August 03, 2006

TTC :The Star - Telegram compromises itself and a poll

You may have missed a piece published in the Star-Telegram Monday by Donna Williams. I know I certainly did, but I blame the fact that the Star-Telegram actually sucks MORE than the Statesman, so I don't read it. However, imagine my suprise when I discovered this pro-TTC piece of garbage.

Seriously, imagine it. You don't get it, do you? Well, I was suprised because I actually know who Donna Williams is. She's a VP at Parson's Infrastructure (they design roads and airports). In the article, she's listed as a member of Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation (seriously, that's the real name... come on, even I'm not dumb enough to come up with something like that). Predictably, Donna and her buds at TSRT think toll roads are just nifty (after all, they're funded by toll road interests and their minions). You know, I really didn't mind toll roads until all this TTC shit started up. Now, I'm ready to HANG every toll road advocate.

Here's the short and the sweet on toll roads. Texans and Americans HATE paying taxes unless they are actually getting something for the money. The R's have done a good job saying that taxes are whack and the D's have done a lame job actually teaching people what taxes are for... especially that TAXES BUILD FUCKING ROADS.

Texas has seen a 94% increase in traffic on our roads since 1980. Capacity has only increased by 6%. See the problem? Cram more cars on the same roads and voila! MORE CONGESTION ON THOSE ROADS. The wonderful economic growth Texas has enjoyed hasn't paid for itself. Not by a longshot.

However, the solution ISN'T toll roads...here's the point by point.

Today, our state transportation system is at a crossroads. Texas is the leading exporting state and the second-biggest manufacturing state; it added more than 600,000 jobs in the past 34 months. Our state is growing fast, and transportation taxes and funding sources are not keeping pace.

No joke... we KNOW that already, Donna Dumbass. Of course, you don't want to talk about those taxes being increased because then there would be no need for toll roads.

It is imperative that Texas expedite transportation improvements in the interest of public safety, job creation and overall quality of life. That's why state and local leaders and transportation experts are supporting the Trans-Texas Corridor project, being developed to relieve traffic on our aged, crowded and downright scary Interstate 35.

Again, we haven't kept up with necessary expansion of the 35. In fact, only now is TX DoT finally expanding the road to at least six lanes. That should have been done 10 years ago. And, just for the record, any construction project (public OR private) creates jobs.

The Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC-35) uses many new financing and construction tools to get needed roadways built years sooner, without increasing state gasoline or sales taxes. By harnessing private-sector investment and charging motorists a fee, Texas can build a necessary road much faster, relieving traffic far more quickly.

Oh, Donna. TOLLS ARE A TAX. In fact, tolls on the TTC just between Dallas and Austin will amount to $108.00 using Cintra's mean estimate. For a car or truck that gets 20 MPG, that's like a $10.80 increase in the gas tax. PER GALLON. There's no magic here. They are taking $108.00 out of your pocket... and putting into the pocket of a private corporation. Every time you go from Austin to Dallas. The amazing thing... if we increased gas taxes only slightly, we could fully fund TX DoT and rush projects in the cities. Spread over all Texans, the total tax would amount to an additional $30-40 PER YEAR. That's a hell of a lot cheaper than the 'no new taxes, Toll Road' solution.

The Trans-Texas Corridor and other new transportation projects will improve Texas disaster and hurricane response dramatically. Katrina and Rita proved that hurricanes are not just coastal events -- they can threaten an entire region. Better, safer infrastructure means faster evacuations and fewer lives lost to hurricanes or other natural or man-made disasters.

All expansion will do that. In this regard, the TTC is nothing special. Again, Donna, why be so dumb?

Thousands of new Texas jobs, higher property values and resulting economic development will follow the corridor route. Employers tend to migrate to places where it's easier to transport workers, raw materials and products. The Trans-Texas Corridor will help the state add jobs and stay competitive in the world economy.

Not really since Cintra (the owner of the 50 year lease on the TTC) will have control over the land in the TTC and immediately surrounding it. They're going to charge private operators to set up shop there and that means lots of big business... and a few minimum wage jobs. That's the last thing Texas needs.

And TTC-35 even benefits those who don't want to pay the toll. Every car or truck using TTC-35 will be one less vehicle on I-35, thereby increasing that highway's safety and convenience. In addition, free roads, parallel to most toll roads, will remain a viable option for those who choose not to pay.

This is interesting since we don't know the real terms of the agreement with Cintra. Do they restrict expansion of the 35? TX DoT said no when I went to the meeting in Manor on Tuesday. When I drilled for more detail they admitted that the secret parts of the contract (to which they weren't privy) MAY restrict expansion of freeways. I took that to mean it would.

The state will own these new roads, but private companies and investors will pay to construct and operate them. New state laws enhance private property protections and allow local communities and landowners to share in the benefits. As a result, billions in new, largely untapped private investment will pour into Texas to improve our transportation infrastructure, easing congestion, increasing commuter choice and improving highway safety.

Donna's technically correct that the state will own the land. They are leasing it to Cintra for 50 years which is virtually a lifetime lease. The interesting thing is that we don't know the full details of the lease and whether or not it's set up for perpetual renewal. If that's the case, then it's functionally an outright sale, no matter what language you use.

Oh, and those 'new state laws to protect property owners'? They don't apply to the TTC. Todd Staples, Perry and Craddick all made sure the TTC was specifically exempted. The state can take your land via eminent domain for below market value (they only have to give you fair value, whatever that means) and you can go through the expensive and lengthy process of suing the state. Of course, whether or not you win, the state will have already leased your land to Cintra... even if it's been in your family for generations.

The debate continues. The democratic process is working. But don't let anyone tell you that business as usual can improve Texas transportation. People and jobs are migrating to Texas. We must have the roads and infrastructure to carry them safely and efficiently.

Democratic? This deal was made behind closed doors and the true terms and conditions are a secret. One has to wonder what Perry and Staples are afraid to let Texans see? Business as usual can't fix roads... especially not when business as usual involves secret deals with campaign contributors.

Be sure and check out this poll regarding the TTC.

Posted by mcblogger at August 3, 2006 02:40 AM

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