Saturday, January 31, 2009

Texas bullet train--if at first they don't succeed . . .

Peggy Fikac of the Houston Chronicle has an interesting article about the attempt to resurrect the failed bullet-train attempt of the 1990’s. She reports on the recent briefing of legislators by the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corp.

High-speed rail boosters are hoping to have a $12 billion to $18 billion bullet-train system by 2020. One difference between the previous plan and this one is the diagram of the routes. The past plan featured a large hub in Milam County with tentacles stretching out to Dallas, San Antonio/Austin, and Houston. The new plan shows a north/south line from Dallas, through Austin, to San Antonio, with a junction in Temple/Killeen with a line to Houston.

Officials, cities, counties, and airlines—still TOP-DOWN

Robert Eckels, High Speed Rail chairman, said the previous effort failed “primarily because it was a top-down model driven by lobbyists out of Austin.” Evidently he was implying that the current effort is a grass-roots effort. However, the high-speed rail consortium is composed of elected officials, cities, counties, and two airlines. This sounds like another top-down model to me. I don’t see any mention here of actual residents whose land would be taken.

Those of us who remember the previous plan to put the bullet train through Eastern Williamson County, including Coupland and its surrounding farms, know that the previous plan failed, as communities were organizing to fight it, because it was not financially feasible and lost its financial backing.

Just what we need—more taxpayer money going to corporations

These boosters say their project will be a public-private partnership, with money from taxpayers for private corporations.

Sen. John Carona, a Republican from Dallas who is chair of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, and who sometimes is on the sensible side of issues, is on the non-sensible side of this one. He has proposed a constitutional amendment to exempt the bullet train from property taxes. Luckily, it will require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature plus voter approval.

Martha Estes, who sent this article around, comments, “More TAX subsidies for private investors?? Let private enterprise carry its own load!! It looks like the Blackland Prairie is part of the route.” If this is such a viable plan, why does it need government involvement? Once again, this brings us back to the plan for the Corridor—the state is involved as the entity that can take private property from citizens for the benefit of private corporations.

See the map at

and see Peggy Fikac’s entire article at

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

No transportation in Perry's address

Christy Hoppe of the Dallas Morning News has a good round-up of Perry's State of the State address at

She notices that the speech was affected by the Gov. 39% factor: "Gone were the lofty language and bold programs of his last State of the State address, two years ago – their wings clipped by an economic downturn and his own weakened stature in the Capitol."

It was striking that the only reference to transportation was the rebate for plug-in hybrid cars. This is a strange omission for the Governor who always seems so proud of his Trans-Texas Corridor "vision," his CDA's, his PPP's, his tolling plans, and his big road contractor contributors.

In this campaign speech for the 2010 primary, he must have decided that bragging about these plans and accomplishments would only highlight that he is on the wrong side of these issues, while Hutchison is right.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Perry denigrates rural residents, grass-roots groups

Beginning with Perry’s “vision” of the Trans-Texas Corridor criss-crossing our state’s valuable farming and ranching land with 4,500 miles of quarter-mile swaths of concrete and rail, Gov. 39% has expressed his disdain toward us rural residents and our property. During a small meeting at the very beginning of the Corridor process, Perry’s TxDOT officials referred to the Corridor as a totally “green fields” project, the kind that the big road contractors like. Left out of the equation was the fact that the green fields in question already belonged to Texas farmers and ranchers. This has never bothered Perry, as he introduced the “quick take” process to condemn land for the Corridor and vetoed HB 2006 eminent domain protection.

In a recent interview with Dallas Morning News Transportation Writer Michael A. Lindenberger, it is obvious that Perry still doesn’t get it! The entire transcript is at:

Much of the interview concerns North Texas and the North Texas rail plan, but some of the comments reveal Perry’s general philosophy, if you can call it that.

Perry’s vision is misunderstood by stupid constituents.

First, he implies that his constituents are stupid. About transportation, he says, “This is an issue that too many people don’t understand.” He claims he wants “a relatively unbiased intellectual discussion about transportation infrastructure . . .” Try to think “Perry” and “intellectual” at the same time; it’s impossible.

As the people who have been studying and fighting Perry’s plans for the last few years know, more and more Texans do understand the issue and disagree with Perry’s approach. Also, Perry and his TxDOT have been doing everything they can to quash any discussion about transportation.

Perry says, “I don’t have an entrenched opposition to allowing people at the local level deciding how they are going to build their transportation infrastructure . . . there is no fairy that comes in the night and build these big projects.”

This tells us that Perry’s approach to local level decisions and regionalism is that the decision has already come down from on high that there will be a “big project,” and that he will pretend to listen to what the local people think about it.

To Perry, local people controlling their own destiny means listening to what Perry tells them is going to happen.

He repeats that one of his three principles on transportation is “regionalism. . . . The folks at the regional level will decide what the appropriate user fee is to build that infrastructure.” He says that he supports local people “controlling their own destiny.”

This is just the opposite of what his TxDOT has done all the way through the Corridor project. Perry and TxDOT have withheld information from local areas and from citizens who have filed open record requests. They were required to hold certain meetings. They tried to get through this process without very many people finding out about it and submitting comments. It was due to local groups along the Corridor routes and their local media that so many citizens knew about hearings, attended, and commented. True local organizations are the 391 commissions that have been formed by local governments along the routes of the Corridor. Perry and TxDOT have been trying to confuse the public by forming TxDOT groups with similar names but that do not have the actual power that the 391 commissions have. The last thing that Perry wants is local people controlling their own destiny.

Perry says rural people shouldn’t be penalized to help urban areas, but that is exactly what he intends with the Corridor, even though the Corridor wouldn’t actually be the help that urban areas need.

In regards to the gas tax, Perry says, “Does the guy in Van Horn need to be paying for the roads in Dallas? No. But I do have a problem with forcing someone whose transportation needs are being met to pay for somebody’s transportation needs that are not being met.”

Taking a farm in Williamson County for the Corridor IS forcing someone to pay, big time, for somebody else’s transportation needs.

Perry and his TxDOT have tried to take away the choice to drive or not to drive on a toll road.

Perry tells Lindenberger, “This is the beauty of (the reliance on toll roads). My dad says, ‘I ain’t never going to drive on a toll road.’ You know what? He doesn’t have to. That’s the beauty of what we have created here. For those who for philosophical or any other reason don’t want to drive on a toll road, they don’t have to. It’s the beauty of choice.”

With Perry’s non-compete clause in toll road contracts prohibiting building or maintaining roads a certain distance from a toll road, this DOES mean that drivers don’t have a choice. They have to drive on a toll road, or NO road, or a dangerous crumbling road. TxDOT’s violation of the legislative intent that free lanes not be converted to toll lanes also takes away choice. There is no “choice.” Perry thinks that his constituents are so uninformed that they don’t know this.

A truly chilling account from Perry on the origins of the Trans-Texas Corridor idea

I can’t do better than to just quote Perry:
“An analogy would be, I had laid out in my mind’s eye, and even made it public, that this is the big mansion that I want to build. Here are the house plans for this really magnificent place I want to build for my family and the people I love.

“Well, you start the process and there are a lot of changes that occur, for whatever reason. Your wife didn’t like that bedroom being there, she wanted … way too big a game room and not big enough utility room . . . whatever. All these things that go on in people’s real lives, that’s what went on with this.”

Brilliant! Comparing what the landowners in the path of the Corridor have gone through the last several years to a couple building a house is a stupid analogy! And if anyone should not be mentioning mansions, it is Perry, since it was on his watch with the decreased security at the Governor’s mansion, that the people’s beautiful historic mansion was almost destroyed.

Perry implies that we owners of farms are stupid.

Perry said, “I laid out a very broad-based, 50-year plan—and a lot of times people missed the 50-year part of it, they thought, ‘They are going to build 4,500 miles in 10 years and, oh my God, my farm is gone.’”

So, first, according to Perry, us stupid farm owners misunderstood the 50-year part. It should be perfectly fine with us if the state and a foreign corporation take the family farm away from our children and grandchildren in 50 years.

Second, it is not necessary for him to take the Lord’s name in vain.

And, thirdly, for those of us who saw our farms fall within the Master Plan from Cintra, the Spanish corporation, it was indeed, “My farm is gone.”

Perry implies that people are not going to be paying attention to this issue anymore without the Trans-Texas Corridor name, and that we don’t remember and don’t care that he tried his hardest to take our land away.

He says, “Is the name still around? Are the same people that were mad two years ago still mad today? I would suggest to you no.” I would suggest to him not only yes, but heck yes!

Perry denigrates grass-roots volunteer efforts—if we weren’t having an impact, he wouldn’t lower himself to talk about us.

Lindenberger raises two important points related to the impact of grass-roots efforts against Perry and the Corridor. First, he says to Perry, “It seems clear that something fell apart politically for you in 2006, when you faced strong opposition in your re-election campaign [thus resulting in Gov. 39%], and then in 2007 when lawmakers rebelled at the idea of bringing foreign companies to Texas to build and operate toll roads—for a profit.”

Then, Lindenberger also points out, “Among the most persistent complaints among the grass-roots opposition to the Trans Texas Corridor has been your relentless push for not just toll roads, but for privatization, too. Among the criticism has been the observation that you have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from some of the same companies that went on to win contracts to build some of these roads. Is that a fair criticism?

Perry totally reverses the order of what happened, as pointed out in the question. The sequence is that Perry received hundreds of thousands of dollars and then the companies won road contracts.

Perry turns the question around and responds, “People contribute to my campaign because they like my philosophy and they like what I implement.”

Then he once more insults some of his constituents, knocking down the straw man of not building any roads at all. “If the grass-roots toll groups . . . had substantial influence, we wouldn’t be building any roads at all.” And Perry is so vindictive and petty, he has to make an uncalled-for attack on former Austinite Sal Costello, who worked tirelessly against toll roads and the Corridor on a volunteer basis: “Sal Costello had to move out of the state, it got to be such a poor way to make a living.”

Sal did not make a living out of it; he put his own money and time into the fight and had a lot of success. He was the David against the Goliath of Perry and his contributors. Lindenberger points out in a note:

Costello, founder of a group called Austin Toll Party, is credited with helping stop some taxpayer-funded roads in Austin from being converted to toll roads. His blistering attacks made him a prolific anti-toll road gadfly. He announced earlier this month he had moved to a small town in Illinois and given up what he called his costly “obsession” with campaigning against toll roads.

Attacking volunteers—giving big contracts to big contributors—Is this any way to run the state?

If Perry thinks that it is an attractive trait to publicly attack citizens volunteering to make the state a better place and rural residents who are simply trying to save their farms and ranches, he is sadly mistaken. It is Perry and his big contributors who are “making a living” out of this—a rather large living, when private corporations get in the position, through their influence on the Governor, to wield the power of the government against private citizens.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Rick Perry wants to protect landowners . . . NOT!

Kay Bailey Hutchison recently chastised Gov. 39% for trying to take private land for his Trans-Texas Corridor. She wrote: "Are you concerned that our state government ignores private property rights and property owners in a quest to cover our state with massive Toll Roads?" The Gov is trying to answer her by calling for a constitutional amendment that repeats the eminent domain legislation passed in 2005.

However, as rightly pointed out by Linda Curtis of Independent Texans, Perry VETOED "the REAL REFORM eminent domain bill (HB 2006) back in 2007," thus angering many erstwhile Perry supporters like the Texas Farm Bureau, that had worked hard for the HB 2006. Perry said he vetoed this bill because its extra protections for landowners would cost the state millions of extra dollars. What this really means that landowners will be done out of THEIR millions of dollars by the state without the extra protections that are NOT in the existing legislation and will NOT be in Perry's constitutional amendment.

As Linda puts it, "Rick Perry is trying--again--to sell us a bunch of snake oil. What's the Governor really up to? Well, of course, he's running for Governor again. What's more, Perry's playing us with his shell game as he continues efforts to grab Texans' land."

Hutchison has a really strong issue in the eminent domain/toll road network situation that she is already using in her campaign. Linda advises that Hutchison needs to NOT let Perry get away with trying to pull the wool over our eyes with his FAKE eminent domain protection for landowners. Linda asks, "What is Kay Bailey Hutchison going to do about this? It sure looks to us like a shot by Perry over her bow! She needs to step up and take this guy on."

"So, here's what you can do. Call or write to Kay Bailey Hutchison. Ask her to take Perry on. Tell her that you, and thousands of Texans, know that Perry couldn't care less about Texans' property rights. If he did, he wouldn't have vetoed the real eminent domain reform bill in the last session, nor our moratorium bill on the Corridor and freeway tollways. Tell her she can stand up for Texans property rights, for a real transportation plan and for REAL TxDOT reform. Tell her that if she will start calling the Governor on his slithery and dishonest ways, you'll be there for her."

Email Senator Hutchison here:

Or contact the Washington office:

284 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-4304
202-224-0776 (FAX)
202-224-5903 (TDD)

or the Austin office:

961 Federal Building
300 East 8th Street
Austin, Texas 78701
512-916-5839 (FAX)

Linda would like to hear about efforts to reach Hutchison on this. She says, "If you hear back from her, please let us know how it goes. Thanks y'all. Let's keep in close touch as the Texas Legislative Session heats up."

You can reach Linda at:

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ben Wear on transportation legislation

Ben Wear has an interesting column in the Statesman today (“Tight budget may affect road bills”), discussing the bills that have been filed or are expected to be filed dealing with transportation for the current session.

The recent low revenue report from Comptroller Susan Combs indicates that legislators will have less money to distribute than they had expected, including for transportation projects.Some bills to watch:

(1) John Carona’s SB 217 which would adjust the gas tax. Transportation analyst Roger Baker says this new money “is small change compared to the billions a year shortfall envisioned by TxDOT’s ‘projected’ needs.”

(2) Given the proposal to move Union Pacific’s freight rail off its current Austin line to a new or expanded line in Eastern Williamson County, we should watch HB 564 and its companion SB 383 which would put $200 million a year into the currently empty Rail Relocation Fund.

(3) Unpopular with folks who have been fighting public-private partnerships is SB 404, Carona’s attempt to extend by six years TxDOT’s authority to use these PPP’s for toll roads. Some analysts speculate that this bill does not mean that Carona has become more of a fan of the PPP toll roads, but that he hates to take this option off the table if sufficient (in his opinion) road money cannot be raised otherwise.

(4) More of a favorite with anti-tollers will be Carona’s SB 384 that takes away TxDOT’s authority to pay for campaigns to promote toll roads. TxDOT’s Keep Texas Moving campaign--ads, signs, literature, lobbying etc.--is the subject of a lawsuit by Terri Hall’s TURF organization. Roger Baker says, “It looks like Carona’s bill to prohibit TxDOT from lobbying for toll roads means that the issue that Terri Hall has been pushing has wide Lege political support as Carona sees it.”

(5) SB 220 from Robert Nichols would take away the Transportation Commission’s authority to convert a free road to a toll road. Given the hostility on the Sunset Advisory Commission to TxDOT’s efforts to change free lanes to toll lanes, this bill may see some success.

(6) As discussed here, last but certainly not least, will be the TxDOT Sunset legislation. This will be what legislators decide to do with the changes, some of them very major, that the Sunset Commission has proposed. Depending on how far the bills get, there may be hearings on some of them, which, Baker points out, “will be interesting, and at which the public can usually testify.”

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

January Coupland Herald is out!

The Coupland Civic Organization January Herald newsletter is ready to hit the stands. If you would like to receive this print newsletter with news of the Coupland area, please send your email address to, and I will send you the pdf.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Help stop National Animal Identification by voting at

Below is a message from the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance about bringing the opposition to the National Animal Identification System to the attention of the incoming administration. When I checked earlier today, the Stop NAIS issue had moved up a spot in the issues to be considered. If you have even just a few animals, and you don't want to have to tag them and enter them in a registry to even take them to a neighbor's, on a trail ride, etc., please consider registering at and VOTING for this issue to be considered. Below is Judith's message:

"Stop NAIS" Idea Still In the Running at Change.OrgBut it needs more votes to win!

Good news: "Protect Our Food Supply - Stop NAIS!" is currently ranked #17 on, out of the almost 90 ideas that made it to the second round, and from over 7,000 original submissions

Bad news: Only the top 10 entries in the contest "win" and have their ideas presented at the National Press Club on January 16th and advocacy campaigns organized to promote them.

Good news: The competition is not over yet! You can still vote at

All the voting totals were re-set to zero for the second round, so even if you voted for it in the first round, you can now go vote again. The second round of voting will run until 5 pm EST on Thursday, January 15.

Step 1: If you are not already signed up for the site, register at:
Step 2: Go to Be sure to click the box labeled "Vote!" to the left of "Protect Our Food Supply -- Stop NAIS!" Simply leaving a comment does not count as a vote. After you click the Vote box, it will change color and show "Voted." If it does not do that, shift your mouse a bit and click again, because it sometimes take several tries.
Step 3: Email all your friends, and ask them to vote also.

Step 4 (optional): The most important thing is the number of votes that the idea receives. If you want to leave a comment after you have voted, think in terms of what will encourage other people to vote to stop NAIS. Keep your comment short and clear.

Remember that all of the ideas are competing against each other for one of the Top 10 slots!
This is a very quick, easy way to help us raise awareness about NAIS and potentially get significant new resources for this fight. Please go to and vote now!
Please Support Our Work!
Become a new member or give an additional donation at
Working together, we can make our voices heard.

Judith McGearyFarm and Ranch Freedom Alliance
Phone: 512-243-9404
Toll-free: 866-687-6452

Independent Texans' letter on stimulus funds

In some previous messages, I have warned about the possibility of the stimulus funds proposed by the incoming administration being “hijacked” by entities like Departments of Transportation and road contractor organizations for big new projects and public-private partnerships for the benefit of private corporations, rather than the original goal of infrastructure repair.

Linda Curtis, of Independent Texans, has created a letter with input from many Texas organizations that want any stimulus funds to be appropriately used. This letter has been sent to the transition team and many federal, state, and local officials. A big “Thank You” to Linda for many days of hard work in researching and writing this letter and rounding up a large group of signatories.

Here is the message and link to the letter from Linda:

To: indyfriends@lists.independenttexans.comFrom: ljcurtis@indytexans.orgDate: Fri, 9 Jan 2009 11:26:27 -0600Subject: [Indyfriends] Letter to the Transition Team & Congress on Texas Transportation

Dear Friends and Members:
Attached you will find a letter sent by 24 Texas based organizations, to the Obama Transition Team copied to the entire Texas Congressional Delegation. It urges caution and a careful review of the use of any stimulus funds for Texas transportation, in light of our on-going fight to stop the Trans-Texas Corridor and privatized toll plans of Gov. Rick Perry and his allies.

The letter is now parked at this site (and we have attached it below my signature):

The recent statements by TxDOT officials and the Governor conceding a reduction in the Corridor's footprint (scaled back to 600 feet) and that no non-compete clauses will be allowed for privatized highways, remain to be realized in the next legislative session. What's more, we will not concede any land within one of the world's 3% most fertile soils -- the blackland prairie in Central Texas. Thousands of Texans who attended hearings near IH-35 have made plain that they can support a widening of IH-35, supported by TxDOT's own study in 1991 to help metro areas. TxDOT could have legitimately requested funds for that.

As you know, the Texas legislative session will begin next Tuesday, January 13th. It is now time for you to contact your US Congressional Representative, our two US Senators, Hutchison and Cornyn, and your Texas House and Senate representatives. Go to this link to pull up all of your reps:
Call them, email them or write them a letter -- and ask your friends, family and members to do the same. Urge your reps to do all they can to ensure that stimulus funds only be used for transportation facilities which enjoy clear public support. The Trans-Texas Corridor, nor privatized toll facilities fit in to this category. They can request funds to widen IH-35.
Independently yours,
Linda Curtis
Independent Texans

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

If not dead, at least Corridor is wounded

Yesterday, from the Texas Transportation Forum, the Statesman’s Ben Wear report is headlined “Trans-Texas Corridor R.I.P.” To read the whole thing, go to

“The Trans-Texas Corridor, as a name and as a guiding concept of the state’s transportation future, is dead, TxDOT executive director Amadeo Saenz told an audience of more than a thousand this morning at an Austin hotel.”

Showing that the issue will still be an issue in the 2010 governor’s race, “A spokesman for . . . U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, said that in fact the name isn’t the problem but rather the cross-state tollways associated with it and the rural land that would be needed to build them.”

As we reported at the time, “Outgoing Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick had created a stir a few months ago by declaring in an election forum that the Trans-Texas Corridor was dead. TxDOT officials at the time said, well, no, not exactly.”

“Saenz, at the Texas Transportation Forum at the Hilton Hotel, confirmed that the corridor’s death — or at least the death of its name — had in fact not been exaggerated.”

As described by TxDOT, the original Trans-Texas Corridor “vision,” or “nightmare” as residents called it, will not be pushed anymore. What TxDOT will do is “a series of smaller projects.” Included as one of these smaller projects will be SH 130, which is completed through Williamson County. This announcement seems to confirm what some have already been saying—that 130, and only 130, with no more land taken for any more Corridor development, will be the route of TTC-35 through Williamson County.

Replacing Perry’s 2002 plan, called “Crossroads of the Americas,” which called for 4,000 miles of 1,200-foot wide corridors criss-crossing the state, is a new document called “Innovative Connectivity in Texas/Vision 2009. You can see it at

The “Innovative Connectivity” brochure is not a white flag on TxDOT’s part, but does mark a recognition that its grandiose schemes were unrealistic pipe dreams. One encouraging point is the statement on page 3 that the right of way for new projects would rarely exceed 600 feet (the approximate width of a freeway with access roads, e.g. SH 130 at Pecan Street east of Pflugerville), rather than the quarter of a mile envisioned by TTC planners. On pages 8-9, TxDOT commits to using existing ROW whenever possible, before “breaking new ground,” a concept at odds with the TTC vision. When the TTC was first being introduced in 2003 to a small Austin gathering, unpublicized and attended by very few members of the public, TxDOT rolled out the TTC as a “green fields project.”

Corridor Watch’s David Stall says,"We think that today is a huge leap forward in getting control over transportation projects and seeing that they serve a transportation need and not just a revenue-generating role . . .The reality is the move that's been made today turns it from a statewide massive corridor project into a much more reasonable transportation project, which they should have been from the beginning.”

He continues,"We still need to particularly be wary of public-private partnerships which are to line the pockets of Wall Street financiers more than provide transportation for ordinary Texans.”
He calls today’s announcement “a major victory for farmers and ranchers.”