2,000 per year? Three thousand? All new Travis County highways will be tolled. IH 35 and MoPac will be tolled or otherwise controlled with destination cordon fees. New passenger rail lines and trolley lines will probably create more congestion than they solve. Cities and counties in the CAMPO area will dole out a billion dollars in subsidies to office, retail and residential development. It's all part of the 2030 Master Plan.

It didn't have to be this way. Only about 100 people out of 800,000 made any real effort to stop the heist. Maybe 100 more sent an email or made some small effort.

BTW: It appears that CTRMA will build 3-lane frontage roads on 290E. It also looks like the traffic signal at Decker Lane will be taken off the road. We might end up with the same number of signal lights as currently exist, or fewer. We also managed to get a bridge built over Springdale. But these are the only victories we won on 290E.
The 290E project should be done around Jan 2013 but the second section of 290E, to just east of FM 973, was included in the vote and could be started before the first leg is complete. (I think this explains the $624 million price tag.) The second leg would be complete in 2015 but they won't begin this section if the economy is weak in 2012 or something else comes up. If it does open in 2015, 290E will cost >$2,000 per year for using it 6 days per week."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sunset Commission Decision on TxDOT on Dec. 16

The Sunset Advisory Commission has announced that on December 16, there will be a Commission Decision on TxDOT. The Commission will be meeting in the House Appropriations Committee Room, Room E1.030, Capitol Extension. See the agenda at

http://www.sunset.state.tx.us/81streports/agendas/dec_15.pdf.

The Commission notes:


Internet Access to Meeting. The meeting is broadcast live on the Internet at www.house.state.tx.us/media/welcome.php.

Current status of the proceedings will be posted on the home page at www.sunset.state.tx.us.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

CAMPO makes bad decision to toll 290 East

Last night, in spite of many public comments against it and without allowing representatives of several groups to speak, the CAMPO board voted to toll 290 East, backing it up with tolls from 183 A since revenue projections on 290 East fall short of what is needed to get 290 East financing. Here is the link to Ben Wear’s article in the Statesman.
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/12/02/1202campo.html

Excerpts from Ben Wear [boldface added]:
“The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board voted 15-3 to create a tollway system made up of the existing, and profitable, 183-A toll road in Cedar Park and U.S. 290 East, which based on projections will not have sufficient revenue to persuade investors to lend more than a half billion dollars to build it.

“Some CAMPO members objected to the financial partnership Monday, saying it violates the intent of policies adopted in October 2007, when the board approved the U.S. 290 East project and four other potential toll roads. At that time, the board agreed that excess toll revenue from the five roads would be spent first in the general area of each road rather than being used for improvements far afield.

“The authority says that preliminary traffic and revenue studies [which were withheld from the public] show that U.S. 290 East will be able to meet its debt payments and operating costs without any transfer of money from 183-A.

“Voting against the plan were Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt, Sunset Valley Mayor Jeff Mills and state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez.”

This article does not discuss several points that citizens have pointed out: tolls increased and free lanes decreased since information was presented to the public, studies withheld from the public, extra hardship on lower income commuters coming to Austin from the Manor area, increasingly risky financial environment, and more.

Some of these problems have already been presented to the Federal Highway Administration. There may be other avenues to continue fighting tolling 290 East. However, right now, the CAMPO board has made a bad decision for commuters from eastern Travis and Williamson counties and a bad financing decision for decades to come. The CAMPO board has decided to support those who have interests in sprawl along 290 East and to try to build up SH 130 toll traffic, which is behind projections.

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Glitch" in CAMPO 290 E plan--design and tolls have changed

Round-up of interesting info about tonight's possible CAMPO vote to toll 290 East and tie the financing into a system with 183 A. This is from Mary Anderson, director of Texans Against Tolls. Mary has been working nonstop for the last few days to inform people about this improper vote and to get people to turn out for this meeting.

Urgent! CAMPO Board Meeting!
Mon, Dec. 1st, 2008, 6:00 pm

This may be one of our LAST changes to defeat the TOLL Roads! We have just discovered a "glitch" that may hold up the CAMPO Vote on Monday, if enough of you can show up to Tell the Board--- NO!


Where: Joe C. Thompson Center , University of Texas Campus,
SW Corner of Dean Keeton (26th Street) and Red River Streets, Austin


Ask the CAMPO Board to vote NO to approving the financial plan. The "glitch" is that the Plan has now changed in both road design (2 lanes instead of 3) and higher toll charges, thus requiring more public hearings and meetings before the Board can even legally vote to allow tolls on Hwy. 290 East

& mail them at: campo@campotexas.org


Say NO! - to false Market Valuation for Hwy 290 East; Say NO! - to using Hwy 183A as collateral for 290E, and Say NO! to tolls on Hwy. 290 East!


It's very important that you show up at the Dec.1st, Monday, CAMPO meeting to tell the CAMPO Board to vote NO on approving that Toll road 183A and having its Toll income be used as leverage and collateral for building the toll road on 290E. This is the only way they can do it, because the "market valuation for 290E came in as negative," in other words, it's in the RED, so currently there is nothing to back up the bonds that JPMorgan-Chase & CTRMA want to sell without getting approval from CAMPO Board to either falsely re-evaluate Hwy 290E, or to use as collateral the tolls from Hwy 183A.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Join SOS letter to CAMPO against 290 E tolling

Mary Anderson, director of Texans Against Tolls, has sent around a letter from the Save Our Springs Alliance to CAMPO against their plan to toll 290 East. The CAMPO board will meet on Monday, December 1, at 6 p.m., in the Joe C. Thompson Center, University of Texas Campus, Dean Keeton (26th Street) and Red River Streets, Austin.

The CAMPO board may decide to change 290 East to a toll road even though there are many reasons NOT to toll 290 East. Since the plan was presented to the public, the plan has changed, with higher tolls and fewer free lanes on the frontage roads. Given these changes, CAMPO should hold more public meetings to present the changes and to allow more public comment.

The Save Our Springs Alliance is asking for others to sign their letter and send it in to CAMPO. The letter makes many good points against tolling 290 East; you can use it as is, or make changes as you wish. Send your comments to CAMPO before the Monday meeting. Then attend the meeting to show opposition to 290 East tolling.

campo@campotexas.org

Here is the letter:

Open Letter to CAMPO on 290 East and Toll System Financing

December 1, 2008

Dear Senator Watson and CAMPO Board Members:

We urge you to reject the CTRMA’s 290 East financial proposal and send a message to your partners that toll system financing, or “cross-collateralization,” is not the way forward for this region.

In our view, a debt-financed toll system is an unsustainable and inequitable approach to transportation that will gravely damage our communities and environment. Approving the proposal reverses safeguards for financial transparency and accountability that CAMPO unanimously adopted only a year ago.

As a matter of timing, we believe it is wrong to schedule deliberation and action on this major debt commitment when the CAMPO board still has pro-toll "lame duck" members like Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty and State Representative Mike Krusee. Both of these officeholders are leaving office, in substantial part, because voters opposed their support for toll roads.

In addition, making this decision in a CAMPO meeting immediately on the heels of the Thanksgiving holiday minimizes public oversight and participation. We request that you defer all action on this item until after new members are seated and adequate notice and information has been provided to the public. New CAMPO members with fresh perspectives on the region’s transportation issues should be given a chance to examine and weigh in on this radical CTRMA proposal.

The proposed cross-collateralization scheme currently on the table would tie 290East and 183A together. However, CTRMA and JPMorgan have made it clear they want to tie all of the Phase II toll roads together in one web of cross-collateralization. This is precisely the kind of "risk sharing" that has produced the current global financial crisis—the idea that bad bets get better when you make more of them and use them to "guarantee" each other against failure.

The 290 East project, standing alone, is not financially viable. It is not magically transformed into a financially responsible investment by bundling it with 183A. Passing this proposal now would be reckless. CTRMA and JP Morgan so far have failed to share essential information with the public and with CAMPO members. Basic traffic and revenue information for 290 East has not been released. The public has a right to know such details before any further actions are taken.

The proposed 290 East toll project is also unfair—disproportionately harming the health and living standards for low-income and minority populations along its path and imposing tolls on commuters living outside CAMPO boundaries. The 290 East Tollway would bring more pollution into our communities, only benefit those who pay tolls, and perpetuate sprawl.

Change in Washington DC should translate into change in Austin. President-elect Obama has called for a real commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Phase II toll road system, including 290East, is in direct conflict with a sustainable, climate-friendly transportation system. With the change in national administration, more federal financial resources may become available for infrastructure, without the need for expensive and uncertain toll debt schemes.

Transportation spending priorities may change too, away from sprawl inducing roadways. President-elect Obama has called for investing in repair of existing roads and bridges. The Phase II toll system should be put on hold until we figure out how to fix and maintain what we have.

Any debt financing should be used sparingly—reserved only for projects that reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and promote equity and sustainability. If we are going to call on our children to pay for our decisions today, then those payments should be for a safer, more sustainable future, rather than for projects that depend on repeating and expanding the mistakes of the past.

In conclusion, we respectfully request that CAMPO reject the CTRMA’s proposal and follow its own financial accountability safeguards that were approved unanimously less than a year ago. At the very least, CAMPO should delay voting on this ill-timed and uninformed proposal until new members are seated and essential information is released.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Undersigned

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ralph and Marcia Snyder receive award

For posts about Sal Costello and David Stall, see previous two posts.






Left to right: Fred Grant, President, Stewards of the Range
Marcia Snyder
Ralph Snyder

Ralph and Marcia Snyder, of Holland, Texas, have been fighting against the Corridor ever since it was authorized in 2003. In 2007, they were instrumental in forming the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission (ECTSRPC), the first of the 391 commissions that are forming state-wide to protect their areas against the Corridor. They recently received the “Spirit of Liberty” award at the annual convention of Stewards of the Range and the American Land Foundation held in Austin. This award is given to individuals who work tirelessly to protect private property and their local communities from government intrusion.


Mae Smith, mayor of Holland and president of the ECTSRPC said of the Snyders, “Without their knowledge and dedication to our community, we would never have known what to do or how to fight the Texas Department of Transportation’s plans to destroy our community.”


The ECTSRPC has forced TxDOT to coordinate their plans with the commission during several meetings. The commission also has met with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.


The Stewards of the Range and the American Land Foundation are property rights organizations leading the fight against the Corridor.

Thanks to David and Linda Stall

David Stall, co-founder of Corridor Watch along with wife Linda, has had a long career as a city administrator, as well as dedicating so much time to fighting the Corridor. Unfortunately, during this run-up to the 2009 legislative session when the Stalls would usually be extremely busy planning strategy and contacting legislators, David’s time is totally taken up with helping his city of Shoreacres recover from Ike.

The Houston Chronicle’s article is “Tiny Shoreacres bears big burden.”
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/hurricane/ike/6109463.html

"Hurricane Ike's storm surge slammed into the picturesque Shoreacres
bayfront in the predawn darkness, turning houses into breezeways as it knocked out walls on its relentless push inland. Today, exactly two months after Ike hit, the scene remains one of utter devastation.

"Eighty-eight percent of the 693 homes in this southeast Harris County
community were flooded, including many that stayed dry during Hurricane Carla in 1961, Hurricane Alicia in 1983 and Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, City Administrator David Stall said. Only about half of the 1,500 residents have returned.

"Stall, the city administrator, said only about a dozen families rode
out the storm in Shoreacres. No one died during Ike, he said, but one elderly man died later from illness he contracted while staying in a house full of wet furniture.

"Stall and other members of the town's 14-person work force kept
Shoreacres functioning in spite of flooded water and sewer plants, no water service for two weeks and no power for even longer.

"Stall slept in his car or on the second floor of City Hall, which stayed dry. With no cell phone service in town, he drove daily into Houston with an air card-equipped laptop until he found a signal so he could download e-mails and post information on the town's Web site."

A heartfelt “Thank You” to David and Linda for all their accomplishments against the Corridor and best wishes to David as he works to help his city.

Giving thanks for some anti-Corridor folks

On this day before Thanksgiving, I’m thinking of some of the people who have fought against the Trans-Texas Corridor for the past several years, and I’m giving thanks for them.

Unfortunately, two of these influential people are out of combat right now. Sal Costello has moved to Illinois, and David Stall’s time is totally dedicated to helping Shoreacres, where he is city administrator, recover from Hurricane Ike.

Luckily, Marcia and Ralph Snyder are still fighting against the Corridor, and they have won an award for it.

SAL COSTELLO

Sal was the founder of People for Efficient Transportation and Texas Toll Party. He started his transportation activism fighting the toll road plans in Austin, then added the fight against the Corridor to his efforts. His blog The Muckracker was full of research and the scandalous doings of “tollers,” including local and state office holders. Sal never pulled his punches or minced words. He was threatened with at least one lawsuit, but as far as I know no lawsuit against him was successful.

Ben Wear discusses Sal’s anti-toll career in his Statesman column.
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/11/17/1117wear.html

Sal has recently moved to a very small community in Illinois where he and his family are finding the peace and quiet that eluded them while Sal was going full steam ahead against toll roads and the Corridor.

What was to be his last Muckracker post is entitled “I Say Good-bye,” although when I went back to check, I see that Sal has posted a couple more times. Maybe he will continue to comment on the Austin and Texas transportation scene from time to time. To see his account of his efforts and the reasons for his move, go to
http://salcostello.blogspot.com/
and scroll down to 11/09/2008.

I'm covering David Stall and the Snyders in subsequent posts.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Fighting for country life

Thanks to husband Buz for the link to the English folk group Show of Hands and this song called "Country Life." The "barons" destroying everything of the roots of village and agricultural life in the British Isles. We are still fighting over here.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=78Y7cBLJWgI&feature=related

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jim Lutz work--see previous post for details



The Taxpayer's New Suit or the Blue Sky Straightjacket

Jim Lutz work in East Austin Studio Tour

If you'll be in Austin this weekend, please go by to see the work of Jim Lutz at the East Austin Studio Tour. Jim and his family live in a historic farmhouse in the Manor area. His work will be displayed in the studio of a friend in Austin.

Details from Jim:

Hello Friends,

There are 200 artists displaying their work at 150 different East Austin studios.....It's called the East Austin Studio Tour.

I will be set up in the studio of a good friend....Barry George.....a stellar metal sculptor.

The Barry George Studio is located at 204 Attayac.....that is from East 1st and I35....go 4 blocks east, turn left at Attaya, go two blocks.

The show will be during daylight hours Sat. and Sunday, Nov. 22nd and 23rd. I will leave early on Sunday afternoon to attend a memorial and return the closing hour.

We will have coffee and some pastries....Please come by and visit.

My page in the official EastAustinStudioTour website is .......http://www.eastaustinstudiotour.com/2008/homeexplorer.html

Jim Lutz
www.BolaMan.com
--
Jim Lutz
www.BolaMan.com
and Maya Glyph Jewelry
512-272-5170

Less driving means less business for risky toll roads

In keeping with recent criticisms of the risky financing schemes based on out-dated travel statistics that are being pushed by TxDOT, CAMPO, and CTRMA, Patrick Driscoll of the San Antonio Express News, discusses the latest figures that show that traffic counts are falling in both rural and urban areas.

Plunging gas prices aren't getting Americans back in their cars, according to AAA and the latest federal data.

Despite gas prices hovering near $2 a gallon this Thanksgiving season, more than $1 less than a year ago, 600,000 fewer people will travel 50 miles or more from home compared to last year, AAA says.

The 1.4 percent drop is the fourth decline in a row for a holiday this year, the first for a Thanksgiving since 2002, when the 2001 terrorists attacks were still fresh memories.


Lower gas prices are not causing drivers to return to their old driving ways. Apparently, drivers have gotten used to more frugal driving habits and are continuing to save money on gas, rather than upping their driving.

Though gas prices, after peaking above $4 a gallon in July, slid more than 35 cents over two months, wary Americans kept avoiding the roads in record numbers. August saw the largest monthly decline in driving ever, and September marked the 11th drop in a row.

U.S. motorists drove 10.7 billion fewer miles in September compared to last year, down 4.4 percent. Texans drove 4.3 percent less.

Worth pointing out, federal officials say, is that travel dived 8 percent on interstates in rural areas. Still, on urban interstates, mileage dipped 3.9 percent.


See his post at
http://blogs.mysanantonio.com/weblogs/traffic/archives/2008/11/lower_gas_price_1.html#comments

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Deadline to oppose 290 E tolling today--analysis from Jim Lutz

You can still register your opposition to tolling 290 E to CAMPO; deadline is today.
campo@campotexas.org

Here is more good analysis of the problems that a Manor Expressway/Tollway will cause 290 E travelers. Jim Lutz is a Manor-area resident.

Nov 18, 2008
To: CAMPO/CTRMA Officials….relating the the Manor Hearing on Nov 13, 2008 concerning the proposed “system” of joining 183A Tollway with the 290E Manor “Tollway” Expressway
I oppose combining the tollroads 183A with the proposed Manor Expressway based on the following concerns.

Can you afford to drive the 290East Tollway?
If you are an Austin resident wanting to slip away out of Austin to the east you have the option of driving on a “freeway” that is highway 71 East or the planned 290E tolled “Manor Expressway”. An occasional toll of $1.25 one way should not be bothersome to pay.
Alternatively if you are an east Travis County resident who must use 290East twice daily to drive to and from work into Austin, a two way daily $2.50 fee adds up to $12.50 weekly or $50 each and every month. Additional weekend trips into a grocery store are other activities increase this monthly expense. In 2013 dollars at the proposed opening of the Manor Tollway the tollrate will have increased to approximately $3.28 daily or $64.00 monthly based on the average CPI (Consumer Price Index) for the past ten years. The Manor Tollway is the only central Texas tollway to automatically increase the toll rate based either on the CPI (Consumer Price Index) or GSP (Gross State Products) formula, whichever is larger.
A Funding Snag
The $625 million dollar “Manor Expressway” or more accurately called the “Manor Tollway” had been preapproved by CAMPO (Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) over substantial protests by East Travis County area residents previously in local hearings. A snag has occurred in the proceedings, a preliminary traffic/revenue analysis indicates that our area residents expenditures on the planned tollway don’t add up to the necessary revenue to finance our Manor tollway.
In order for the numbers to justify it’s creation, the organization who is responsible for carrying out the nitty gritty of executing CAMPO’s plans, that is, the recently created CTRMA (Central Texas Regional Metropolitan Authority), has authored a new plan. That is to join as a “system” the currently operating “183A Tollway” built as an alternative route going NW toward Leander with the planned 290E Manor “Tollway” Expressway. 183A is the first and only project at this date that the CTRMA has planned and is responsible for.

Comparing the Driver’s Cost of the 290 “Tollroad” With Other Area Tollroads
TxDot (Texas Department of Transportation) operates 49 miles of north/south Tollway 130 which currently costs 12.2 cents a mile. It costs 11.5 cents per mile to travel on 45N and Loop 1 toll is 15 cents per mile according to TxDot officials. The toll for 45South between 130 and I35 south near Kyle is going to be 15 cents per mile when it opens in the near term. The rates for these roads can only laboriously be changed by approval of new transportation studies (traffic/revenue) authorized by the three elected members of the TTC (Texas Transportation Commission). Public input is a part of this process. These Tollways were designed to pay for themselves rather than being created as a “cash cow” as seed money for more tollways.
Alternatively the new regional roadway authority CTRMA charges 183ATollway drivers 27 cents a mile on the 6 miles of completed portions of 183A and provides 6 additional miles of non tolled access roads northwest of Austin. The CTRMA has the authority to raise the tolls for what the market will bear without additional hearings.
The Manor Tollway which also will be a project of the CTRMA will cost approximately 20 cents a mile at current prices and by opening date will cost approximately the current rate of 183A or in the range of 27 cents per mile. The CTRMA is planning for all of the tollways they operate to have the same per mile cost to the public.
Profit from these managed roads by CTRMA can go toward other transportation projects as monies are available.



The Manor “Tollway” Expressway and 183A Tollway System
The hearings in Manor last week on Nov 12th and 13th were a requirement for CAMPO and the CTRMA to get approved the joining into a “system” of the existing 183A tollway and the “Manor Tollway”. By creating this “system” the roadway authority can better financially justify the funding for the proposed 290E tollway. The meetings were the citizens opportunity to have input into this process. Comments were to be turned in within a week on Wed. November 19th by mail or email.
CAMPO’s email address is campo@campotexas.org
The hearing presentation was presented in a 10 minute power point presentation about the advantages of creating the “system” to make the entire project more affordable for the public. There was no detail whatsoever about the comparison of actual costs to local consumers for this project. The above information is the result of two days of phoning TxDot, CAMPO and CTRMA officials and going through web content for these entities.
Inadequate Public Discussion and Comment Time Provided
For citizens unable to attend the hearings there has been inadequate opportunity to learn about the respond to the presentation. Public comment was to be turned in at the meeting or within 7 days of the hearings. Our weekly local newspaper, the Manor Messenger, comes out each Thursday preventing information about the meeting to be published preceding the deadline for public comment.


No Representation of the Manor Community on the 20 member Transportation Board
Perhaps the reason no local, state or federal funds are included in the funding for the Manor “Tollway” Expressway is that there is no local representation on the 20 member CAMPO board demanding fairness on our behalf. The board is made up of elected officials, none of whom directly represent the Manor area except State Senator Kirk Watson who as chairman of the CAMPO board due to a conflict of interest does not vote on the Manor tollroad having a fiduciary interest in it’s construction. There are 5 mayors on the CAMPO board from the 3 county area but not the Mayor of Manor. There are 5 county commissioners or elected county officials on the CAMPO board but not the county commissioner for Manor.
Economic Advantage to Manor
If and when the Manor “Tollway” Expressway comes our way it may prove to be beneficial in many respects and ultimately enhance our economic future. I resent rather the lack of regard and the manipulation of the public by the officials responsible. The lack of usable and comparable factual information related to this process and inadequate time for public response contributes to the distain the public has toward our elected officials.
The creation of a Manor Tollway rather than address the problems of the Manor bottleneck of rush hour traffic to and from daily commutes to Austin will instead exacerbate this problem. I was told by a Tx Dot official that because of Manor citizens opposition to the tollroad at previous hearings the resolution of 290 East traffic resolutions through the city of Manor has been postponed to a later date. Unfortunately the planning by business interests for commercial endeavors benefiting our community rests on the planning and acceptance of a final 290 traffic plan through Manor by state and city officials.



Making the Manor “Tollway” Expressway Palatable
If there is no other means of securing funding….
The CAMPO board should endeavor to secure funding for a of 33% to 50% of the $625 million budget from the state or federal funds. Postpone construction until reasonable partial funding is available. The citizens who daily will be forced to use this tollroad are the most economically disadvantaged group within Travis County and can least afford the extra expenses involved.
Future funding for paying down the debt of this roadway should be pursued when the federal resolution to highway construction expenses is addressed in the near term.
Funding for this facility should eliminate “built in” profit for the advancing of other CTRMA transportation endeavors.
Maintenance for the roadway should be be paid for by funds made available to TxDot consistent with TxDot responsibilities for maintenance of other state highways.
The tollway must be made affordable for the daily users of this roadway rather than the occasional user.
Please call it the “Manor Tollway” and not the Manor “Expressway”.

In fairness,
Jim Lutz
14812 FM 973N
Manor, Tx. 78653
JimLutz@BolaMan.com

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

290 E Finance Plan

This is a detailed explanation by Vince May of what drivers on 290 E might be paying in tolls during the next few years.

290 E Tolling Finance Plan
By Vincent J. May

CTRMA is requesting that CAMPO vote to approve their Finance Plan for building and operating Hwy 290E. Let's look at CTRMA's plan.

CTRMA says that the toll on opening day, which they say will be in 2013, will be "15 to 20 cents per mile" but they also state that this number is in 2007 dollars and that they will increase the toll each year until the road opens by the rate of Consumer Product Inflation (CPI) or the rate of per capita increase in Texas Gross State Product (GSP), whichever is greater. (CAMPO's web site, page 3)

Texas GSP increased by 5.1% in 2005 and regularly outperforms CPI. Let's calculate "20 cents per mile" with 6 years of 5.1% increases, compounded. (Wikipedia)

2007......2008......2009......2010......2011......2012.......2013
--20--------21.02------22.09------23.21-------24.40------25.64---------27-----

2014.....2015......2016.. ..2017......2018
28.33-----29.77-----31.29-----32.88------34.56

The first year that 290E opens we would most likely be paying 27 cents per mile. (CTRMA could choose a lower rate of increase that would yield 24 cents per mile but we already know that they will have to 'borrow' money from the 183A project if 290E tolls are too low, so that is unlikely.)

CTRMA says that the project is 6.2 toll-able miles. By multiplication we see that a one way toll on opening day would be $1.68, or $3.34 per day. If you drive 290E 6 days per week, that's $1,042 per year. But, that's not all. CTRMA is asking for authority to charge 50 cent tolls for use of flyover bridges at the 183 / 290E interchange. Note, when TxDOT was rebuilding 183, they designed the intersection to strongly influence people to use flyovers. E.g., people traveling west on 290E who turn onto northbound 183 can't get on the 183 mainlanes until after they go through the Cameron Rd intersection. Same thing for turning onto southbound 183. You are forced to go through the Springdale light before entering the 183 mainlanes.

Add another $156 dollars per year if you turn onto 183. That's $1,198 dollars per year. More than most 290E residents pay for health care. How do you do that on a fixed income? You don't. You drive the frontage roads. CTRMA has data on how many people it expects to be forced onto the frontage roads but they refuse to surrender this information, even though they paid $1.9 million dollars for it. (CTRMA is in criminal violation of Texas law by withholding the Traffic & Revenue Study.)

SH 130 is only 11 cents per mile. Why would CTRMA want to charge so much for using 290E? There are 2 reasons.

CTRMA proposes to build 290E entirely with borrowed money. Every highway built until now has had input from local funds (City and/or county), state (TxDOT or Mobility funds) and Federal. SH 130, Ben White Blvd, 183A had local, state and federal participation. People who live in East Travis County helped pay for these roads through our property taxes. But, now that TxDOT gets around to building our road, through their fully owned subsidiary, CTRMA, the well is dry. Why, those folks in East Travis are too stupid to know what's happening anyway.

The toll structure on 290E is not designed to pay for 290E. It is intended to generate revenue that will be used as seed money for converting more sections of 290E into more tolled miles. Then they will seed Parmer Lane as a toll road. The Mobility Authority could use our money to build roads in Williamson County. They could build TT-C railroad lines between Manor and Elgin. They will use our money to build utility lines into our neighborhoods. The utilities will be owned by the City of Austin and the city will annex our neighborhoods. Everything is possible when you create a Mobility Authority, instead of a Highway Authority or a Tollway Authority. 'Mobility' subsumes everything that moves, whether it is people in cars or turds in a pipe.

That's how a revenue generating toll road works. Promoters will tell you that your city and county property tax rates will go down if you support tolling. I hope you didn't fall for that one. Taxes always go up and you will probably get annexed and have to pay City of Austin property taxes. In ten years, 2018, a person getting on a tolled 290E at FM 973 would be paying $2,500 per year just to use 290E. (Most economists expect disposable incomes to decline (in constant dollars) over the next 10 years.)

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

CAMPO is inviting your testimony on the 290E Finance Plan. Here is what I'm going to tell them:

I don't want 290E tolled. I will be happy if you just build one section of the project from 183 to the Manor Flea Market. This can be built for >$125 million, the same amount of subsidy that the City and County combined gave to the owners of the Domain shopping center. It is well known that you all intend to give more subsidies to other shopping center owners so you can just eliminate one of those gifts to pay for East Travis County's pressing road needs. In a few years, after Governor Perry and President Obama have increased the gas taxes, we can start on the next section of 290E.

If you (CAMPO) decide that tolling is the only way to build 290E, then I insist that:
CAMPO follows the traditional formula of local and state participation in financing the project. The object here is to lower the toll so that the maximum number of travelers be able to use 290E. I'm thinking of a 10 cent toll on opening day, with annual increases never exceeding CPI.

There will be no excess revenue generation. Toll money will only be used to retire bonds, pay operation fees, and repay any funds borrowed from 183A. There will be no "refunding" of the bonds which increases the original term of indenture, which will not be greater than 30 years. We do not want to create permanent debt for future generations.

Maintenance costs shall be paid by TxDOT. TxDOT got caught lying about its future revenue needs, by $30 billion dollars. Tell CTRMA to go back and renegotiate with TxDOT to shoulder the maintenance cost. TxDOT should not get a free ride.
The building plan is excessive. I count 8 bridges in 5 miles. Three of these bridges can be deferred for 10 or 20 years until traffic warrants building them. We do not need 4 direct connectors at 183. Two will suffice if TxDOT can be persuaded to improve access to 183 on the frontage roads.

CAMPO should censure CTRMA for devious practices. People in the 290E corridor have been denied access to the 290E Traffic & Revenue Study and other information that is necessary for any citizen in evaluating this project. This reproachful behavior must not be left unanswered.

Comment to CAMPO re 290 E tolling

I have been out of town and neglecting my blogging. This is very late notice, but I'm posting the message sent to the ACRE email group about commenting to CAMPO about tolling 290 East. The deadline is tomorrow, November 19.

CAMPO is accepting comments from the public about the tolling of 290 East. There are two parts of their plan to comment on—the Statement of Purpose and the Financial Plan.

STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
290 East Toll Project

The Statement of Purpose calls for creating a “system” comprised of 183A and 290 E. Among other problems, this plan violates the Eckhardt covenant against using revenue from one toll area to benefit another area. The Statement of Purpose is at campotexas.org.

You may submit comments to CAMPO by fax or email until November 19.
fax 512-974-6385
email campo@campotexas.org

FINANCIAL PLAN
290 East Toll Project

The Financial Plan was developed to fund 290 E tolling. It includes the possibility that revenue from 183A and 290 E could be used to support each other. I really don’t see why there are two plans to comment on, since both seem to say that 183A and 290 E will be in one system with revenues from 183A backing up 290 E. Be that as it may, comments are being taken on the Financial Plan until November 19.

fax 512-974-6385
email campo@campotexas.org

HELPFUL INFO FROM BEKI HALPIN OF THE FIX 290 GROUP

Beki says, “CAMPO counts these remarks as ‘for the project’ or ‘against the project.’ Or ‘for the financing mechanism’ or ‘against the financing mechanism.’”

So if you want to register your opinion about tolling 290 E in a simple way, just send CAMPO an email at campo@campotexas.org saying, for example, “I am against the 290 E project, and I am against the 290 E financing mechanism.” Or you could send two emails—one against the 290 E project and one against the 290 E financing mechanism.

Beki continues, “Pro-toll groups get their members to email in mass to CAMPO in support of projects like this one just to inflate the numbers that support the project. . . . Let’s make our voice heard too.”

It is especially important for those who are in the 290 E area and will have to pay these tolls just to commute to send in comments.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New rail line from Taylor to San Antonio or expansion of the line through Coupland?

“ACRE” includes anti-rail expansion through our area

Several years ago, ACRE began in Coupland as the Anti-Corridor/Rail Expansion group. For the most part, our focus has been on the “Anti-Corridor” part. More has been going on with the Trans-Texas Corridor than with “Rail,” with the exception of some discussion of the rail portion of the Corridor.

TxDOT proposes expanding rail through Coupland area

However, now a report has come out that deals with rail routes in our Coupland area. At the end of July, TxDOT released the Central Texas Rail Relocation Study.
To see the entire report, go to: ftp://ftp.dot.state.tx.us/pub/txdot-info/tpp/ctr_rail_study.pdf
The Study contains 147 pages with detailed maps and a letter from Union Pacific at the end.

Once again, people who live elsewhere have thought of another use for our land. They want to move UP’s freight rail from the line in Austin through our valuable farmland so that they can put commuter rail on the line in Austin. It is beside the point that very few will use this commuter rail because of the arrangement and dispersion of our population and our preference for personal transportation. This does not matter to those who would line the pockets of contractors and elevate officials and bureaucrats through the construction of new or expanded rail lines through our area and of the new commuter line.

No power or money to move the freight rail right now

I don’t want to alarm residents in our area. The alternative routes that are in this Study would cause disruption, but so far, there is no power and no money to move this freight rail. We in our area need to be aware of what is in this Study because both of the proposed changes in freight rail begin at Taylor.

Taylor and Coupland affected

There are two main alternatives discussed in this Study. One is to upgrade UP’s existing route beginning in Taylor, going through Coupland, and on to Elgin and Bastrop. The second is an entirely new route going from Taylor to San Antonio.

Taylor would be affected by route changes as seen on the map entitled Figure 1-1 that is the 121st page in the Study document. Expanding the existing line going south would involve changes in how the line is connected in Taylor and changes in curves south of Taylor. Building a new route between Taylor and San Antonio (the Austin Bypass) would involve a new line leaving existing rail east of Taylor and cutting a diagonal line toward the southwest, south of Taylor.

Expanding the existing route through Coupland

Coupland residents need to know that the Report says:

“An overpass for FM 1466 is proposed in Coupland. Coupland is a small
community and the main business district is located along FM 1466 and only a
few hundred feet away from the railroad
(Figure 1-1). Elevating FM 1466
through this area will have a significant impact to access to the businesses.
Further study is needed to determine if a grade separation is feasible at this
location.”

The map Figure 1-1 on the 121st page of the document notes the proposed overpass at Coupland.

Austin Bypass

The alternative other than expanding through Coupland is called the direct Austin Bypass. It is a totally new route, moving the freight rail from Austin to the southwest of Taylor and west of Coupland.

Study is a presentation of possibilities

I want to emphasize that there is no definite plan for any of the alternatives in this report. First, there is no money. The July 31 Statesman article by Ben Wear says, “[I]t remains unclear how either the state or Central Texas governments will raise the money for the freight line bypass or the commuter line.” The TxDOT engineer in charge of the study said, “The biggest obstacle is funding.”

One possibility for funding is a rail relocation fund approved by state voters in 2005. Our Coupland voters and many other rural districts around the state voted against this rail relocation fund. (Some may remember Sylvia Summers and me standing outside Coupland School holding signs against this rail fund. Thanks for your support!) So far, this fund is unfunded; the commuter rail proponents hope to convince legislators to put money into it.

Union Pacific doesn’t want to move and doesn’t have to

Union Pacific is not pushing this project. When UP’s Joe Arbona spoke in Coupland, he said that UP was happy with its current routes. The state can’t force UP, which is regulated by the federal government, to do anything. The Central Texas Rail Relocation Study concludes, “UP, as a private industry, owns and operates on its existing facility and may be resistant to relocating to another corridor without adequate compensation.”

UP rejects Trans-Texas Corridor

UP also does not want its routes to be included in the Trans-Texas Corridor. “[W]e are opposed to any relocation of Union Pacific’s operations in the San Antonio-Austin area as a part of the Trans Texas Corridor. Inclusion of this corridor as part of the TTC project would limit both operation and commercial flexibility,” UP Vice President John Rebensdorf said in a letter to TxDOT. This letter from UP to TxDOT is on the last two pages of the Study.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hearings on using 183A to finance 290 East toll road

Sent by Andrew Hawkins through fix290.

http://www.campotexas.org/pdfs/290EAnnouncement.pdf

Public Hearings for Statement of Purpose and the Financial Plan for a Portion of US 290E CAMPO, together with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA), will hold two public hearings on a draft Statement of Purpose for creating a “system” comprised of 183A and a portion of US 290E. The draft Statement of Purpose may be viewed by visiting the CAMPO website or may be obtained by calling 512.974.2275.

• Wednesday, November 5, Cedar Park Public Library, 550 Discovery Boulevard

• Thursday, November 6, Akins High School, 10701 South 1st Street, Austin

An Open House will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a presentation starting at 6:30 p.m. Comments will be taken after the presentation or may be submitted until November 19 to CAMPO by letter, fax or email. Additional information and contact information for CAMPO is available at:www.campotexas.org.

Two additional public hearings will be held on November 12 and 13 at Bluebonnet Trail Elementary School, 11316 Farmhaven Road in Austin, to receive comments on the financial plan the CTRMA developed to deliver the US 290E project. The financial plan raises the possibility that revenue from 183A and US 290E could be used to support each other in the future to the benefit of either project. An Open House will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a presentation starting at 6:30 p.m.

Comments will be taken after the presentation or may be submitted until November 19 to CAMPO by letter, fax or email. Additional information and contact information for CAMPO is available at: www.campotexas.org. For questions: 512.974.2275 (Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Statesman's Ben Wear investigates Craddick's TTC "dead" comments

Back on October 20, we reported that KXAN was running a quote from Speaker Craddick that the Corridor was dead. Craddick said, "Everybody in Austin knows it's dead. Everybody across the state knows it's dead. It's just something to be talked about."

Today, the Statesman's Ben Wear discusses the situation, with comments from Craddick's office.

Entire column at
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/10/27/1027wear.html

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Coupland books for sale



Saturday was a great day for selling Coupland books at Elgin's Hogeye Festival. Sharing a booth are (seated) Charlene Hanson Jordan, whose latest book on the history of the area is Stuck in the Mud at Post Oak Island, and (standing) some members of the Coupland Civic Organization Cookbook Committee, Jack and Barbara Piper and Chairman Loretta Patschke, selling Coupland Country Cookin'. If you didn't get to the Hogeye booth, you can still order the cookbook; call Loretta at 512-856-2468.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Gov. Perry--in Williamson Co. or not? Acknowledged or not?

I am struck this evening by the difference in the info on the Democratic and Republican blogs in Williamson County. The Democratic blog, Eye on Williamson, notes:

“Rick Perry in Wilco?Bring it on!
Literally 1,000 Feet from Democratic HQ, Gov. Perry is trying to revive the Duty and Daniels Campaign.
Gov. Perry and the local candidates are meeting at the 620 Café at 10am Saturday morning to rally."

For the entire post, go to eyeonwilliamson.org

With an entirely different approach, the Republican blog, Williamson Republic, announces:

“Saturday, October 25th, 9 to 11 a.m.- Coffee with the Candidates at the 620 Café and Bakery, located on RM 620 at 910 Round Rock Ave. in Round Rock. Local candidates and elected officials will be on hand to meet voters and encourage early voting for the Republican ticket.”

This post is on williamsonrepublic.blogspot.com

Is it just me, or has anybody else noticed that the Democrats mention Gov. Perry and the Republicans do not? Is Gov. Perry really not going to be there? Or is he going to be there, but he is so unpopular in much of Williamson because of trying to pave us over with the Trans-Texas Corridor that the Republicans don’t want to mention him?

Very interesting.

Coupland Country Cookin' at Elgin's Hogeye Festival tomorrow

The Coupland Civic Organization will be selling the new Coupland Country Cookin' cookbook tomorrow at the Hogeye Festival in downtown Elgin. The CCO will be sharing a booth with Coupland author Charlene Hanson Jordan, who will be selling her new book about the history of the community, Stuck in the Mud at Post Oak Island, so come get some wonderful Coupland books.

(Photo: selling Coupland Country Cookin' at the October 4 Choo Choo Fest.)

Attorney representing your interests in eminent domain not "unfortunate"

The Taylor Daily Press reports that "Williamson County Commissioners have approved the first of what will likely be many eminent domain acquisitions for the expansion of Chandler Road from Hutto to Taylor."

Property owners north of Taylor will have eminent domain used against them to force them to sell their land for the road.

Pct. 4 Commissioner Ron Morrison was quoted as saying, "This is something I don't like to do." He continued, "Unfortunately they are getting attorneys involved."

I disagree with his use of "unfortunately." If a landowner thinks he or she is not getting a fair offer for property, it is smart to consult a condemnation attorney. If a condemnation attorney thinks the landowner has a good case, the attorney will take the case on a contingency basis. This means the landowner does not have to pay the attorney unless the attorney gets payment for the landowner over and above the original offer.

The above is not specific legal advice. However, consulting your own attorney is usually in your best interest--not unfortunate.

See the whole article at
http://taylordailypress.net/articles/2008/10/23/news/news04.txt

Photo: Sunrise over Coupland, October 24, 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sunrise over Coupland


State Republican Executive Committee Member asks Craddick to step down as Speaker

After Craddick declared the Corridor "dead," and after some of the leading Corridor opponents commented on his comment, now Mark McCaig, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, has a column in the Statesman calling for Craddick to relinquish the speakership.

He believes "a Democratic takeover of the Texas House of Representatives is a very real possibility" and that "the only way to prevent further erosion of the Republican majority in the Texas House is for Tom Craddick to immediately announce that he will not seek another term as speaker."

Among other complaints, McCaig points to Craddick's "lobby-driven agenda at the expense of issues important to ordinary Texans." McCaig doesn't mention it specifically, but I would point to such special interests as road contractors driving the Corridor and other public-private partnership toll roads at the expense of rural landowners and the traveling public.

Read the whole column at
http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/10/1023mccaig_edit.html

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More on Craddick says TTC is "dead"

The ACRE message about the quote from House Speaker Craddick that the Trans-Texas Corridor was “dead” has prompted interesting comments. Some commenters were concerned that people would think because Craddick said the Corridor was “dead” we didn’t have to struggle against it anymore. This is not the case; we do need to continue our efforts.

The quote is significant because Craddick had never said anything like this about the Corridor before. It is significant that so many politicians, including Craddick, in this campaign season think it is necessary for them to oppose the Corridor in order to get elected. This is a big change. When we started fighting against the Corridor, politicians weren’t saying this. This means that we are making progress.

We can’t say that the Corridor is dead until it is officially killed legislatively. So we all need to continue working toward this end, but I think it is encouraging that more and more politicians are coming out against it in their campaigns.

Here are comments from representatives of some of the organizations that have been in the forefront of the fight against the Corridor.

DAN BYFIELD, American Land Foundation
“Don't believe that the TTC is dead. Politicians will say anything to get re-elected. Mr. Craddick had the opportunity the past two sessions to kill this, but why would he now reveal that it's dead? The Legislature is the only body capable of ‘killing’ the TTC, but they're not in session. What is very revealing about this statement is his need, like so many other politicians running for office, to say anything about the Trans-Texas Corridor - especially something this negative. He realizes it is a hot button issue with his constituents and fellow House members (who will be voting for him for Speaker), otherwise he would never have mentioned it on the campaign stump. We are making a difference, but if Mr. Craddick and others who voted for the TTC get back into office, nothing will change and the TTC will live on.”

AGNES VOGES, Blackland Coalition
“I doubt seriously that Craddick has the truth in this matter. Granted, TTC may have hit a snag or two, but one way or the other, it is still happening. Again, the LAW has to be changed before this thing is dead. If not, then there is nothing that will keep it from being resuscitated at any time they can get their fingers on some money.”

LINDA STALL, Corridor Watch
“The law creating TTC remains and it should be changed . . . and some oversight legislation for PPPs put in place. We are hearing from a few people around the state that their Counties are getting into strangely oversized road projects, and we are concerned that the push will shift to developing ‘County projects’ that then are shifted to TxDOT and linked together . . . TTC under the radar.

“It is nice to hear that Craddick realizes it’s in his interest to say the Corridor is dead. I am always leery when a leadership official says something like that, just in case he's trying to get people to stop speaking out . . . and to undermine his opposition candidate's ability to make political mileage out of the Corridor as an issue.”

TERRI HALL, San Antonio Toll Party and TURF
“Craddick's comments are no more true than saying the sun won't rise tomorrow. This is an election year, period. NO law has been changed or policies reversed to prove this statement correct. In fact, they've gone underground and are cheating in how they're supplementing the environmental record to make it appear they'll use existing right of way for TTC-69 using clever language rife with get of jail free cards. Also, TTC-35 is barreling forward unabated.

“It's huge he [Craddick] even feels the need to say it to get re-elected!”

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Learn how to use 391 coordination strategy to stop TTC

Dan and Margaret Byfield have been having a great deal of success in helping to form 391 Planning Commissions along the path of the Trans-Texas Corridor. The first one, Bell County’s Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission, is in the path of TTC-35 and has stalled the release of the TTC-35 Final Environmental Impact Statement. The other 391 commissions are along the path of the Corridor through East Texas.

The commissions are based on section 391 of the Texas Municipal Code that allows local communities to organize to demand coordination from larger entities who are threatening their areas. Now, the Byfields are hosting the Call America 2008 Conference in Austin, November 13-15 to show others how to implement this “coordination” strategy.

For more info and to register, go to
www.stewards.us/conference/callconf_08/call_home.html

Monday, October 20, 2008

Krusee formally charged with DWI

HD 52 Representative Mike Krusee was in a Williamson County courtroom today to be formally charged with driving while intoxicated, as reported by Austin’s FOX 7. He pled not guilty and will go to trial on November 17. Krusee is not running for reelection.

Interestingly, the charge was read to him by Dee Hobbs, Williamson County prosecuting attorney, who ran in the Republican primary for Krusee’s seat. Hobbs was defeated in a primary runoff by Bryan Daniel, who is the Republican nominee for the seat. Also running are Democrat Diana Maldonado and Libertarian Lillian Simmons.

Krusee was the author of HB 3588 that created the Trans-Texas Corridor at the behest of Gov. Perry. All three candidates for the seat say they are against the Corridor.

To see the FOX 7 report, go to
http://www.myfoxaustin.com/myfox/pages/Home/Detail;jsessionid=EC6AD84C97BA701E004DA24A2CC8B405?contentId=7683094&version=1&locale=EN-US&layoutCode=VSTY&pageId=1.1.1&sflg=1

Craddick says Corridor is "dead"

At a Midland debate last night with his Democratic opponent Bill Dingus, House Speaker Tom Craddick declared, "I have to clear this up. I did not vote for the Trans-Texas Corridor."

Dingus responded, "Even though he says he didn't vote for it, he didn't vote against it either."

KXAN-TV reporter Jenny Hoff commented, "Vote or not, one thing Craddick said clearly, the Trans-Texas Corridor will not happen."

Craddick said, "Everybody in Austin knows it's dead. Everybody across the state knows it's dead. It's just something to be talked about."

To see this report, go to kxan.com and click on Latest Videos.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Reining in TxDOT

The Fort Bend Herald reports that State Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, Vice Chair of the Sunset Advisory Commission, has reinforced the sentiments expressed at the TxDOT Sunset hearing that TxDOT officials “have been arrogant and have shown disdain for the Texas Legislature.” Hegar expects the Legislature to implement changes at TxDOT during the upcoming session.

Hegar is advocating some of the reforms recommended by the Sunset staff in a report that was highly critical of TxDOT.

Members of the commission will vote in December on implementing the proposed reforms. One possible change would be to replace the five-member Transportation Commission with a single Commissioner. Other changes could include the Legislature taking more control over the TxDOT budget and projects, reining in TxDOT’s rush toward public-private partnerships such as the Trans-Texas Corridor, demanding more transparencies in TxDOT’s decision-making, and requiring better communication with the public.

Hegar points to instances where TxDOT has gone against the will of the Legislature, including the ad campaign for the Trans-Texas Corridor that ended up being the subject of the lawsuit by the group TURF, and the Legislature’s call for a moratorium on some public-private partnerships. “That’s just unbelievable to me. Unbelievable. We just made a statement and then [TxDOT] went around and did something completely different,” he said.

One of the most striking and unusual possibilities is that the Legislature is “likely to make TxDOT go through a Sunset review in four years,” rather than the usual 12 years.

See the entire article at
http://www.fbherald.com/articles/2008/10/16/news/doc48f7927fafa71755945807.txt

Photo: Madeleine Garry Hensley

Thursday, October 16, 2008

When transportation was more peaceful, albeit slower

What transportation looked like in Coupland's earlier days. Photo from October 4 Coupland Choo Choo Fest, courtesy Madeleine Garry Hensley.

290 E design like 281--in violation of legislative intent

This summer's Sunset Advisory Commission hearing on TxDOT gave several interesting views on how the old and new leadership at TxDOT would continue to act and on what legislators might think about it and might try to do to correct the arrogance and excesses of TxDOT.

For one thing, Deirdre Delisi, new Transportation Commission chair, did not stay to hear any of the public testimony, which went on into the evening. The panel of legislators noticed. They commented that since one of the big issues was communication with the public they would have thought Delisi would have made a point to listen to the public.

Also, TxDOT executive director Amadeo Saenz had a revealing exchange with legislators. First, they told Saenz that making the free lanes on 281 in San Antonio the frontage road lanes, with tolled highway lanes in the middle, was NOT their legislative intent when they forbade converting free lanes to tolled lanes. This is the plan for 290 East, also--the free lanes will be frontage lanes with a lower speed limit.

The panel tried to hope that Delisi and Saenz were turning over a new leaf and that the Legislature and the public would have a better relationship with TxDOT and the new leadership. The video with the exchange between Rep. Ruth McClendon of San Antonio and Saenz is an informative and entertaining illustration of how the new leadership is continuing the policies of the old leadership.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jh9Bgp5pNbQ

HD 52 candidates on Corridor

The Taylor Daily Press has covered the views of the candidates in the HD 52 race. Regarding transportation,

“[Republican Bryan] Daniel said he is opposed to the Trans-Texas Corridor being built in Williamson County. ‘I don’t think it’s right for Williamson County,’ he said.”


“[Democrat Diana] Maldonado is against the Trans-Texas Corridor and is for mass transit.”


“[Libertarian Lillian] Simmons views the Trans-Texas Corridor as a way for the government to import vast amounts of goods from China via Mexico. ‘I’m opposed to it,’ she said. ‘It’s the largest land grab in the history of the U.S.’”


About TxDOT in general,


“Maldonado said additional funding for TxDOT may be appropriate, but the department needs further oversight.”


“Simmons said giving TxDOT any additional funding would be a bad move. ‘It looks like they’re using a lot of money for promoting the Trans-Texas Corridor,’ she said.”


“To Daniel, new leadership at the Texas Department of Transportation encourages him to believe that the embattled agency may be back on track, he said. He supports a suggested $1.5 billion cash infusion for the department, provided that the new leadership shows that it can spend taxpayers’ money wisely.”


The complete article--taylordailypress.net/articles/2008/10/14/news/news03.txt

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

If 183 A and 290 East form the beginning of a "system,' then system-wide meetings needed

I am excerpting some comments from Beki Halpin of fix290 about the concept of linking all the Phase 2 toll roads into a system, the need for system-wide public meetings, and CAMPO’s disrespect toward the citizens who took time to attend this meeting:

“This will also mean that if they connect these two disjointed and disconnected roads [183 A and 290 East] in to a ‘system,’ that they will then likely connect all the phase 2 toll roads to the same system, robbing revenue from any road that is making money to prop up others that are failing or need revenue to back construction bonds.

“ . . . hearings region wide as well as within the 290 E and 183 A corridors are required to turn these two roads into a ‘system.’ I think we need to require them to hold system wide meetings because all the phase 2 toll roads could become a part of the system. One of the CAMPO staff made a comment that they were not sure they would follow the letter of the law on this or ‘common sense.’ I later wondered if that meant they would hold as few public hearings as possible.

“There is also good reading on Sarah Eckhardt's blog: www.saraheckhardt.com/blog/

“At the CAMPO meeting itself, no reason was given for pulling the item regarding 290 E from the agenda and no apology was made to all the citizens who came to speak about it.”

More on tolling 290 East

Good comments from Andrew Hawkins of the fix290 group. Fix 290 has been working to implement a better solution on 290 West than the TxDOT plan for a massive elevated tollway. The fix290 group is interested in all the tolling plans around Austin, including 290 East.

Andrew adds more detail about Sarah Eckhardt’s covenants:

“Unfortunately, the covenants are not an absolute bar to this desperate and risky 183A/290E 'system' approach--the covenants provide a way to override the corridor restrictions by developing a statement of purpose, holding public hearings, and getting a 2/3rds vote from CAMPO.

“So I would add that the plan now is to hold those required hearings, and that is what CAMPO will be doing soon (as I heard from CAMPO staff). In my mind, that doesn't it anyway make this wacky proposal any more reasonable.

“In any case, just thought I would clarify this so folks are aware that these meetings will come up, probably sooner rather than later.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

290 East Toll Plan Postponed

Last night, CAMPO was set to consider the plan from CTRMA to use toll revenues from 183-A to back the financing to turn 290 East into a toll road. KLBJ-AM covers this story as “290-East Toll Proposal Booted From CAMPO Meeting.” You can see the entire story at www.590klbj.com.

The lecture hall at the Joe C. Thompson Center was filled with members of the public who objected to the plan. The main CAMPO board advocate against the plan was Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt. She had gotten covenants of agreement passed last year, which prohibited sending toll revenue from one area to another area. She rightly pointed out that this plan violated this agreement, plus, according to the covenants, this proposal needed a two-third vote and additional public meetings.

Interesting comments from Cynthia Long, Williamson County Commissioner and CAMPO Vice Chair, who seemed to think the plan should have gone forward and had been publicized enough. She said, “It was on the agency tonight for a vote. This has been in a public meeting. We had a Finance Committee meeting where this was publicly discussed. We had a CAMPO workshop last week where this was publicly discussed.”

However, when the KLBJ reporter asked Commissioner Long if a vote by CAMPO would potentially violate the board’s own covenants, she said,
“I have no idea. I mean, I’m not an expert on the covenants. That’s a question for someone else who is.”

Interviewed separately, Eckhardt said, “I’m extremely familiar with the covenants and there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that the proposal falls under the covenant. It requires a two-thirds vote. . . . there is going to be the other issue that they [183-A and 290 East] are separated by 14 miles . . .”

Friday, September 5, 2008

HD 52 nominees speak about Trans-Texas Corridor

Recently, the Hutto Economic Development Corporation hosted a forum between the nominees to replace Mike Krusee in HD 52—Dem. Diana Maldonado and Rep. Bryan Daniel. Eye on Williamson has reported on their stands on various issues, including transportation funding. Both nominees had come out against the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) at the Candidate Forum hosted by the Coupland Civic Organization during primary season. According to quotes from the Hutto forum, they both seem to still oppose it.

Regarding toll roads, including the TTC, Maldonado wants roads to serve local communities: “I’ve spoken with voters in Thrall, Coupland and Granger. They do not want a superhighway going through their property. . . . If it does not serve the people of Williamson County, I will not support it. I-35 is good for business and the TTC is not.”

Daniel said, “The rural and urban constituents in House District 52 have different needs. Privatization is taking away taxpayer dollars. It is not as efficient. There is no input from the people who are going to use the road.”

The entire entry is posted on eyeonwilliamson.org. dated September 4, 2008.

Maldonado and Daniel make their case before Hutto EDC

Thursday, August 28, 2008

More suggestions re National Geographic "Earth" article

Vernagene Mott, a Pflugerville ISD Trustee, has made the suggestion to send letters referencing the National Geographic article to elected officials and other editors at papers such as the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, and the New York Times. She comments, “In the not too distant future, we may be dependent upon food imports just as we are petroleum imports.”

Jody Krankel, Blackland Prairie Concerned Citizens, and Marcia Snyder, whose husband Ralph is on the Eastern Central Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission, have both sent an article from Country World that reports that documents uncovered by the TURF lawsuit against TxDOT may be helpful to the 391 Planning Commissions. Go here to read the article.
http://www.countryworldnews.com/news/2008/8-August/082108TTC.php

Related to the soil issue, the article notes “a copy of a May 2006 letter from then state conservationist Larry Butler to engineer Edward Pensock with TxDOT on farmland protection issues related to TTC. In that letter, Butler said that the TTC project ‘will constitute the largest conversion of Prime Farmland for a single project in the history of Texas.’”

National Geographic soil map not online

About the Sept. 08 National Geographic article “Our Good Earth,” which has a map that identifies the Blackland Prairie through the middle of the United States as one of the most highly fertile soils in the world . . .TTC-35 and the Supercorridor will pave over this valuable resource.

National Geographic has confirmed, “Unfortunately, the map was not included in the online adaptation and is not available electronically.” The map is only in the print edition, on page 92.

You can see the article online at
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/09/soil/mann-text
or by going to
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm.
At the top left-hand corner, where it says Current Issue, September 08, click under that on Table of Contents. When that comes up, click on “Our Good Earth,” which is the top featured article.

You can easily send an email letter to the National Geographic editor at ngsforum@nationalgeographic.com.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Update to National Geographic post

It is very easy to send a letter to the editor of National Geographic through

ngsforum@nationalgeographic.com

Saturday, August 23, 2008

National Geographic recognizes our soil, not the danger to it

The September issue of National Geographic has an interesting article, “Our Good Earth,” on the soils of the world and the dangers to them. If you have access to this issue, please see the map on page 92 and notice how TTC-35 and the NAFTA Superhighway will create a path of destruction all along our nation’s most valuable farm land.

Even though National Geographic ranked this soil as one of the “most highly fertile soils in the world,” the article did not mention the imminent threat to it posed by TTC-35, even though it covered threats to some other soils. I have sent the letter below to the magazine. Perhaps if more of us write, National Geographic will recognize the importance of this topic.

The article is online at nationalgeographic.com in the September issue.

I can’t find the map online. It is on page 92 in the print edition.

To the Editor of National Geographic:

Regarding “Our Good Earth” in the September 2008 issue, one imminent danger not covered in your article is the Trans-Texas Corridor, which is underway in Texas and forms the first stage of the NAFTA Superhighway. Your map on page 92 illustrates that one of the largest areas of the most highly fertile soils in the world begins at the Texas-Mexico border and runs north to the northern Midwest.

Much of this Blackland Prairie in Texas, from the Mexican border to the Oklahoma border, is slated to be paved over by the Trans-Texas Corridor route called TTC-35—an almost quarter-mile wide swath of 10 vehicular lanes, 6 rail lines, and pipeline and utility zones. It is proposed to proceed north from Texas as the NAFTA Superhighway, covering hundreds of thousands of acres of the world’s best farmland, right through the middle of “the world’s breadbasket.”

Texas farmers, ranchers, and other rural residents have been fighting the Corridor for years, and we would like to alert the rest of the country, indeed the world, that one of the largest areas of “Good Earth” in existence is in extreme danger from an unnecessary project that benefits only those who will profit monetarily from its construction, while permanently depriving the world’s population of this invaluable resource.