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

This is very long, and if it doesn’t work, go to Texas Legislature Online at
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:

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.

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.

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:

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:

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

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

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

The Commission notes:

Internet Access to Meeting. The meeting is broadcast live on the Internet at

Current status of the proceedings will be posted on the home page at

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.

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:

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.