January 19, 2010

We're Number Four!

Interstate 35 through Austin ranks as Number Four on a list of our nation's most congested highways compiled by the popular politics and gardening blog The Daily Beast. Austin's mind-boggling 460 hours of congestion per week helped gain the honors, leaving all other Texas cities in the dust. The northbound Riverside Drive stretch was named as the worst spot. I'm usually not one to toot the local horn, but . . . SUCK IT, Houston!

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January 11, 2010

Mary Peters takes a job in the private sector. Finally.

Apparently, TXDOT is hosting some sort of event that gives them time to jerk off their favorite toll companies and contractors. This time they even pulled in Bush Transportation Secretary Mary Peters...

Under Gov. Rick Perry, Texas emerged as the leader among states in pursuing private toll roads but that momentum was halted last year, when the Legislature allowed the legal authority for most private toll roads in Texas to lapse.

"That moratorium on public private partnerships should be removed," she said. "The state of Texas should put that in abeyance. Restoring (private toll roads) here in Texas could show the federal government that you are really serious about tackling your own transportation problems."

No one, including our intrepid reporter at the DMN (Michael, buddy, I'm not letting you turn into Ben Wear... you gotta man up and start REALLY blogging), even bother to call bullshit on this. PPP's are NOT a good solution for transportation funding for a couple of reasons

1) Private companies can not, ever, raise debt as cheaply as a state. Period. Which automatically means the cost of any project undertaken by a PPP will be more expensive than anything the state will do.

2) These projects are contracted under provisions designed to take most of the risk off the project (and put it on the taxpayer) through forbidding or penalizing improvements to alternate routes and off the private partner (and put it on the taxpayer) by limiting their losses, limiting their percentage of the capital structure (usually to less than that of the state) and guaranteeing a profit to the private partner.

3) In the end, indexing the fuels tax will take care of inflation in construction and maintenance costs and allow the costs to be spread more equitably. In contrast, tolls are not only regressive (harder on the poor than the rich) they are abusive.

Add it all up and 'innovative solutions' like public private partnerships are the most expensive funding solution available for transportation. So, it's curious why old Mary (despite the fact that she really doesn't have all that great a background in banking... she's never worked in finance, only as a bureaucrat in Arizona and Washington, DC). I guess it really shouldn't come as a surprise that SHE'S WORKING FOR A COMPANY THAT STANDS TO BENEFIT FROM PUBLIC PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS (good catch, Michael)

Zachry American Infrastructure, in partnership with ACS, was chosen by TxDOT as the Master Developer for Interstate 69 in Texas. Zachry American Infrastructure partnered with Cintra to form SH 130 Concession Company, which is developing SH 130 segments 5 and 6.

Peters is now a paid consultant -- or "senior adviser" -- to Zachry American Infrastructure, a private toll road (and other infrastructure) developer affiliated with Zachry Construction, a Texas construction company founded in 1924. TxDOT tapped the infrasture development firm to provide a master plan for Interstate 69 in Texas, and the company joined with Cintra to develop SH 130 in Austin.

According to Peters, we need to repeal the moratorium to show DC we're interested in fixing our own problems and following the Federal lead to PPP's. Problem is, the tide is shifting in DC on PPP's. Everyone knows this could well be the next asset bubble to pop up and no one in anxious for that. Nevermind that how expensive these 'partnerships' are for taxpayers.

We're CERTAIN this is all Mary is concerned about. We're quite sure that there is no way her opinion is being influenced by the fact that she and her employer stand to take (not make) a bunch of money off taxpayers and the government officials (Hey TXDOT!) dumb enough to buy the snake oil they're selling.

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December 08, 2009

Children playing at high finance (a TXDOT primer)

I can't express to you the unalloyed joy I will feel when, in a little more than a year, a Democratic Governor removes Trans Commissioner Ted Houghton from the his seat. Why? Just take a look at this and see what the sneaky little shit is up to...

Last week in Austin, Texas Transportation Commission members told staff to submit plans by January for how to fast-track a roughly $4 billion expansion of Interstate 35E between Dallas and Denton. Officials say the project is a prime candidate for a new kind of financing that they concede looks a lot like the private toll deals ruled out by the Legislature.

“We’ve got to use all of these innovative ways of building highways or we won’t be building,” said commission member Ted Houghton of El Paso in an interview Friday. “It’s a fact of life. If you want us to build roads, then we are going to move forward using these kinds of tools.”

The tool in question is called pass-through toll financing, and is different, though not very, from the private toll deals lawmakers have put on ice.

Here’s how it works: A private company, usually backed by a group of banks and other investors, agrees to use its own money to build a state road, usually with the help of at least some tax dollars. In return for the new road, Texas promises to make payments to the firm based on the level of traffic it attracts. The more vehicles that “pass through,” the bigger the payment the private company will receive.

Officials say such deals involving big toll roads could last 30 years or more. So far, though, pass-through financing has only been a way for Texas to pay for a handful of smaller free roads. The per-vehicle payments simply pay back the investment by the private company, or in some cases a local government, and are not passed on to drivers in the form of tolls.

Houghton, of course, completely omits that there will be minimum guarantee levels from the state for the toll lanes and that these agreements usually prohibit improvements to free lanes, frontage roads and alternate routes. Let's also take special note of how the taxpayer's contribution to this scheme is being downplayed. What do WE get in return, Commissioner? A road we get to pay to drive on? Since the state is providing the lions share of the money, what do we get... Here's the breakdown of the capital structure, just FYI...

NORTH TARRANT EXPRESS MOBILITY PARTNERS plans to sell $400 million of tax-exempt debt this month through the Texas Private Activity Bond Surface Transportation Corp. The borrower is a group led by Madrid-based Grupo Ferrovial SA’s Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte SA, which Texas awarded the concession to rebuild and operate a highway northeast of Fort Worth. The bonds will be secured by toll revenue from the North Tarrant Expressway, including rebuilt highways Interstate 820 and State 121/183 near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Fitch rated the bonds BBB-, while Moody’s ranked the issue Baa2, one step higher. The $2 billion cost of redeveloping the 13-mile (20.9-kilometer) stretch of highway will be covered by the private-activity bond proceeds, a $650 million federal transportation loan, about $570 million in gasoline tax revenue from the state, and $420 million in equity invested by Cintra and others. (Added Dec. 7)

Let's take special note of the rating... since this is a project backed by what may be uneven (and certainly unproven) toll revenues, these things are rated just barely investment grade. The spread over typical state issued debt (which carries a higher investment grade rating), which is essentially the difference in the interest rate between these securities and safe Treasuries, will I'm sure be pretty large adding still more expense to the capital structure. In other words, this innovative tool is costing us MORE in interest than if the state just did it themselves. We're actually paying MORE to privatize and Houghton is soaking tax payers for the difference.

Cintra, for it's investment totaling LESS THAN 25% of the capital structure, will get the rights to the toll revenue for 50 years. I'm sure there's some sort of profit sharing agreement, right Commissioner? I LOVE that you're selling this as if the private company will make the majority of the investment when in reality they are making only a small portion of it. And, let me guess, the contract specifies that they get the first money out of it, right? Even before the debt is serviced? Come on, Houghton... let us SEE the contract. Let's see what kind of sweetheart deal you've given to Cintra. What's the cap rate for Cintra on this? 12%? 15%? 25%?!?!?! For those of you keeping score at home, this means that if Cintra is due $100 mn per year and the debt service is $135 mn per year and the revenues are only $75 mn per year, then tax payers will cough up $135 mn to meet the debt service AND an additional $25 mn to pay to Cintra for their guarantee.

Reality was, is and always will be that privatization of infrastructure is THE most expensive way to fund our roads. We all know we need roads, but Carona and others continue to allow TXDOT to call the shots instead of forcing them to back off these risky privatization schemes that are essentially nothing more than corporate welfare.

And that, friends, is the dirty little secret. When you hear the words "innovative ways of building highways" or "innovative financing" in a discussion about transportation funding (especially if it's Ted Houghton speaking), you need to hear it as CORPORATE WELFARE.

The reality is simple... we need the gas tax increase. Failing that, we could toll but it needs to be the authorities and the state issuing the debt and collecting the tolls, not a private entity. All adding a private entity into the mix does is create yet another party that has a superior claim on our tax dollars.

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November 05, 2009

130 Tollway close to projections

Considering that the 130 has been needed since the late 80's, it's little wonder that it's pretty close to meeting projections. It's also the only way some people can get home without winding through the countryside so you have a captive audience. What is also not surprising is that it's still not paying for itself and won't until they start jacking up the toll.

Just another privatized road that's not earning a profit, further proving that there are, indeed, some things government does better than private industry.

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August 07, 2009

Around Texas : Toll increases; AMPO changes; Killer changes the rules and more

  • EOW caught NTTA's massive toll increase. Apparently, because of the economy, fewer people are driving on the tollways in North Texas. So they increased the tolls, ensuring that even fewer people will drive on the tollways. Good thinking, y'all!
  • Terri Hall has a great write up on changes at the Alamo Metro Planning Organization. Finally, someone interested in making good transportation choices is the chair. We look forward to the changes he'll bring to transportation in San Antonio!
  • OMG, could Killer Keller get any more ridiculous?

    Just so we're clear-the spoiled little princess who thinks the state should pay for her attorneys (despite not having reported all her real estate holdings), and who effectively killed a man because his appeal couldn't get filed before 5 p.m. on the day he was to be executed is concerned that she might be judged in a possibly "arbitrary" way.
  • The Coxuckers have decided to pull the Statesman off the market. This is, of course, disappointing to the Mayor, Barfly, Krispy Kreme, Spamburglar and myself as we had been patiently awaiting the the decision on our offer, which we sweetened in June with the addition of a cherry nut bread loaf from the Czech Stop in West, a half eaten bag of Craisans (thank YOU, Krispy Kreme!) and a shopping spree at Costco on my check card.
  • Shorter Ben Wear... The 290 tollway is going to be smaller than expected. It's also going to be way more expensive, all but guaranteeing that few will use it. CTRMA's Mike Heiligenstein thinks it'll all fine.

    Gee, the tollways just seem better and better all the time, don't they?!

  • Havagoodun!

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    July 10, 2009

    Ben Wear asks a question

    Ben Wear has a column in the Statesman asking what happened to the privatization/toll agenda we've been fighting over this session. See, what was so easy during the session became an unsupportable nightmare in the special.

    Here's his take...

    Remember, this same committee voted for the same changes to the law about seven weeks ago.

    Why was it a safe vote in May and a dangerous vote in July?

    Back then there were thousands of bills up for consideration, and thus the attention of the public and the press was fragmented. Transportation insiders, anti-toll activists and the few transportation writers for major dailies were paying attention to this. But most people weren't.

    Now, with only three subjects on the special session call, and no controversy on two of them, that left the entire focus on this one bill. On legislators voting to allow private toll roads, potentially operated by (and sending profits eventually to) foreign companies like Spanish toll road builder Cintra. On lawmakers in effect undoing a moratorium on most such contracts that they voted for in 2007.

    So, why not just bring it up and vote against it? Well, that could then be used against lawmakers later by an opponent saying they'd voted against badly needed roads. And it would be a vote against Gov. Rick Perry, who wanted to extend the authority for private toll roads. A vote against Perry, who has enthusiastically wielded his veto pen through the years.

    Of course, presumably somewhere amid all this there is the "right" position to take on this issue — even if what is deemed right might vary from lawmaker to lawmaker — rather than the "safe" position.

    He just left out one important detail... there was only one real anti-privatization action group that actually mobilized people during the session to email and call. That was TURF. The others, if they bothered to care at all, did little. Which was about what they did in 2007.

    What happened this session was the result of Terri Hall and Hank Gilbert, a Republican and Democrat working together to force the Lege to kill this disastrous policy. Who knew it was so easy to burn up phones when you have hundreds of thousands of Texans on the same side.

    If 39% and the Republicans are serious about Moving Texas Forward, then they're going to have to get comfortable with the fact that the only option is public funding through an indexed fuels tax. We can toll in limited situations, where it makes sense provided the toll goes away once the financing is paid. But no mas with the privatization. It's just not a good deal for Texans.

    Will 39% and the Republicans still try to sell privatization this cycle? Oh, that would really would be too much to ask... especially if it's the guise of 'building the roads Texans need'. Please, God, let it be so!


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    June 23, 2009

    39%'s been busy with the vetoes

    First up was this piece in the Austin Chronicle regarding the partisan vintage of the bills 39% has been vetoing. I know it will come as a shock, but the overwhelming majority are Republican bills.

    Just kidding! Nah, they're mostly Democratic and bi-partisan bills which, now that I think about it, is par for the course for a man who could only get 39% of Texans to vote for him. Some of these bills are pretty important. Some of them would have done a lot of good. None of it will receive a lot of attention. What will, however, really burn his ass is the veto of HB 2142 and the signature of SB 882.

    2142 was the bill that put some taxpayer friendly restrictions on the pro-toll propaganda campaign being run b y TXDOT known as Keep Texas Moving. This one will be a huge favorite with the crowds in East Texas along the 69 corridor.

    SB 882 was the bill by Spendthrift John Carona that actually PAID money to firms who bid on TXDOT projects but were not selected. Of course, the whiny refrain is that even bidding on these projects is expensive and without this there would have been fewer bids. Which is a load of crap because a company that can't afford the scratch to put together a proposal shouldn't even be in the damn running for a project. In point of fact, I could set up an engineering firm specifically to bid on TXDOT projects with the expectation that I'd lose every time... but I'd be richly paid for the loss. This process and this bill are an egregious waste of taxpayer funds.

    And 39% took the additional step of signing it. Of course, I doubt the Hutchison crew is smart enough to pick up on this. Democrats, however, are so it'll come up in the general regardless of the R candidate.

    I was ready for a real fight in 2010 but if you mooks are just going to make it easy, then go and keep (to use the words of a friend of mine) tripping over your own dicks.

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    June 22, 2009

    Transportation Fun Time!

    Sorry about the title. I didn't know what else to call this post. 'Screeching Rant Time' also came to mind but it didn't really have the.... oh, how to put this... spirit of lightness and frivolity I was seeking.

  • According to our friends over at TURF, AG Wheelie has issued an opinion which calls CDA's 'unconstitutional' which may put an end to privatization schemes in Texas.
  • EOW has a nice little piece about WilCo's road to nowhere...
  • Senator Carona, that stalwart of support for good transportation policy, has apparently decided that fighting for his beloved local option isn't really something he care to do.
  • As Stern reported a few days ago, 39% made a big and useless show of supporting that eminent domain amendment that's set to hit the ballot in November. The funny thing... that amendment has no teeth and provides absolutely no real reform which is why it's supported by 39%... and Ag Commissioner Todd Staples.


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    June 03, 2009

    Another privatization failure

    I got some pretty nasty criticism from some people for saying the Lege really didn't know what they were doing when it came to privatization and more specifically the transportation bank. I based my comments on the fact that, well, their efforts to date have been pretty lousy. 3588, 792 and the abysmal HB300. So far, the score is zero for the Lege, three for me.

    As it turns out, you guys and gals aren't the only ones. In Chicago, they underpriced their meter system by almost $1 billion. So, when someone like me questions TXDOT about the value of a CDA, it's because I know TXDOT's folks are idiots when it comes to calculating the value of our infrastructure. When I question you Legislators about the laws you're passing that enable TXDOT to do stupid things, why not take a step back and really look at what you're doing.

    It might help you avoid a Chicago like mistake.

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    June 01, 2009

    The sun sets on TxDOT

    No sooner did I get the post up about the action over the weekend then my phone starts ringing with the news that HB 300 died... and 1959, the safety net bill, as well thanks to the work of Rep. Leibowitz. Apparently, someone changed the next sunset review from two years to four years and no one was going to let this drag on until 2013.

    Mad props are due Terri Hall, Hank Gilbert and everyone at TURF who, we've heard, kept the phones ringing all day. Not to mention the House D's and more than a few Republicans who finally decided that enough was really enough.

    So, unless something happens tomorrow, the Lege is bound for a special. And won't that be fun.

    Posted by mcblogger at 01:23 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Just kill it already

    HB 300 has been the source of a lot of consternation today and it appears that everyone kinda agrees... this fucker needs to die.

    I really have to give props to Senator Carona for being a bigger son of a bitch than the other son of a bitch. John, I pray the two of us never meet because then we'll be forced into a contest of petty and honestly, I don't know who'll come out on top. I like my chances but your performance today was brilliant.

    Carona's beloved local taxing option got pulled out of the bill in conference. Apparently, it had something to do with Hegar on the Senate side (big surprise that, Hegar's made an enemy out of just about everyone this session) and Linda Fucking Harper Goddamn Brown, who managed to pull her fat face out of a trough long enough to keep the Republican dream of privatizating everything alive just a little longer. Oh, and fucking all Texans. So, he's threatening to filibuster the bill to death.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not all in love with Carona now. I think his alliance with Nichols is unholy and his decision to filibuster HB 300 is based only on the elimination of the local option, not on the transportation bank. Or privatization in general or converting existing, paid-for highways into private tollways. Or the fact that the reco's of the Sunset Committee (like electing TxDOT officials) has been completely left out. Stripped, in part, by Carona himself. Yes, the loss of local option in conference is irony at it's finest. Still, if the result is the same (the death of HB 300) then it's all good.

    The funniest thing about all this is the Republican opposition to the local option, to giving the voters a direct say in how we fund transportation in this state. They've made it very clear by opposing this that their primary concern is not what's best for Texans... it's enriching investment bankers by privatizing roads.

    So, here's to hoping that either the House kills HB 300, or Carona does. It's a bad bill and it truly needs to die.


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    May 22, 2009

    Come on, Lege!

    With 404 and 17 coming to the floor, all you need a little wake up call. You don't want to be on the team with Carona and Nichols.

    OPEN LETTER TO THE TEXAS LEGISLATURE

    Quit putting lipstick on your pig!

    DATELINE MADRID, May 22, 2009 (A day that will go down in infamy?) - It is insulting to impugn Texans' intelligence by pretending that the private toll contract for I-69 (officially called Comprehensive Development Agreement) that both foreign and domestic interests alike are pushing the State to sign is NOT part of the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC). Today, the Texas Legislature may vote to seal its fate as the politicians who sold Texas highways to the highest bidder with its eyes wide open, despite near universal outrage by ordinary Texans.

    You tried to dupe the public into thinking the Trans Texas Corridor is "DEAD," but all we have to do is follow the money to find out your true intentions. As the battle over handing our highways to foreign toll operators has continued to heat-up, some lawmakers have tried to quell their colleagues and their constituents' natural apprehension by making them believe that signing the Trans Texas Corridor contract to privatize our public roadways is simply upgrading Hwy 77 to interstate I-69. But we know better. As long as Rick Perry still occupies the Governor's office, we live by the old adage: "Trust but verify."

    Both TxDOT and the private concessionaire, Iridium/ACS, use I-69 and TTC-69 interchangeably (until the Trans Texas Corridor brand name became radioactive). The official designation by Congress since 1995 calls the project "high priority corridors 18 and 20" and it has referred to it as an international trade corridor. Amendment #2 to SB 17 in committee referred to high priority corridors 18 and 20. The project has also been called "corridor of the future," NAFTA Superhighway, and more. Regardless of the official name, Texans know the TTC when they see it, so quit trying to put lipstick on your pig.

    The news release dated June 26, 2008 from Madrid specifically calls the project the Trans Texas Corridor project I-69/TTC-69 and states ACS will choose the route, develop the timelines, and priority activities for the ENTIRE 1,000 km CORRIDOR for the next 50 years, not simply upgrading Hwy 77 to an interstate in the valley. Hwy 77 is called the "first route."

    The news release further further states:

    1) ACS Infrastructures Development, the North American branch of Iridium, the concession development company of ACS, and the Texan concessionaire Zachry American Infrastructure have become the successful bidders for the design, planning and development, as strategic partners of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), of the I-69/TTC infrastructure corridor for the next 50 years.

    2) The I-69/TTC (Trans Texas Corridor) will connect the Mexican border with the Gulf of Mexico coastline, Houston and major industrial and logistics centres in Texas with the north of the country.

    3) The I-69/TTC development project includes, in its initial design, the construction of a 1,000 kilometre network of highways and roads as well as railway lines. Based on this, ACS and Zachry will draft a Master Plan with the Texas Department of Transportation to establish the priority activities as well as the form and deadlines for their execution.

    4) With the award of this project, ACS and Zachry, the largest construction group in the State of Texas, have become strategic partners of the Texas Department of Transportation and shall propose the development of specific projects and activities for which they will have a preferential negotiation option without public tender.

    5) In fact, the consortium is already considering the renewal of a first route whose concession will be negotiated with the Texas Department of Transportation, the US 77, which shall include the construction of a series of highways under concession regime connecting to it and which shall require an investment of 2,500 million dollars.

    DO NOT vote to re-authorize CDAs. SB 404 and SB 17 are mere window dressing for the Trans Texas Corridor and the sale of our public highways, our lifelines for daily living, to foreign interests. Texans don't want it, and are hopping mad the Legislature is still pursuing this despite the public outcry. I have not met ONE Texan who is FOR this (notwithstanding the highway lobby). Texans won't soon forget paying homage to Cintra or ACS to get to work for the next 50 YEARS! It's simply, UN-Texan!

    Terri Hall is the Founder of Texas TURF. TURF is a non-partisan grassroots group of citizens concerned about toll road policy and the Trans Texas Corridor. TURF promotes non-toll transportation solutions. For more information, please visit their web site at: www.TexasTURF.org.

    Posted by mcblogger at 10:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Stop me if you've heard this one before

    Senator Nichols and Senator Carona walk into a bar with some guy from Zachry. They immediately make a deal with the owner to take a cover at the door in exchange for a large cash payment up front. They then start collecting a pretty high cover at the door and soon the owner realizes that the payment he took up front doesn't really make up for the lost business. Worse, the agreement he signed states that he has to pay THEM in the event that there aren't enough people willing to pay the cover.

    OK, so it's not a really funny joke but it's pretty close to what's going on in the Lege with privatization. SB's 17 and 404 come to the House today for (what we hope) will be a one time only performance. We also hope they'll be booed out by the members. Or, at least, the House Democrats.

    Because I want to beat the hell out of the Republicans with this vote next year. Feel free to contact your Rep and ask them to vote no...

    512-463-4630 and ask for your State Representative OR email them at firstname.lastname@house.state.tx.us

    And yes, for those of you in the Lege, this DOES override the privatization moratorium. Forget what you've heard from Senators Nichols and Carona.

    Posted by mcblogger at 10:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 21, 2009

    The Republican Party of Texas... completely in the bag for privatization interests

    SB 855 is up today which will allow the state to index the gas tax and give MPOs the ability to raise the local gas tax within their area by no more than 10 cents per gallon. The Republican Party is, of course, panicking.

    While it's true no one likes their taxes increased, EVERYONE realizes we need roads. Lots of them and we need to improve the ones we have. Everyone, except the Republican Party of Texas, realizes that roads cost money. Well, that's not true... the R's realize roads cost money. That's why they want to sell off your roads, convert them to toll and then build more toll roads with the proceeds.

    That's called progress, friend. At least here in Texas they call it progress. In other states, they call it 'extortion' and 'political corruption'.

    Just to show you how stupid this is... the RPT claims this increase, which won't be a full 25 cents anyway (I know, shocking that the Republican Party of Texas would lie. It's almost as disappointing as finding out that Santa's not real or that the bartender you've been flirting with all night and thought was flirting back, bats for the other team), will cost jobs and cause costs to go up. Which is funny because the last time we increased the gas tax, the State of Texas boomed for a decade. And D's controlled the Legislature.

    Take a moment to think about that. The last time the State did really well economically was when we had a Democratic Legislature.

    The Republicans also failed to mention that the gas tax per mile would be less than a penny. Under some of their plans, it would be as much as $1.00 in toll taxes. PER MILE.

    Call 512-463-4630, ask for your State Rep and ask them to please vote YES on SB 855.

    Posted by mcblogger at 10:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 19, 2009

    ACTION ALERT - Keep The Privatization Moratorium

    Once again, we have to call up to the Lege... the Cap switchboard is 512-463-4630 and ask for your State Representative. When someone in their office answers please let them know your name and that you're calling to ask the Representative to VOTE NO ON SB 404 AND SB 17.

    Please follow up with an email to them using the following format firstname.lastname@house.state.tx.us.

    Take 30 seconds to make sure that TXDOT can't sell our roads!

    Posted by mcblogger at 01:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Oh... this is why indexing of the gas tax will fail...

    No, it's not because it won't bring in enough money (it will... at least as long as we continue to use liquid fuels), in point of fact indexing the gas tax will actually fill the funding hole at TXDOT without raping tax payers and will help control the prices charged by contractors since it will tie the funding to actual costs, not inflated prices.

    But, alas, it won't pass, because of these folks: Texas Public Policy Foundation, Texas Eagle Forum, Texans for Fiscal
    Responsibility, Americans for Prosperity, and the Free Market Foundation.

    Legislation approved by the committee during the past 24 hours--House Bill 9 and Senate Bill 855--permits a 15-cent statewide increase of the gas tax within 10 years, as well as a new 10-cent-per-gallon local gas tax. This represents a potential 25-cent increase per gallon, on top of the current 20-cent gas tax--a whopping 125 percent increase within 10 years. While these measures require voter approval, the organizations listed above reject the flawed notion that requiring voter approval makes this measure acceptable.

    Now, these groups are all about the crazy. For one thing, you can tell that's the case by the last sentence in which they decide that just because we, the voters, WANT this it's still not OK. They also seem to think there are endless streams of money available from the taxes we already pay and that, somehow, just eliminating waste will do the trick. Now, I won't argue there is waste in government... there is waste in ANY human endeavor, private or public. However, it won't give you enough money to do anything significant. Period. Cutting, say, $100 mn from the state budget just isn't going to get us a rebuilt 35 Freeway. Sorry. Actually, in Texas today, it really won't pay for much since many of our cities have larger budgets. That's like the budget for a 4A school district.

    But thanks y'all for trying.

    These groups all, at one point or another, supported privatization and toll taxes, which are the ultimate redistribution of wealth. Most of them still do, though we've heard that Cathy over at the Eagle Forum has found the light and decided that we shouldn't privatize. We'll definitely believe that when we see it. The reality, as most of these folks know but won't acknowledge, is that indexing the gas tax won't even restore the buying power the tax had in 1992. All it will do is keep it from losing value going forward. However, that hasn't stopped Peggy Venable from going for a dip in the deep end...

    "These bills permit a 125 percent increase in the gasoline taxes paid by Texas drivers," said Peggy Venable, Director of Americans for Prosperity-Texas. "Legislators are holding onto the false notion that by requiring voter approval they are absolving themselves of the reality that this permits a colossal tax increase that is going to impose a tremendous burden on Texas families and businesses.

    That's still better than the 1000% increase that tolls and privatization will give us. Oh, and just for Peggy, a little lesson in inflation... If you tax something at a constant rate (say, I don't know, 18 cents per gallon of gasoline) inflation will eventually eat up the spending power represented by that 18 cents. Basically, the entity receiving the tax money loses buying power and the consumers paying the tax actually see the tax, as a percentage of their income, DECREASE.

    All indexing the gas tax is going to do is hold the value of the tax stable so that TXDOT can actually build some roads and taxpayers won't get drowned paying more than $1.00 per mile in toll taxes.

    As for allowing the locals to decide their tax rate, these folks are scared to death that their anti-tax screeds are finally beginning to smell like the bullshit from which they are made. Most people aren't anti-tax, they just don't want their money wasted. Like it is on 39%'s slush fund which, it should be noted, is supported by these folks and is pulling taxpayer money away from far more necessary objectives. Now, you have to ask yourselves, why these folks all have their panties in a twist over a minor increase in the gas tax which won't even restore it to the spending power it had in the 1990's and not upset at all about 39%'s slush fund which has done dickall to create jobs in this state.

    I'm sick of so-called public policy groups that fall over themselves to screw tax payers and try to hide their agendas (and those of their masters) behind a facade of caring about the people of this State who, year after year, get screwed by the bad ideas they shill for. And I'm sure as hell not going to listen to an asshat like Peggy Venable who has never even had a real job to speak of, at least not one in private enterprise. All I could find about her was that she's spent most of her life working in government in positions that were, wait for it, funded by taxpayers. The same government she says is too big and intrusive. I wonder if it was when she was a part of it.

    Finally, EOW reminded me of this post about the gas tax vs. toll taxes. I also wanted to point to some of the pieces we've done on TXDOT's funding gap projection (the difference between money available for infrastructure vs. the needed project costs). As this debate has gone on, year after seemingly endless year, no one seems to be having the discussion regarding the politicization of TXDOT by 39% and their outright lies about their funding needs. I thought sunset would finally provide that opportunity but no one stepped up to have that discussion. So infrastructure, the most important issue in our state right now and the foundation of our economy, is taking a back seat to voter ID and the other petty, stupid and childish issues that folks like Peggy Venable are dumb enough to think are important.


    Posted by mcblogger at 10:54 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 15, 2009

    Asshole Pedestrians With Carts

    In honor of Bike Back To Your Office While Suffering From Shitty Food day, the rest of us here at McBlogger Enterprises would like to commemorate this day with a new series- Asshole Pedestrians with Carts. Specifically homeless pedestrians. Angry ones.

    While others might have to suffer through a few more excruciatingly long seconds to take a right hand turn by driving on the shoulder illegally where the bicyclists are trying to stay out of the way and letting the rest of the traffic tool by at 70mph... and others have to suffer from drivers using those asshat bluetooth devices... some of us have to suffer from attacks by homeless pedestrians who ram their motherfucking carts into our bicycles on the sidewalk.

    Like tonight, somewhere around 5th and San Jacinto when a homeless, dare we say, strung out woman did not like the fact that we were idling on the sidewalk corner FOLLOWING THE LAW TO WAIT FOR THE LIGHT TO CHANGE.

    Quote: "Why are you trying to buy candy in the ghetto? Sitting all high and mighty on your bike, I'll motherfucking run you over Big Chief!"

    And then proceeded to RAM MY BIKE with her wild eyes and cart. WTF??? Ghetto? Candy? BIG CHIEF??

    God DAMMIT asshole pedestrians with their carts. Next time I'm gonna run them over.

    homelesscart.jpg

    Posted by spamburgler at 09:16 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Douchebags in Cars!

    In recognition of National Bike to Work Day, we here at McBlogger Enterprises are proud to unveil our latest feature, Douchebag in Cars, or DICs. This feature will highlight those special drivers who have conspired to make our world a shittier place, from fucking up our planet with greenhouse gas and smog emissions, to contributing to the epidemic of obesity that causes 80% of our population to be totally unfuckable, and to causing us to get involved in $3 trillion wars over oil. Oh yeah, and there's that torture thing.


    dics.jpg


    Today's specimen is a special type of douchebag (in car), the gelled dude with a bluetooth headset. Versatile, this creature is able to reach heights of douchiness in all environments, but in a car he is especially dangerous. Jetting down the street at 80 mph with the top down and a hooker's mouth on his cock, this DIC is oblivious to the toddler on a trike he ran over 3 blocks ago. His only concern is that onlookers realize that he is kind of a big deal. Experts recommend that if you should encounter a gelled dude with a bluetooth headset, he can be neutralized only with heavy doses of Huey Lewis and the News.


    Don't forget to join us for next week's DIC, Compensating Redneck in Monster Pick-up Truck!

    Posted by The Mean Green at 04:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 13, 2009

    CSHB 9, HJR 9 or whatever we're calling it at this point

    CSHB 9, the gas tax bill everyone is excited about (here's the DMN and FWST coverage) isn't all it's cracked up to be...

    First off, the bill diverts money from the gas tax to rail with little or no oversight. Will the projects pull traffic off our congested roads? Who knows. Obviously, no one will have a problem with building rail that increases net capacity on our roads. However, there's nothing here to make sure that happens, clearing the way for RMA vanity projects, funded by the gas tax, which do little to alleviate congestion.

    Section 222.073 is where the fun really begins... it puts the extra money raised with the local option gas tax into the Texas Infrastructure bank and some private banks, to maximize 'private participation' and leverage public money. Which is a back door way of saying 'fund public-private partnerships' or private toll roads. With gas tax revenue. Which is REALLY awesome.

    All this if voters in the counties that make up the MPO vote for as much as a 10 cent increase in the gas tax. Oh, and individual counties can opt out if their voters don't approve, which creates a lovely swiss cheese overlay for increased gas taxes funding projects even in deadbeat counties.

    Wrapped up in all this is a constitutional amendment to index the statewide gas tax which people have been asking for FOREVER. Now, there is a cap maxing out at 5% per year and no higher than 3 cents per biennium, which isn't terrible. However, the focus on the PPI vs. actual construction costs could create problems as construction costs tend to be more volatile than PPI.

    Now, there is something interesting in all that Sen. Carona's office (and the Senator himself) are busy telling every reporter in earshot that there is a prohibition in this legislation that keeps gas tax money from funding PPP's and toll roads. Of course, to this point, no one has been able to find that language in the bill.

    However, the crap about the infrastructure bank was hella easy to find. Oh, and we still have a problem with Carona's bank in that it's a really, really stupid idea. Again, no one in the Senate has any idea how much trouble the folks who will be running this 'bank' can get into. AIG and Lehman didn't either and now they're both broke.

    Are we sure we want to give a very few the power to bankrupt the entire State of Texas? Of course not... so why is the Texas Senate, and more specifically Senators Carona, Nichols and Ogden, so hell bent on doing just that?

    Posted by mcblogger at 03:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 12, 2009

    Take a moment to save your roads

    SB 220 is trapped in the House Transportation Committee... which is exactly where it needs to die. This is the bill that, no joke, makes is EASIER for TXDOT to convert existing highways into toll roads. Please, take a moment to send this message

    Please leave SB 220 in committee. The House just voted for the RIGHT wording, Leibowitz's HB 13 amendment that was successfully attached to the TxDOT Sunset Bill, HB 300. NO to SB 220. Yes to the Leibowitz amendment in HB 300 becoming law.

    To these email addresses...

    craig.chickATspeaker.state.tx.us and house_thcATtexasturf.org

    We have a long way to go until the end of the session to throw a wrench into the privatization of our roads and this is just one more step.

    Posted by mcblogger at 11:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Getting it exactly wrong...

    WOW. I didn't think anything could top HB 3588 from the 2003 session but HB 300 not only tops it, it exceeds it. We have a lot to cover here including the people on whom you should assign the blame. These folks really need a lot of shame and ridicule heaped upon them. Especially that twerpy Rep. Phillips from Sherman who looks like a junior version of fatass Sen. Carona.

    Rep. Isett and Phillips, with Trans Chair Pickett's blessing, snuck in an amendment to the TXDOT Sunset bill that would extend PPP's well into 2015. Further it would make it easier for TXDOT to privatize our roads, even though there is no way a private entity can run the road cheaper than the State of Texas. Of course, one has to wonder why the hell, if privatization is sooo awesome, we didn't just privatize TXDOT entirely and fire everyone at the Agency? Why leave them intact? Such questions, of course, never get asked because they lead to uncomfortable answers. So do questions about what really is the best way of funding transportation in this state... private or public taxes. The answer is always public taxes. From one of Burka's pieces...

    I received an e-mail from a person who is very familiar with TxDOT’s problems, political and practical. The e-mail made the following points:

    1. Aside from the Trans-Texas Corridor issue, the frustration members feel toward TxDOT is that the agency doesn’t deliver the projects they want.

    2. Both chambers passed budgets that don’t meet TxDOT’s current obligations. The agency says that money for new construction will run out by 2012.

    3. Both chambers have passed bills to increase diversions from gas tax revenue.

    4. Although TxDOT officials have stated repeatedly that gas tax revenue is declining, the Legislature has done nothing (except authorize bonds, which means borrowing money) to seek new revenue.

    The stalemate on this is political. The way to break it is to raise motor fuels taxes, issue bonds based on the revenue, and index the tax to inflation, with a cap on the increase. The governor could break the impasse by coming out for a gasoline tax increase. He’s not going to do it. The governor and the agency continue to press for comprehensive development agreements for toll roads as the funding solution. The Legislature and the public hate the idea of privatizing highways. They are not going to give in to the pressure for more toll roads, especially if it means privatization. This leads to the final point in the e-mail:

    5. At this rate, it doesn’t matter what they do in Sunset, without the money to fund the system, it really doesn’t matter.

    The bill to increase the size of the Trans Commission to 15 elected representatives is actually a good one despite what Burka and the DMN think. In reality, the cause of all this are the appointed commissioners who serve only one master, Governor Perry. They've spent almost a decade working hard to convince the Lege that privatization is the only way we can fund roads. It's worked so well they've even managed to convince a few Democrats like Rep. Pickett and Sen. Watson. Pickett I can understand because from all reports he's so desperate for infrastructure in El Paso he'll blow anyone to get it. I guess we now know that 'anyone' includes lobbyists for privatization interests and leadership at TXDOT. Sen. Watson just wants to be able to write in the Watson Wire that he's doing something (anything!) to alleviate traffic, even if it is going to stick us with a hefty tab for the next 50 years. Needless to say, the appointed commission has been a disaster.

    Also, changing the commission over to three from the Governor and one each from the Speaker and the Lt. Gov doesn't do much in so far as giving people a focus for transportation issues. Rep. Leibowitz's plan does that and creates a far more responsive agency which isn't saying much considering what we have now which is basically a legalized version of the mob.

    Burka did nail it on the final bill though...

    I overlooked one other significant change to the bill (and no doubt there are others). Amendment 134 extended the authority for Comprehensive Development Agreements — that is, privatized roads. The authority was extended to 2015. This was done in spite of representations that the bill would not deal with methods of financing roads. This was a breach of faith with the overwhelming majority of members who have concerns about TxDOT. The Senate should substitute the original Sunset bill for the House bill and start over.

    Now the focus shifts to the Senate where a bunch of bills are coming up...including the awesome one to turn TXDOT into a combo of Lehman and AIG. The bills are SB 220, 404, 1350 and 1669. Every one of them should be defeated but probably won't because the D's in the Senate are overwhelmed by Sen. Nichols' limited intellect and Sen. Carona's fatness. Which says a lot about them. Of course, it says far more about the Republicans in the Senate, a massive collection of cowards and ego maniacs (and egomaniacal cowards). Speaking of, where's Dan Patrick? For someone up everyone's ass on his insipid little radio show, you'd think he'd be railing against the fact that if all this passes Texans are going to get a far larger tax bill than that which would accompany an indexed gas tax. And that's without even counting the sure to materialize losses from the enhancements written by the Transportation Revolving Fund.

    The ultimate in foolishness are the idiots in the Lege who have convinced themselves that privatization is the only way. And to this group of uncritical thinkers, my thanks. With your ignorance and my GS stock, I'll be able to retire right about the time things really go off the rails here in Texas and move to a state where the electeds are a little less clueless.

    Posted by mcblogger at 08:49 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 07, 2009

    ACTION ALERT - STOP TRANS PRIVATIZATION

    HB 300 is up today in the House. Please call the Capitol switchboard at 512-463-4630, ask for your State Representative and ask them to vote against Rep. Menendez's amendment to reauthorize CDA's and Public Private Partnerships!

    This amendment will continue to allow TXDOT to privatize our infrastructure to the tune of billions for private developers and a MUCH higher tax burden on all Texans. PLEASE, take three minutes and as your Rep to vote against this amendment.

    Posted by mcblogger at 12:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 06, 2009

    Using Lehman as a blueprint for TXDOT

    I think it's a super good idea to give the State the ability to create their own investment bank. With all the good people out of work as a result of the financial meltdown most of them played a part in causing, we're sure to get some top notch talent, like the folks from AIG Financial Products Group in London who overwrote their capacity by something like trillions of dollars.

    As you could probably tell, I'm a little disturbed about the craptastic Transportation Bank that Senators Carona, Ogden and Nichols are creaming themselves over. I get like that when people, we'll call them SENATORS, think they're being clever but are, in reality, making some really stupid decisions. If some of the worlds best run and managed (as laughable as that may be) insurance and financial companies got themselves into trouble with credit enhancements. Which leads me to ask what makes the Texas Senate think that this Transportation Revolving Fund is going to be different? It is, after all, going to be doing the exact same thing as an investment bank. The only difference is it'll be taxpayer money at risk. The other important difference is that, much like the SBOE, it'll be run by incompetent appointees instead of incompetent privately hired bankers.

    How can I be sure they'll be incompetent? Well, 39% will be making the appointments... and he wouldn't know a good investment banker from a used car salesman.

    Just let that, for a moment, sink in. This is a taxpayer funded bank that, in some cases, will have access to funding from the state run pension plans. See, if they can't get private investors interested, they can just pull money from the pensions. And, of course, taxpayers will ultimately be on the hook when this does, inevitably, fail.

    Sorry, it's not that I don't have a sense of optimism about this proposal. I think it could work in a perfect world, one in which the law of unintended consequences doesn't exist. However, our Senators are like children playing with nukes. Seriously, and this isn't to be mean but, EVERY SINGLE STATE SENATOR IS MASSIVELY OUT OF THEIR DEPTH ON THIS. And no, that's not at all an unfair criticism.

    I'm not calling you stupid, just ill informed and incapable of even understanding just how far off the rails this thing could go in a relatively short period of time.

    You really want to get a look at how badly this could all go? Take a look at this NYT piece on Lehman Bros. When they couldn't sell anymore they started using their own money, just like the revolving fund. And when things went south because they weren't pricing things properly, the entire company got pulled down. That's what will happen here and Lehman was relatively good about not writing enhancements on the debt they sold. Orange County, CA is another case that could readily be duplicated by this revolving fund. Only with us, if we include pension money, we could be looking at hundreds of billions in losses.

    The most ridiculous thing about all this is that it's a bandaid on the real problem... it's covering it over and hoping it will go away without fixing it. EOW has piece up about Rep. Pickett's desire to change over the local option tax/toll plan and make it at the MPO level which would keep WilCo from having a lower gas tax than Travis Co. This is better that the local option but it's still only a stop-gap measure for the real solution, indexing the state gas tax.

    It would be great if we could get past political orthodoxy and ideological purity (taxes are not, as some of you think, always bad or confiscatory... tolls are a tax and you love those). It would also be great if y'all were more interested in your constituents than your campaign contributors. But neither is possible, so the issue will never get resolved as you people maneuver and manipulate to try and find still more esoteric solutions.


    Posted by mcblogger at 02:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 01, 2009

    Transportation infrastructure costs drop...

    In December, 2007 I posted this questioning TXDOT's statement that infrastructure construction costs had increased by 25%. In a YEAR. From the Comptroller's office (via EOW) comes word that, OMG, TXDOT overestimated the costs. As it turns out, projects are coming in about 20% cheaper...

    Bids for new construction are running about 20 percent cheaper than the state’s estimates.

    One reason is that state engineers use a 12-month rolling average of costs in their estimates. The projects being bid today were designed months ago.

    The pre-recession estimates don’t fully reflect the cheaper prices for gasoline, asphalt and labor that appear in the latest bids.

    Still, Barton said, “It’s a buyer’s market.”

    REALLY? No one thought that maybe, just maybe, with oil not at $150/bbl that asphalt, which is made from oil, would be cheaper? That it would be cheaper because the raw material it is made from (oil) is cheaper and that there would also be more of it since there was now no economic benefit to putting the asphalt in a coker to crack out what little gasoline you could now that gas is $2/gal?

    Concrete and steel are also cheaper... that's because China isn't rebuilding Beijing for the 2008 Olympics anymore.

    Question... did you guys ever even consider holding inventory, especially as volatile as commodity prices are, and dollar cost averaging?!?!?

    Posted by mcblogger at 10:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 10, 2009

    Congestion pricing nonsense

    I've been reading up a bit on congestion pricing of roadway capacity, the holy grail for not only raising additional capital for infrastructure but for cutting traffic on our overburdened roadways. Chris Bradford over at Austin Contrarian has done some great work explaining the models and the assumed results.

    I just don't think I'm buying it. For one thing, there's this post about capacity actually creating congestion... note in the piece that time, population growth, etc. are irrelevant. The gist is that without a well developed limited access roadway (tollway, freeway, expressway) network and surface streets capable of moving the traffic rapidly off the system, additional capacity on one road will necessarily create additional congestion on another road. Here's the Austin based example...

    For example, TxDOT is pushing ahead with plans to increase the capacity of 290 from Manor west to 183 by making it a limited access toll road. But the increased traffic flow on 290 will push thousands of more cars onto congested 183, where, once there, they really have no option. What's worse, the "improvement" will feed thousands more cars into already hypercongested I35. It's quite likely that the extra congestion on the much busier I35 and 183 will swamp any time savings on 290.

    Uhm... not so much. The people who will use this route are already, you know, using it. There isn't a massive number of people clamoring for this improvement that aren't already using 290 (even the finance geeks said the traffic projections on this tollway were ass). Further, the reality of 35 and 183 is that traffic is going to continue to increase on these roads. It's going to get much worse as growth accelerates and therein lies the bigger issue. Texas has set it's taxes so low that immigrants (domestic and international) DO NOT pay for the increased burden they place on our infrastructure.

    What I'D like to see discussed is the overall impact of congestion on people and on the infrastructure that isn't tolled, like surface roads. We already see a large spike in traffic on Balcones, Expo, Lamar, etc. because congestion is so bad on Mopac and 35. What will happen when we start congestion pricing on certain lanes of these roads? How much of the traffic going to be in the neighborhoods?

    There is a local, real world proof for congestion pricing... 130. Once the 45SW connector between 130 and 35 near Creedmoor is complete, we will have a complete bypass to 35 through Austin metro. If we're really curious about all this, we should start keeping track of through traffic counts from 6-10 am and from 3-7pm from Georgetown through Onion Creek, then compare those numbers to post 45SW opening numbers.

    If 130 takes more than 5% of the traffic off the road, I'll be impressed. But I want to see data. I had the idea, not too long ago, of making 130 free during rush hour to pull through traffic off 35. While it would not have completely alleviated the congestion, it would have gone a long way toward making it manageable. But that's not going to happen because 130 has already been sold off.

    The other post from Chris that caught my eye was this one regarding congestion tolls on the last free bridges connecting Manhattan. Specifically...

    Let's look at the free bridges into Manhattan. They are perpetually congested. Pricing them properly would eliminate the congestion (most of the time). As O'Toole very well knows, this is the economically efficient solution.

    But congestion pricing does more than relieve congestion. Congestion pricing tells us when a road needs more capacity. Additional capacity costs money, and drivers are willing to pay only so much for it. That "so much" is exactly equal to the price they are willing to pay to avoid congestion. When the revenue collected by congestion pricing is low -- too low to finance new capacity -- we know we have enough capacity. Drivers aren't willing to pay for more, so building it would be wasteful.

    On the other hand, If a properly priced road starts generating "too much" revenue -- enough to cover the cost of expanding capacity -- then it's time to figure out how to add the capacity users are willing to pay for.

    It's the initial point I have a problem with... congestion pricing will eliminate congestion but not traffic which will find alternate routes. Manhattan's a bad point since your only other way onto the island in a car is via tolled bridge or tunnel. Still, you're not eliminating traffic, you're merely inconveniencing drivers by making them wait until the pricing declines or by forcing them to an alternate route. But it's not magic, traffic doesn't just disappear.

    Here in Austin, that means a lot of angry people driving through neighborhoods on surface streets.

    The debate on this needs to shift from 'cool' mechanisms and thought exercises to a realization that we all need to make some sacrifices to modernize our infrastructure. That's the best and most cost efficient way. It's going to be a combination of roads and rail. It's going to be expensive but it's something we can afford, especially if we want to continue economic expansion well into the 21st century.

    And how about this... let's work on improving our connector, feeder and surface road capacity. Getting people on and off the limited access roads will go a long way to relieving a lot more congestion than additional tolled capacity. As ANYONE who has been heading to NW via 35 and the connector to 183 can tell you, that thing was NOT built for the demand being placed on it. Then there's the two lane connector from MoPac to 183 north which shrinks down to one lane.

    Seriously, our biggest problem is bad fucking roadway design. Let's get that fixed, see what the problem is like then and at that time we can be open to pricing for congestion. Until then, it's all a meaningless intellectual exercise.

    Posted by mcblogger at 02:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 09, 2009

    SB 220 - Senate D's galatic fuck up.

    To start with, I should be honest. SB 220, or as it's been more aptly named by a number of folks, THE TAXPAYER SUBSIDIZED CONVERSION OF PUBLIC ROADS TO TOLL ROADS BILL, passed the Senate with a vote of all 31 Senators last Wednesday. Not a single Democrat or Republican stood in opposition. Which really makes them all 39%'s bitch. Or Cintra-Zachry/Bluebonnet's, depending on who exactly is lubing them up.

    Our own Senator Watson, whom I've tried to give the benefit of the doubt, voted FOR this piece of legislation which allows TXDOT to very easily turn existing, taxpayer funded, public roads into a toll roads. It does nothing to fix the long term funding hole in Texas for infrastructure. It does make it infinitely easier to convert an existing highway into a toll road. Why would Senator Watson do such a thing? My guess would be it's because we need roads and rather than standing up for our long term interests, he's caving to the shallow desires of toll interests and the short sighted Greater Austin Chamber crowd dying to get the roads built as tollways now. Sounds great until you realize you can't just get out of this a few years later... this is one horrendous marriage we're going to be trapped in.

    I've given Senator Watson almost two weeks to just TELL US WHY he voted for the bill. He failed to respond, probably because he was working on another craptastic edition of his hokey 'what's up' email, the Watson Wire. Either that or he was thinking of taking another gutsy stand on giving poor kids insurance, which is really gutsy here in Austin where we give the homeless health insurance. Or, maybe he was just grandstanding on the budget. Speaking of, here's my favorite part...

    "It's just kicking the can down the road without making the structural changes we need to in the budget," said Watson.

    Yeah, no foolin' you, is there Kirk? Shame you couldn't pick up on how much 220 was doing, functionally, the same goddamn thing and soaking Texas taxpayers in the process.

    There's an old saying that Democrats are their own worst enemies. It's true as hell in this case as they are alienating the very voters they need to be swinging towards us. Good job, Senate D's! What, you really thought no one would notice? Or did you just buy Sen. Nichols sales pitch hook, line and sinker?

    The worst part is that you denied us an issue with which to browbeat Republicans in 2010. Now, you'll try to cover your ass by whining about bipartisanship and getting something done to help alleviate infrastructure problems. But it's all bullshit and you're a bunch of weak goddamn sisters who've done far too little research.

    Actually, that may be going a bit too far. We'll still beat the R's with it, but some of y'all are going to get hit as well. It's called collateral damage. And if you don't get hit with SB 220, you will sure as hell get hit with SB 17.

    You folks are supposed to be SMARTER than the Republicans. ACT LIKE IT.


    Posted by mcblogger at 09:52 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    April 03, 2009

    Gunning for TXDOT

    Ben Wear has the run down on some proposals regarding TXDOT and it's governing body, the appointed members of the Texas Transportation Commission. They range from horrible (eliminating the five members of the TTC and replacing with one appointed Commissioner) to pretty good, electing one statewide Commissioner to what, in my opinion, is the best... an body made up of 14 elected regional commissioners and one elected statewide.

    If go with the last option, Lege, can we please eliminate the MPO/RMA boards and just let the elected official make decisions?

    I'm currently giving 3:1 that nothing will get done. Any takers?

    Posted by mcblogger at 01:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    April 02, 2009

    Tolls : A time to act

    Terri Hall over at TURF sent out an action alert earlier today. Take a moment to contact your Senator and ask them to oppose SB 404 and SB 17. Here's some background in case you needed additional information...

    Posted by mcblogger at 02:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 23, 2009

    Shorter Ben Wear : Nichols column

    Sen. Nichols supported tolling before he was elected. He still supports tolling now. Sen. Nichols likes to dress fancy and he likes to privatize roads. He's written some new legislation that will make privatization less of a gang rape of Texas taxpayers and more of a date rape. With rohypnol.

    Seriously, Ben, did it ever occur to you to ask Nichols why he has such a laser like focus on making a shitty deal smell just less shitty, rather than admitting the error and killing the shitty deal? Is it a built in ideological bias or just stupidity?

    Oh, and just FYI for all you financial geniuses on the R side (and a few pro-PPP D's)... the State can sell bonds more cheaply than your good friends at Macquarie and Cintra. Which means their cost of capital is higher than ours. Now, given that indisputable fact, where exactly is the cost efficiency that the private partners will realize to offset their higher capital costs?

    This really is retarded. PPP is a waste of time searching for a transportation magic bullet. Y'all need to sac up and fix the problem rather than trying to make a bad situation slightly better.

    Posted by mcblogger at 10:53 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 04, 2009

    Transportation : Let the voters decide

    Sen. Carona unveils a bill to allow metros to vote up their gas tax or toll the hell out of themselves...

    With statewide gas taxes stagnant and the public wary of tollways, urban areas in Texas could vote to levy local taxes and fees to build road and rail projects under legislation filed Monday .

    State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas , the Senate's transportation committee chief, unveiled the bill and a companion constitutional amendment proposal backed by eight legislators from both parties and a phalanx of Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex officials. Calls Monday did not turn up any staunch opposition to the concept from the governor or business groups often resistant to tax proposals.

    EOW calls it a half measure. Normally, I'd agree but in this case, not so much. While we need infrastructure improvements all over the state, the need is most acute in the metros. However, if this is left to counties and not the RMA's, then you have a situation where Dallas County will vote yes and Collin County will vote no. Something has to be done to make sure this is regional. If that doesn't happen, this isgoing to be pretty damn worthless.

    That aside, this is the only way we'll make real progress without ultra-regressive toll taxes. If this is done on a statewide vote basis, the rural areas will crush the measure because they aren't even close to the pain that we in the cities feel. Not to mention that our good friends on the nutter right have spent 30 years telling people all taxes are bad, even though on a inflation basis without the state doing ANYTHING, their gas taxes have gone down in terms of purchasing power.

    I'd rather see an index bill that would fix the problem for good and take politics out of transportation planning. I have little hope for that kind of common sense. I mean, TXDOT is playing games with stimulus money, apparently unaware of just how close they are skating into the thin ice.

    One last point... this from the Statesman article was rather irritating...

    Various studies over the past five years have put the state's transportation funding shortfall at anywhere from $44 billion to more than $300 billion . Much of that was for highways. And now urban areas, including Austin, increasingly are pushing for rail projects.

    OVER FIFTY YEARS and the low estimate is the far more accurate one. That $300 bn, if memory serves, is that damn estimate for the total buildout of everything and the full TTC. And the TTI busted it like a pinata long ago. So, STATESMAN reporters, why the hell do you continue to use it?

    Texas has immediate, intermediate and long term needs which our state can meet with a little leadership. This is the first practical step toward a workable solution I've seen. It'll have to do until some miracle day when we can take politics out of the equation.


    Posted by mcblogger at 09:23 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 03, 2009

    Transportation : No, TXDOT. You're still doing it wrong.

    While Texas didn't get quite as much Stabilization money as I would have liked, it did get some and of that a portion is earmarked for transportation. And how has TXDOT decided to use almost a BILLION DOLLARS of that money? On toll projects.

    The toll roads — including the Grand Parkway in Harris County — are among 21 major projects up for a vote at next week’s meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission in Austin. The commission had planned to vote on the list this week but delayed its consideration a week after at least one state legislator complained the money was being spent without enough input.

    The delay has given opponents an opportunity to organize a lobbying effort aimed at persuading state leaders to withhold stimulus money from toll road projects.

    “It’s a total rip-off,” said Terri Hall, director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, a nonprofit opposed to toll roads. “That’s not how the money is supposed to be used.”

    TxDOT leaders and transportation planners defend the projects, saying all of them, including the toll roads, are important to their regions and offer tangible economic and mobility benefits.

    “I think it’s unfortunate that the discussion about these funds has eclipsed the broader discussion about the state’s transportation needs,” TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott said.

    Before we rip in to the horrendously inept Chris Lippincott, let's focus on one thing... this money is from the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT to be used for transportation projects that will help stimulate the economy. While building any road will do this, the tolls on the new road will have the effect of being an economic deflater in the future as it fails to alleviate surface road congestion and pulls money out of the local economy. In other words, it's like curing a head cold by cutting off the foot.

    The money has been created by the issuance of almost one trillion dollars in new federal debt. Which we, as taxpayers, will have to pay back well into the future. Which means we'll be paying toll taxes AND income taxes ont he same goddamn money.

    THAT, Chris, is what has me and a whole lot of others pretty upset. I'm sorry if you think our quite legitimate anger over this is 'unfortunate' but it's not distracting from our transportation needs. WE'RE ALL COGNIZANT OF OUR NEEDS BECAUSE WE'RE THE ONES SITTING IN THE TRAFFIC.

    What we need to be talking about is a funding mechanism and since TXDOT lacks the authority to tax, they should stay the hell out of the debate. Completely. It's not their place. If Deidre or Chris want to advocate for tolls, let them do it and make no mention of the fact that they work for TXDOT. It's a conflict of interest and it's, frankly, surprising the AG hasn't already launched an investigation of TXDOT regarding misappropriation of public funds.

    Finally, I'd just like to say THANK YOU to Representatives Dunnam and Coleman!

    Texas Department of Transportation officials had a rough day before Jim Dunnam’s select committee on the stimulus package. Dunnam and Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, were particularly exasperated with TxDOT officials Amadeo Saenz and John Barton — Coleman repeatedly used air quotes to mock “managed lanes,” or lanes in which tolls and can go up and down. The TxDOT officials also told the panel that of the $1.2 billion worth of projects up for approval this week, $841 million are “toll-related.” Dunnam also questioned why the department didn’t take more account of whether areas are economically distressed, saying that if Texas followed federal law, it was by accident.

    As a side note, would someone PLEASE explain to me why the Texas Department of Transportation needs a PR flack?


    Posted by mcblogger at 09:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    February 06, 2009

    Transportation : Cintra In Tarrant Co; High speed rail?

  • Todd over at BOR has some new information up about the North Tarrant Express toll/free-way contract that was recently awarded to everyone's favorite infrastructure operator, Cintra of Spain. Originally the project was sold as adding new frontage roads, freeway capacity as well as managed lanes. However, it turns out that the managed lanes will be build first and the rest is, well, TBA which makes this less a combination project and more of a full on tollway.
  • Yet again, the idea of high speed rail enters the minds of legislators
  • Wanna know why things are so bad on our roads? It's simple... a lack of investment. Americans have been on an anti-tax consumption binge for 30 years and now we're paying the price by having to sit traffic for hours on end.
  • Posted by mcblogger at 03:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 15, 2009

    Tollway traffic down in Centex

    Oh, Jesus H. Christ, Ben. This is a short term blip based on a temporary recession. This was the funny part

    Aside from any financial troubles existing roads might experience, does this tepid revenue mean that toll authorities in Austin might have trouble securing loans for the five other roads approved last year?

    "I don't think so," said Michael Walton , who holds the Ernest H. Cockrell chair in engineering at the University of Texas and is a transportation consultant. "I don't believe it's a significant long-term problem because we're in the early stages of development on those roads. As they become more of the economic fabric, then utilization will continue to grow."

    We ALL acknowledge we need roads and people are using the tollways. Granted not as much as the rosy projections may have led investors in the bonds to believe, but they are using them and that will increase over time. BECAUSE THEY ARE THE ONLY OPTION. The IB's LOVE these deals and they aren't going away any time soon, even if they have to be put on the backburner for a while due to the credit contraction. After all, where else can Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley get a government guaranteed high yield return? Certainly not in Treasuries.

    What Ben missed, again, was the central issue : How do we pay for the infrastructure we need? The argument has ALWAYS been about funding our infrastructure. Do we want tolls that soak a relative few or gas taxes that are affordable by many and more evenly distribute the cost of infrastructure to ALL beneficiaries of improved infrastructure?

    Some will tell you that it's unfair for the people in the central city to pay for infrastructure for rich suburbanites. You'll have to forgive them for not knowing that the average home sales prices in suburban counties are usually lower than those in the cities and that people live out there because it's what they can afford. Some of them, just FYI, don't even come into the city, while those in the city frequently drive out there (I'm one of them). Others will bitch and moan about congestion pricing as if it's some kind of panacea that will make traffic go away. Which it won't. It certainly hasn't improved the 405 in OC which, despite all the bullshit flying around in Austin, is still clogged like a fat guy's arteries.

    Frankly, I'm sick of the fucking debate and ready to let you poor people sit in goddamn traffic while I enjoy the Lexus lane. It's clear to me you're too goddamn stupid to get that you're voting against your own self-interest. It's also obvious that a lot of Democrats are in love with public private partnerships that are really more about government backstopping the losses of private investors who, in effect, put nothing at risk. Some of you electeds are so dazzled by the bankers from Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley that you're oblivious to the fact that these folks, though they did better than the people at Bear Stearns and Lehman, are only around because of the Government. They aren't wizards or geniuses. In fact, many of them were about two weeks from being bankrupt and unemployed.

    Posted by mcblogger at 08:49 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 12, 2009

    Tolls : Senator Carona responds...

    Well, we got an answer to our question from Steven Polunsky, Committee Director for the Texas Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security. It should be noted, Mr. Polunsky took time out of his Friday night to write this ( I got it while enjoying Andi Smith's FABULOUS show at Cap City). Needless to say, we're taking it seriously...

    Senator Carona believes there is a great need for improved mobility to address congestion and the attendant air quality problems, traffic safety issues, and connectivity between cities. He is working on legislation, some of which he is starting to file, to support transit, passenger and freight rail, and alternative fuels. On roads, his first priority is to stop diversion of transportation revenues to non-transportation uses. Second, fix TxDOT. One piece of that involves moving some functions out of the agency such as vehicle title and registration, vehicle dealer regulation, automobile burglary and theft prevention, and possibly others, so that oversight of road finance, planning, design, and construction can be increased and focused. Third, issue the full amount of debt approved by the voters, and find an optimal use of bonds and debt. Fourth, make better use of existing revenue sources by indexing the motor fuels tax to nullify the effects of inflation and consider raising it.

    Oh, Steven, you had us at hello. Everything in this paragraph is perfect. Indexing the gas tax will require Carona to reach deep down and it's gonna be hard to garner support. Mostly because there are very few in the House and Senate brave enough to do this, own it and go back to their constituents and tell them the truth, that increased transportation taxes are an investment in the future.

    What is the potential for passage of all of these? Better than any session before, but still mixed. That being the case, Senator Carona believes it would be foolhardy to eliminate options for providing mobility, because we may find ourselves in June with existing revenues maxed out and no other options. That leaves the options that Senator Carona finds less desirable, tolls and public-private partnerships. The bill to extend the CDA sunset date keeps that option on the table, it's a January bill. The Legislature has a range of options available, from striking the ability to have CDAs altogether to improving the CDA law by addressing contractual provisions such as buyback clauses. Senator Carona believes you can't have that debate in a vacuum, it needs to happen in the context of passing legislation into law that makes the best options possible.

    And here's where things go off the rails because it's clear that he's boxing himself in. First, let's differentiate between tolls and PPPs. They don't go hand in hand. While we may not like tolls, we're also not adamantly against them. Our problem with tolling is that so many roads are going to be tolled and the demographic sweep is so broad that it becomes a de facto mileage tax that will end up disproportionately effecting the poor. Further, while it may not have been TXDOT's primary motive, it seemed like they were looking for a permanent source of funding independent of elected officials. Finally, the tolls being designed won't go away. Most Texans have no problem with financing a road with tolls that will eventually disappear. What has been proposed so far doesn't fit that model.

    Still, even with these drawbacks and addressing the issue of tolls that eventually go away, tolls can be a good solution in certain situations if they are run by the state.

    What we are adamantly opposed to is privatization of infrastructure. There are a number of reasons...

    1) Transportation infrastructure is a public trust. The roads we all pay for with our income, sales and gas taxes (not to mention tolls) are for the use of us all, in good condition and bad.
    2) Our economy is dependent on low cost infrastructure. The idea that privatizing roads will somehow liberate more money is ridiculous since it only creates an additional burden on taxpayers by adding another tax, this one levied by a private corporation which may or may not have absolutely no economic risk in the transaction. There is absolutely no way, all things being equal, that a private company can run a road any cheaper than the state because the state doesn't need to make a profit.
    3) Private tolling, legalized extortion. In many areas, where the proposed private toll road will be the only reasonable limited access road, the choice is either pay or sit at light after light for miles on end. That's not a choice.
    4) The lease terms presently in effect and those that are proposed involve terms that make these functional transfer of ownership, especially in terms of renewals. That's just completely unreasonable.
    5) Most of the PPP contracts carry loss provisions that serve as a loss backstop for the private investors creating a win-win situation for them and a loss for taxpayers. Basically, if actual traffic fails to meet projections, the state agrees to make up the difference to the private company who owns the concession. If private companies want the profit, they need to take the risk as well.

    There's no such thing as a free lunch and Texans, better than any other folks in the nation, understand that. What hasn't been explained to them is that significant improvements need to be made or the traffic they're dealing with now is about to get a lot worse. Trust me, it won't be tough for them to understand.

    In reality, indexing the gas tax will take care of the problem if we continue on the path we're on. Privatization is a rather pathetic attempt by elected officials to pass on the burden of raising money for transportation infrastructure. It's just not an option to that makes sense, no matter how bad traffic gets, because it ends up costing us far too much down the line.

    Posted by mcblogger at 02:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 09, 2009

    Sen. Carona votes TOLL?

    It's funny how well we remember the halcyon days of the 2007 session when the Lege passed 792, the TTC/Toll moratorium that really wasn't a moratorium. We told people then it wasn't a moratorium. What we didn't know until later was that the Stall's of Corridor Watch and Linda Curtis of Independent Texans were the folks behind the scenes who sold so many out. And they're good friend? Sen. John Carona.

    Now, we're still being nice (well, maybe not so much to the Stall's and Linda Curtis, three of the dumbest, most politically inept people in the universe) so we're going to give the Senator from North Dallas the benefit of the doubt on this.

    Oh, what the hell? Why not just call Sen. Carona the next Ric Williamson. He and his buddy Deirdre have decided that time is getting short and the money spigot from the privatization companies is about to dry up.

    What I can't, for the life of me, understand is why the FUCK you would extend these contracts if they're so harmful? I'm a smart guy, why not just explain it, Senator? I mean, the guys over at EOW are hella smart and THEY don't get it either.

    So explain it. While we're still being nice. And no, John, the Stall's can't help you. Not anymore.

    Posted by mcblogger at 03:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 08, 2009

    Shocking Toll Developments!

  • Bush increasing toll rates across the country as a final 'fuck you!' to working men and women. If nothing else, the son of a bitch is consistent.

    Here's the thing... most of the public authorities aren't required to operate at 'fair market value' because they don't have to make a profit and fmv would include a profit for a private company and it's shareholders.

    Lookit, privatizing roads makes no damn sense. The market works when there are choices and it's best with goods that are fungible to a certain extent. However, making consumers choose between sitting at traffic lights for 20 miles or paying $10 to travel a limited access roadway is not the ultimate freedom of the market. It's extortion of the public by a private entity (a de facto monopoly), fully sanctioned by the government.

  • Legislative Study Committee on Private Participation in Toll Projects is out and, yes, we missed it. Well, we missed it for a couple of days but we've really just been studying it. And frankly, this picture rather neatly sums up our opinion of the work done by our elected officials.

    Photobucket

    EOW has a nice and civil post up about this that's pretty detailed. Benny also did an article about it and hit on a couple of high points. Of course, the authors found that what the TTI concluded in it's report two years ago was incorrect. Without showing their math. Seriously, what more would you expect from people who all support or supported privatization?

    Honestly, the dissents coming off this thing would make it a worthless document even if it didn't directly contradict far more competent work by far smarter people. Issues they missed...

    1) The report of the TTI.
    2) They performed no critical analysis regarding the actual transportation shortfall or the funding available to meet demands.
    3) A naked assumption (that private is always better) is absolutely, empirically wrong. 130 is still not open on time. Work is still being done on 45/1. 130 is falling apart. These just a few of the local issues. I've driven on private and public toll roads all over the state. The public ones are better (and they collect tolls exactly the same way)
    4) They completely failed to address forced buyback/taxpayer paid risk. There are clauses in some privatization contracts that call for taxpayers to pay the difference between actual and projected toll revenue should the private operator not make what it thought it would make. As a diehard capitalist, I make money by taking risk so it offends me when a private company negotiates a deal with the government in which they make money regardless.
    5) Completely failed to address benefits of government financing vs. private financing (the private is more expensive)

    Of course, among the laughable 'conclusions' were the necessity of non-compete clauses (No shit, right? You don't say that a private company will only be interested in a monopoly? How surprising!) and private roads are more likely to be on time (which completely disregards the fact that most reconstruction of an existing roadway is going on in, wait for it, A BUSY URBAN AREA and the projects are funded on a pay as you go basis. Meanwhile, the private roads are fully financed and funded upfront. So, the question smart people would ask is, "WHY NOT FUND PUBLIC ROADS THE SAME WAY?").

    Needless to say, the report so eagerly awaited by so many is complete and total bullshit.

  • Texans for Public Justice has released an excellently written (and very well researched) report on bribes from toll developers to public officials. I'm sorry, did I say bribes? That's such an ugly word. I meant contributions but you can surely see the similarity.

  • Posted by mcblogger at 11:31 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 07, 2009

    Innovative Connections In Dookie

    TXDOT has killed the TTC. No longer will the massive project building new roads and tolling existing roads be called TTC. It will now be known as Innovative Connectivity in Texas. I don't know about y'all but that sounds more like a seamless WiFi system than rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure but that's that they want to do. Call it ICT.

    Which is just as easy an acronym to hate on because, in aggregate, what people hated about this was the privatization of infrastructure and the funding mechanism. And, of course, the abusive use of eminent domain.

    EOW, Vince, Kuff and Todd at BOR all have their takes, but they're united in thinking this is more a name change, less a strategy change.

    Now the focus shifts over to the Lege. Everyone wants a piece of TXDOT and it's time, frankly, to divvy it up. Sen. Carona (lookit! We're being nice!) has also said that he's focused on indexing the gas tax. What's being left unsaid is the termination of the public private partnerships which have been used as a euphemism for road privatization. Now, the politicos won't admit it but the meltdown in the financial markets have really been a drag on issuing toll revenue bonds because

    1) No one wants to buy anything right now, other than Treasuries.
    2) Toll revenue bonds perform like subprime mortgage credits.
    3) To reinforce point 2, IF YOU INVEST MONEY IN TOLL PRIVATIZATION BONDS, YOU WILL LOSE MONEY.

    Of course, this is just for the privatized stuff. While I have a massive problem with the unfairness of tolling, my overriding issue has always been privatization with no risk being born by the free market and taxpayers left on the hook indefinitely. Regular tolling may not be fair for the working poor but neither is the sales tax. And, frankly, the vast majority of you deserve what you get. You either didn't vote or voted for Republicans. Just so you know my motives really are pure, I make a lot of money. I can afford to drive on these roads all day.

    Regardless, I want the door completely closed on public private partnerships. They aren't innovative, they don't magically create money and they are basically only a way to take money from taxpayers and give them to friends of the Governor. What we need is fiscal responsibility and rational decision making. And no mas with the political hacks running transportation, right Deidre?

    Oh, before I forget, in case you were wondering soon I will be posting about that Legislative Study Bullshit on Transportation Financing. Trust me, it won't be pretty.

    Posted by mcblogger at 08:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    December 12, 2008

    Get. Out. Of. My. Way.

    As someone who is constantly stymied by slower drivers who tie up the left lane because they are:

    1) Going the speed limit and that's perfectly fine for everyone. I like to call these people the Community Cops. I hope they all get eyeball headaches every afternoon. At 3:00.

    2) People going 5 miles over the limit who think they are being dangerous while trying to pass someone.

    3) People going 10 miles over the limit who think they are badass. These are usually college or high school kids in their giant trucks or SUVs who have no concept of other people. This group also includes hicks whose egos simply can not take the defeat of being passed on the freeway.

    and finally...

    4) People who get into the left lane then drive at exactly the same speed as the people in the right lane. These people I hate with the heat of a thousand suns.

    Imagine my happiness when I found that in Washington and other states they are now fining people who drive too slow in the left lane. Or linger there.

    Until the Lege can pass something similar, I'll be buying this.

    Posted by mcblogger at 10:47 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    December 03, 2008

    I'd just like to take a moment to say thanks!

    PhotobucketI'd just like to take a moment to say thank you to our wonderful Republican Governor, Republican Lt. Governor and Republican controlled Legislature for their hard work making it exceedingly difficult to get around this state. In fact, your fiscal irresponsibility and failed leadership have given us what I enjoyed Sunday afternoon... a two hundred mile traffic jam.

    In case you were wondering, that works out to moving at 33 MPH on a freeway with a speed limit of 70 MPH. However, the only reason the average is so high is that for the limited amount of time there were three lanes, I was able to drive 90 or faster if people moved the hell out of my way. Much of the journey was at 10 miles an hour or less.

    So, yeah, I just wanted to say thanks for putting your ideology and retarded ideas first while making the needs of your constituents a very distant second.

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    December 02, 2008

    Way to go, CAMPO!

    It takes HUEVOS, ginormous brass huevos, to break a promise to constituents. Which is exactly what you did yesterday.

    Transportation officials decided to create a financial marriage between two toll roads Monday, a move that could allow the U.S. 290 East tollway project to break ground sometime next year.

    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. The existing tollway, which opened in March 2007 and is making a profit of about $5 million a year, will in effect act as a co-signer for the new project.

    The U.S. 290 East project would cost $623.5 million, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority says. It involves expanding 6.2 miles of the existing four-lane, divided highway between U.S. 183 in Northeast Austin and Parmer Lane just west of Manor. It would have six toll lanes and six free-to-drive frontage road lanes alongside.

    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.

    We've just had an election and several of the people sitting on CAMPO are zombies. Why hold this vote with them on there? Why not wait until the new folks are on board?

    Of course, if you're going to do that why not just wait for the Feds... it's not like they won't be dumping a massive amount of funding into infrastructure in the next 6 months. Which means, we may not need to toll at all? Isn't it worth sitting things out for a bit?

    Granted, it's easy for y'all to vote to toll a road you rarely drive on.

    The funny comes from Mike The Moron...

    That will still be the case, according to the mobility authority, which operates 183-A and will build and operate U.S. 290 East. Given 183-A's profitable status, they say, no money would need to go from U.S. 290 East to 183-A.

    In fact, mobility authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein said no money is likely to go either direction. The authority says that preliminary traffic and revenue studies 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.

    However, investors normally require that toll road revenues be well beyond projected costs. A summary of the traffic analysis released Monday shows that, based on charging 20 cents a mile for U.S. 290 East, the road would make about a 30 percent profit — which Heiligenstein said was not high enough for the mobility authority to borrow the full amount needed to build U.S. 290 East without riding on the back of 183-A.

    Actually, Mike, none of the investors bought the traffic projections and JPM's projections, if the information I've received is correct, do not show enough traffic on the road to even cover the debt service. That's the real story which means you're either trying to willfully deceive or you're so far out of the loop that you really think it has something to do with running a 30% profit.

    Which means, if the projections are accurate, that some of Bob Lemon's constituents will be paying for a road in East Austin.

    Now, tell me how that's different from the gas tax? How is it better?

    Posted by mcblogger at 11:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 20, 2008

    Elections have consequences...

    PhotobucketHere's a great article about infrastructure investments as part of the economic recovery. The author wants a chunk of those funds for Houston.

    Which will happen. But probably only enough to resurface 610.

    You idiots kept your congressional Republicans. While you bucking the trend is really irrelevant to national politics, it sure would have been nice to have a congressional delegation from Houston made up exclusively of those in the MAJORITY. Dos Greens and Sheila (what's my name?) Jackson (that's right, bitch!) Lee will have to work their asses off to make up for Olson and the other losers.

    We might have had some good luck if Texas had elected Rick Noriega. Frankly, I'll be surprised if we can get back 80% of what we send to Washington in transportation taxes.

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 11, 2008

    Transportation : Goodbye, Sal and Filing Fun

  • So long, Sal and have fun in IL. We'll keep up the good fight... though we're hoping to work with Sen. Watson. But we promise, we'll never work with Perry or Deidre. We don't suffer fools.
  • Vince has a very nice run down of the Transportation Bills that have been filed. Our faves...

    HB 12 by State Rep. David Leibowitz (D-San Antonio): Would expand the Texas Transportation Commission to 15 members and require that those members be elected by voters.

    HB 11 by David Leibowitz (D-San Antonio): repeals the authority of the Texas Department of Transportation to establish or operate the Trans-Texas Corridor.

    Senators Carona and Nichols also filed some bills today that were largely sops to people who want to kills tolls and the TTC but won't really do much of anything.

    Wait... that's unfair. I should point out that I'm making that statement based on previous actions. Who knows, maybe they are serious about transportation this time? If so, it's only taken them 6 years.

    One of Carona's bills hands to the Comptroller the ability to reset the gas tax based on construction cost inflation. Honestly, we've been waiting for this for a while, so we're going to withhold judgment. It should pass, but I doubt there are enough people in the Lege bright enough to see that they are punting the issue to another party and taking it off their plate for good.

  • Posted by mcblogger at 02:53 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    October 20, 2008

    Tolls : Get ready for the mileage tax

    With the decline in the relative value of gas tax revenues (because the tax isn't being adjusted for inflation), the government is looking for new ways to tax folks to pay for roads (tolls, for example, are just another tax). One idea is to outfit every car with GPS-equipped transceivers that will automatically track and upload your location (and where you've been) to the government. In fact, it's being tested out here and the government is looking for a few brave guinea pigs drivers to test out the new Omnipresent Tracking And Detection System (I should soooo get a job naming government programs, right?).

    Seriously, it never occurred to you to take down people's mileage when they got their inspection stickers on an annual basis, then compare it to the year before and charge them monthly? Or, even better, why not just RAISE THE DAMN GAS TAX.

    Seriously, the gas tax IS a mileage tax. Just raise it and let's get on with the improvements to infrastructure we all acknowledge we need.

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 12, 2008

    Don't have time to go to CAMPO

    Like many of you, I have a life and a job so I'll be unable to attend the CAMPO meeting tomorrow night. HOWEVER, they do have an email where you can let them know just how you feel. No on Item 7 on accepting the terms and conditions on the 290E tollway will work just fine.

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 11, 2008

    Tolls : So what is CAMPO up to?

    On Monday, CAMPO's Transportation Policy Board will be meeting to discuss some some issues and make some decisions. Among them is the vote to accept the terms and conditions of the financing of the 290E Tollway. And therein lies the rub... apparently, even the rosy projections advanced by CTRMA and their friends at JP Morgan (the investment banking subsidiary of JP Morgan Chase) aren't enough to cover the debt service on the bonds used to finance the road. Which is a real problem in this market. I'd ask you to forget, for a moment, the fact that the credit markets are effectively frozen still, especially for road bonds. This'll all make sense in that context.

    Apparently, JPM is pricing the interest rate on the bonds to, what I would assume, a level that would allow them to carry the bonds on their balance sheet. But they are dangling a carrot. If CAMPO will agree to bind 290E AND 183A into the same project as part of a system then they'll reduce the interest rate. Of course, there's no word on the existing bonds used to finance the 183A road. Or the performance vs. projections of that road. What is known is that CAMPO is being asked to guarantee the bonds on 290E with revenue from 183A.

    Now, one of the arguments for toll roads is that they are financed by user fees (not evil taxes). The interesting thing in this situation is that 'user fees' from one population are being used to bolster the financing, in effect subsidizing, the users fees on another project. This would make sense if the two roads had user overlap. Or even if they were close to one another.

    These roads don't have overlapping user populations AND they are separated from one another by, well, most of Austin.

    And now, I have some questions...

    1) If we're not worried about 'user fees' being used to pay off projects where they were assessed, in effect spreading the burden evenly, why don't we spread it as evenly as possibly (and as cheaply for taxpayers) by increasing the gax tax?

    2) What about the money that TXDOT has been authorized to raise? Surely our legislators can find a way to get some of THAT money out of TXDOT to fund this project.

    CAMPO needs to realize this ISN'T the best time to raise money to build something. Whether the situation will cure in a week or a year, the reality is that 290E is not a pressing project especially given that it can't fund itself. Further, we're less than a month away from an election that is definitely going to change the legislative makeup of DC and possibly Austin. Everyone in politics knows that infrastructure is definitely needed and will be necessary to bring us out of this recession... and the mood has certainly shifted from financing that investment with tolls.

    CAMPO should table this until at least March, 2009. It's the only responsible thing to do.

    YES! I got through this entire post without calling you any of you names or deriding your intelligence. Don't think that'll continue, especially if you vote to approve these draconian terms and conditions. Simply put, and I mean no offense, none of you have a solid background in structured finance. Simply put, JP Morgan does NOT have the best interests of CAMPO in mind. You should dig VERY deeply into the structure of this and the covenants.

    CAMPO Transportation Policy Board
    Monday, October 13, 2008 at 6:00 p.m.
    University of Texas, Joe C. Thompson Conference Center, Room 2.102
    Dean Keeton and Red River, Austin, Texas

    Posted by mcblogger at 12:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 29, 2008

    Ben Wear and his Stupid Sunshine Sh*t

    I've actually noticed recently that the Statesman has improved a bit now that it's clear it can't depend on the Cox money teat for sustenance anymore. However, that improvement hasn't included Ben Wear who has to be one of the least curious people in Central Texas if his writing is any measure of the man.

    Today, Wear presents a nice little article about TXDOT selling debt. To build toll roads (
    which we'll pay for with our gas taxes AND tolls! The most expensive solution of all!). That we authorized almost five and two years ago. That they've sat on until THE WORST CREDIT CRISIS SINCE THE GREAT DEPRESSION.

    Which is totally an ideal time to sell debt into the market. It's the time when you are SURE to get the more advantageous rates. But Wear doesn't mention that (other than some not-at-all witty suicide quip). He doesn't ask anyone about it.

    Good to see everyone from the executive to the legislative to the media taking our need for infrastructure so seriously. It's a damn good thing you all have jobs either working for a failing enterprise (the Statesman) or one you are trying to drive into failure through your massive incompetence (State Government).

    Posted by mcblogger at 11:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    August 25, 2008

    The Transportation Daisy Chain

    A certain political consultant emailed the release of the Republican Leadership (now ain't that just one hell of an oxymoron?) regarding their willingness to work with one another. After reading it, I responded to him with

    Craddick sucks off Dewhearst sucks off Perry eats out Delisi sucks off Craddick?

    To which he responded

    I'd rather not have that image in my mind, but, yes, I think you have it about right.

    Here's the gist...

    Highlights of the new plan:

    Stop funding the Texas Department of Public Safety with gas tax funds, and divert those millions to road construction. DPS could instead be funded with general revenue tax funds.

    What an AWESOME idea, y'all! We've only been asking for it for years but it's good to see that you're finally doing what we told you to do. Next, find the revenue to fund DPS without the gas tax. Good luck with that, R's. WITHOUT taking away CHIP.

    Create a special Transportation Finance Corporation to allow Texas-based investment funds to directly invest in state transportation projects.

    Rutro! This is the kind of place where you people normally take a nosedive. Here's the inside skinny... the folks at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs (whatup, peeps!) are having problems selling toll bonds. Which means that road privatization has pretty much ground to a halt along with everything else in the debt markets, at least everything risky (read: toll revenue bonds). If Texas had issued tax-backed revenue bonds and indexed the gas tax (AS ADVISED YEARS AGO) they wouldn't have had any problems selling off the debt. However, toll bonds (much like subprime and Alt A mortgage credits) are questionable at best, valueless at worst. Which means nothing is selling and there's no way for Perry and his cronies at Zachry (and THEIR friends, Cintra (Bluebonnet)) to get the money to buy the roads. Burka has some great stuff up on just how successful road privatization has been. For investors.

    So, now that private money has evaporated to finance your questionable plans, you morons want to dip into the underfunded public pensions!??!?!?! Lemme guess, you'll be giving the investment banks a cut on that transaction to work as adviser, right? And, of course, Zachry will be brought in to manage everything and take a cut. Annually. So, what does that leave for the pension fund?

    Great idea, you guys! Precisely what I'd expect from folks with the intellectual capacity of sparrows.

    Authorize perhaps as much as $5 billion in bonds for additional highway construction projects. Voters approved a constitutional change in November 2007 to allow these bonds, but legislation is still needed to authorize them.

    Oh, those tax backed bonds! Yeah, you should totally issue those. Here's the thing, though... at some point, you R's are going to have to finally admit to folks you've been lying to them about the possibility of having economic growth, good public infrastructure and excellent services (schools, fire and police) all while paying less in taxes. Simply put, you've been selling (but not delivering) a free lunch. It's worked so far because no one's been real hungry. Now they're starving and they want something to eat.

    EOW nails it and picks up on what the Statesman (and other major media sources) have always missed. These aren't REAL solutions, it's a shell game designed to make it appear that something is happening... and to put off the day when the bill really comes due.

    The really wonderful post on all this comes from Paul Burka at Texas Monthly who lays it out beautifully.

    The reality that no one on the R side wants to admit is that their ideology is fundamentally flawed. In the real world, privatization does not always work to the benefit of consumers, especially in the absence of substantive GOVERNMENT oversight. An old school economic conservative can you tell you that. In fact, I've done it several times. We, unlike the ideologues running the government who've never really worked in business, know from first hand experience that private enterprise can be every bit as wasteful as big government.

    And we hate waste, whether it's Democratic or Republican. And crony capitalism is definitely waste.

    One last point, there appear to be those who still want to parrot the old estimate that our transportation funding shortfall is $80-100 bn. It's NOT. It's not even close especially when you aren't building TODAY for capacity you won't need until the late 2040's. As a side note, I'd also like to ask the Lege to set up an independent body, appointed by the LEADERSHIP from both parties in the Lege, to audit TXDOT and what they are paying suppliers. I find it UNBELIEVABLE that true road constructions costs have escalated more rapidly than anything other than gold bullion.

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:06 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 12, 2008

    Tolls and polls

  • EOW has the deets on the Lyceum poll that asked about transportation funding. So does the Chron. The gist? We apparently know that we need roads. We apparently also know that we don't want to pay for them. EOW has some good suggestions on how to poll this issue to get an accurate assessment. Here's mine:

    Would you rather pay 15 CENTS PER MILE for your roads or 15 CENTS PER GALLON with the assumption that your car (or truck) gets at least 15 MILES PER GALLON? There are NO other options under Texas law.


    THAT'S the reality, boys and girls. We're going to pay one way or another and giving the poll respondents the option to basically say NO to both proposals is a cop out. There is no magic bullet and it's time the electorate realized that. Ben Wear has more over at the Statesman. Here's the deal, Lege, raise the gas tax and explain why. And then beat the shit out of anyone who doesn't fall into line.

  • Vince has more about TXDOT's continued efforts to privatize transportation infrastructure in the state, despite what the Legislature and Texans want. The best part? He managed to tie it in with John Cornyn's US funded highway... in Mexico. Yes, that's right. John Cornyn wants to spend your tax dollars to build roads in Mexico.

    This wouldn't be a big deal if WE WERE FLUSH WITH CASH AND DIDN'T BADLY NEED ROADS OURSELVES.

  • TURF has a nice piece about the Republican Party of Texas' move to override their delegates and put a heavily pro-toll and pro-privatization plank in their platform. The Democrats? We support a ban on tolling.

    Some of you Republicans and Independents need to realize that you're on the wrong damn side

  • Posted by mcblogger at 10:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    June 18, 2008

    So, will CapMet be smart or dumb this time?

    CapMet has a number of plans for Light Rail projects (like the starter line from Downtown to Mueller) but they have to be approved by voters prior to starting. So, one has to ask... WITH NOVEMBER COMING UP, WILL CAPMET BE SMART AND PUT THIS ON THE BALLOT?

    I mean, it's not like there won't be a flood of progressives going to the polls in November. If ever there were a time to get voters to sign off on long range plans, this would be it. Everyone is feeling higher fuel prices and the voters that will show up in November will be ones who are very likely to vote for anything that will cut the Austin Metro's carbon footprint.

    SO DO IT ALREADY.

    Posted by mcblogger at 01:20 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    June 13, 2008

    Transportation Funding : You're doing it wrong!

    First off, the good news. Congress is looking at a 5 year, $1.5 trn transportation funding package. That should just about be enough to make the improvements we've needed for a long time. How much of that will come to Texas? That will depend on whether or not there is a change in our Congressional delegation. Specifically, the number of Republicans in it. More and we get less money. Fewer and we have Democrats there who, unlike the Republicans, will actually fight to bring more money back home. And then TXDOT will stop poor mouthing.

    However, that may not be enough as it appears that Rep. Johnson has caught a bad case of the stupid.

    Toll roads and privatization are at least part of the answer, said Johnson, who's been working with a handful of members of Congress from Texas since last year to come up with a bipartisan list of recommendations.

    "We cannot see how it can be done with just tax dollars," she said.

    Don't do that, EBJ. Don't think for a minute that this is a good idea. It's ALWAYS the most expensive and least financially efficient way to go (see here, here, here and here). Either way, we're going to be paying a higher cost per mile. ALL roads are going to have tolls if the privatizers have their way. And that will dramatically increase the costs to all of us, from less than 1 cent per mile to more than 15 cents per mile.

    I had this conversation with Rain Minns, the very sharp woman running against Sen. Carona. Her problem was that she thought increasing the gas tax would disproportionately hurt the poor. What Rain didn't realize is that, on average, the poor drive more fuel efficient cars (or don't drive at all). Well, that and the simple fact that TOLLS ARE GOING TO EVERYWHERE AND WILL BE MOSTLY UNAVOIDABLE. In other words, poor and rich will get hit with them.

    We've had this ongoing conversation with Mike Dahmus here in Austin. He's ALWAYS wrong, but it doesn't stop him from carrying on about how tolls are great because they make rich suburbanites pay for their transportation directly. Aside from the obvious seflishness, the reality is that rich people don't live out in the burbs. Sure, there are some nice homes out there but there is a reason the vast majority of the people in the burbs are there... it's all they could afford.

    You could also forget the fact that expansions to existing roads are going to be tolled. We told you they would a long time ago. Now, they're actually building it. This would be a lot easier if y'all would just LISTEN to me... when I tell you this will effect everyone, I'm not making it up. Since that's the case, wouldn't be better off with a solution that increases costs less than 2 cents per mile than one that costs, on average about 44 cents per mile? And where does that extra money go? To a private company. Not to improve your roads.

    Yes, TXDOT lied.

    As for how to pay for this, it's simple. We've been running deficits annually of $300 bn or more. While our financing costs have recently increased (you may have noticed that interest rates are up) and we've been able to sell the paper despite the fact that this is all related to structural issues and a lack of desire on the part of Republicans to actually pay their own way. The first solution is to stop that by increasing taxes. You don't even have to do it to 2000 levels, just take up cap gains and the taxes on the top tax rate from 35-40%. You're still on the good side of the Laffer Curve and the government will finally have enough money to operate. Cut Iraq funding dramatically and all the sudden you're in surplus.

    Then, you sell off transportation infrastructure bonds (call them Series Methuselah... sorry, inside finance nerd joke) with maturities of 50 years. If we're running surpluses, they'll sell out quickly. Then you use THAT money to finance infrastructure improvements and construction, including roads and mass transit. That does create a long term liability for the Federal Government, on which interest must be paid (usually every sixth months to the holders). Depending on how large the surpluses are, and they will grow, we can cover that cost easily just with the surpluses.

    However, we won't need to. Why? Oh, read this. When the state governments pay for infrastructure, that money goes to materials and labor. Sales of materials generate a profit which means it will be taxed. Labor will be paid a wage, which like all wages, will be taxed. Therefore a large percentage of that money is going to find it's way back to the Federal Government, possibley enough to offset our liability on the bonds effectively making this is a self financing project. Of course, we'll have to pay to maintain all this (and the underlying debt) and that's where a gas tax, indexed to inflation, helps put us on the right track now and into the future. So we don't keep having to deal with this every 30 years.

    The best part? We get the roads and transit facilities we need. Which decreases waste in our economy (gas and personal time) and increases productivity which acts as a drag on inflation. It'll also drive up employment, making the jobs market tighter and driving wages up for the average worker at the bottom of the totem pole.

    If you couple this with an investment in true alternative energy, we get rid of the almost $1 trn we are sending out of the country every year for oil and natgas. That money stays in OUR economy which will, again, boost productivity, create employment, etc. And it's also pretty cheap... $100 bn annually vs almost a TRILLION. Get it? Here's one way to do it. Not the best, but it'll work.

    Here's the bad thing... in my district, I've got (at the Federal level) Michael McCaul who is basically a pawn of big oil and the road privatization interests. He has never met a publicly financed transportation bill he likes. But he has met a lot of privatization and toll bills that send him into the kind of orgasmic bliss usually enjoyed by porn stars. And old men on Viagra.

    Needless to say, job number one is getting rid of his stupid ass and putting Larry Joe Doherty in Congress. To do that, you need to give him some money. NOW.

    The other obstacle is, much like McCaul, really in love with privatization at the expense of the taxpayer. It's Jr. John Cornyn, our favorite Senator who loves him some hunting with a ladies shotgun. However, we can easily replace him with Lt. Col. Noriega. All he needs is some of your hard earned money to beat that fossil and replace him in Washington.

    This, my friends, is coming one way or another. Many of you reading this are fairly affluent so you will probably be able to afford the new roads. Some of you will not. At the end of the day, regardless of your financial situation, these roads are a good deal for NO ONE other than the companies who stand to gain from squeezing us for the next 50 years. That, truly, is why I am so adamantly opposed to privatization and tolls. It's not conservative and it's certainly not progressive. It's wasteful and is a diversion of public resources to private greed.

    You have a chance to stop it, but you have to act.

    Posted by mcblogger at 12:58 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    June 12, 2008

    Thanks for nothing, Nichols

    Ladies and Gentleman, the idiot Robert Nichols taking credit for TXDOT dropping a controversial part of TTC-69. The really stupid thing is that these folks still think they're going to get an old school interstate.

    Seriously, y'all, you're going to get assraped with tolls.

    Posted by mcblogger at 01:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    June 11, 2008

    TXDOT to concede to big changes in TTC - 69

    In an effort to get around the 391's that Hank and others have been working so hard to put together, TXDOT is changing the path of TTC 69 substantially. The best part? The thing is STILL going to be a privatization. AND nothing is changing on TXDOT's plan to toll all new capacity.

    For a good piece on the gas tax vs tolls, take a look at this Burka post. After you've done that, think about this little fact...in 2003 when funding was originally 'approved' for the expansion and conversion to a freeway of US 281 just north of SA into the Hill Country, the cost was estimated at $100 mn. Now, with inflation, that cost is $175 mn. That's the taxpayer cost if the road is built free with public funds. If it's privatized, the cost goes above ONE BILLION DOLLARS.

    Now, would someone please explain to me how that's cheaper?

    Posted by mcblogger at 12:06 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    June 04, 2008

    TXDOT, Tolls and riding off into the Sunset

    Some interesting things floating 'round the sphere...

  • Both Sal and EOW have the deets on the Sunset Commission's report. All in all, nothing terribly exciting and they're sticking with a Gubernatorial appointment to head the TXDOT, albeit shrinking the number to one person. We're continuing to think three elected officials would be better than any number of appointees, especially if elected to staggered terms.
  • 3 TXDOT officials plead guilty to taking bribes and rumors continue to circulate that Amadeo Saenz is involved.
  • TXDOT, after YEARS of ignoring Texas Democrats in Congress and spending lavishly (and illegally) on some of Tom Delay's former staffers turned lobbyists, is going hat in hand to those very same Representatives. A word of advice to the D's who are about feel the love... disregard it. Stomp on these people and create a federal law banning that unique form of corporate welfare known as the public private partnership
  • Is Perry contemplating a special session to kill 391 commissions (the citizen planning commissions that are right now creating very real problems for infrastructure privatization and the TTC)? In an election year? Are you kidding me? If he does, I'll put my money on the Lege being pissed and not doing much of anything. Which would be absolutely perfect for the Democrats running
  • Finally... proof that toll roads really are made of inferior materials and construction standards. I'll never drive over another toll bridge without thinking about disintegrating, substandard concrete
  • Can Sen. Hinjosa make TXDOT his bitch? One things for sure, he's actually achieving something unlike a certain fatass blowhard we could mention. Good thing the people of North Dallas have a choice this year.
  • Speaking of the Lege, it's pretty clear that 39% and TXDOT really aren't in a moderating mood...

    "While I am looking forward to addressing this issue [transportation] when the Legislature meets in 2009, " Perry said, "the state cannot afford to repeat 2007. Members of the Legislature must understand that 'no' is not a solution to this challenge. It is an abdication of responsibility." Perry made clear his determination to defend the renting of state right-of-way to private companies in exchange for a fee and building and operating a toll road.

    Actually, you ridiculous twerp, selling off your roads IS AN ABDICATION OF RESPONSIBILITY. Not only that, but you and your appointees are so incompetent or corrupt that you didn't even get us a good price. Probably because you're, again, either too incompetent or corrupt to calculate the present value of a revenue stream over time.

    This preceded their new Statement on Toll Projects which I'll take a moment to summarize and explain.

    1) Not selling the tolls roads... This is pretty dumb since a 50 or more year lease is widely considered a functional sale. In my industry, we call it a leasehold.
    2) No roads will be owned by foreign entities. No, but the leases will be held by them.
    3) We'll have a way to buy back the roads. Sure, but at what price? I don't expect the crack team at TXDOT to do a good job negotiating this. They're completely out of their element, just as former Commissioner Williamson clearly was.
    4) Tolls will be initially set by TXDOT, with formulas and government input for increases. Input isn't control. Nice try, Deidre, but only an idiot would fall for that turn of phrase.
    5) No restrictions or non-competes? I'll believe it when I see it, Deidre.
    6) Freeways not converted... but if we shrink down the freeway lanes to add a lane, we'll call that added capacity and we'll toll it

    This, my friends, is the translation. If you're dumb enough to fall for ANYTHING from this Commission, then you really don't deserve any spot at the table.

    All in all, this pretty solidly leaves corporate welfare proponents in the drivers seat and continues to ignore the most cost effective solution, which Burka NAILED.

    At the end of the day, this is so transparently a 'Let's give a perpetual revenue stream to a campaign contributor (ZACHRY)' that it surprises me so many 'fiscal conservatives' are in favor of it. Wonder if they're getting paid by Zachry as well. I already know 39% is.

  • Hava goodun!

    Posted by mcblogger at 10:04 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    May 21, 2008

    Leo Berman : The Prince of Hypocrisy

    Sal Costello has the story on Leo Berman's promise to kill the TTC next session...

    Mr. Costello:

    A number of legislators are committed to killing the TTC next session. Sen. Kevin Eltife and I have gone public with that commitment. Both of us will work hard toward that end.

    Sincerely,
    Leo Berman
    State Rep. District 6

    What little old Leo isn't saying is that he VOTED TO BUILD THE DAMN THING NOT ONCE BUT TWICE.


    TWICE

    We at McBlogger would like to welcome Berman to the fight against the TTC and toll roads. We'd like to start by asking him to commit to making the remaining sections of Loop 49 NON TOLL.

    Yeah, we knew he'd balk on that. Idiot.

    Berman, a word of advice. Don't grandstand on this. You vote and that's it. Hey, it's nice and all for you to finally be paying attention to your constituents, instead of CradDICK, but you need to know no one really likes you.

    Beside, you'll have very little power in January. You'll be part of the minority. Better be wise and join in with the Democrats on this. If you don't, a replacement will be easy to find in 2010. And I've already seen the oppo book on you.


    Posted by mcblogger at 02:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 01, 2008

    39% brings forth new sacrificial lambs

    39% has appointed some new folks to the Texas Transportation Commission. Deirdre Delisi, the mastermind behind 39% plurality win in 2006, will be joining the commission as Chairman, replacing Hope Andrade who'd been filling the position since Dick Williamson passed away at the end of last year. During Hope's tenure, the Trans Dept. ran a series of public meetings regarding TTC-69 that actually drove down public acceptance of the TTC concept (I know, I didn't think it was possible, either).

    Some guy named Bill Meadows will also be joining the Commission. He's a former city councilman from Fort Worth (so what), businessman (insurance salesman, natch) and member of the North Texas Tollway Authority (there's the money!).

    So, 39% is really showing his willingness to work with the Lege... he's appointed one of his political advisers (who, it should be noted, just happens to be from TENNESSEE) and a toller to the Commission which oversees transportation in Texas. That should speak to the Lege and the words they hear should be "Fuck You". I mean, unless they hadn't already picked up on that with his headstrong commitment to road privatization.

    In other transportation news, apparently high gas prices are causing problems for the tollways. The same tollways that haven't come close to meeting their expectations. Which is really sad considering that even the projections left TXDOT (and by default, Texas taxpayers) in the hole by almost $1 Billion.

    Exactly what IS good about toll roads? They don't pay for themselves, they don't benefit consumers, they aren't providing a massive windfall. So, nothing.

    Can we start talking now about real transportation funding solutions instead of the ones that help out campaign contributers to 39% and the Republicans? Can we then start using that money not just to build roads, but also to expand public transportation infrastructure? Can I PLEASE have a fucking flyway from Ben White to SB 35??!?!?!?!?!

    Posted by mcblogger at 10:54 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 08, 2008

    Yes, we agree with you

    Kelso took a swipe at the TSA last week...

    Mandi Hamlin, 37, was having a hard time removing a nipple ring as she was going through airport security up in Lubbock. So a TSA agent handed her a pair of pliers to help her get the job done.

    If you had an uncle crazy enough to do something like that, would you let him in your house? I know I wouldn't. I'd try to have him committed.

    While Hamlin was behind a screen removing the nipple ring, she says, she could hear the male agents tittering. Now there's a Beavis and Butt-Head moment for you. Can't you hear them back there going, "Heh heh. Heh heh heh."

    Hamlin should have told the TSA to go suck an egg. Yes, I know she wouldn't be allowed on the plane unless she lost the nipple ring. And I can understand wanting to get out of Lubbock. Boy, can I. But not quite that badly. On the other hand, I could see somebody removing a nipple ring with a pair of pliers to get out of Midland.

    When you've got federal officials handing garage tools to passengers to mutilate themselves to get on an airplane, it's pretty obvious that we've lost our minds in this country when it comes to safety. And a nipple ring, for gosh sakes. Did the agent think Hamlin's nipple ring would explode?

    Did they think the nipple ring would explode? Probably. These are the same asshats who thought bottle water would explode.

    Posted by mcblogger at 08:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 05, 2008

    This weekend in FUN!

  • Nothing on today? Hate toll roads and/or the TTC?
    Come join Hank Gilbert and the folks at TURF at the Capitol to let our leaders know that you don't want to pay through the nose for a road to nowhere!
  • Speaking of leadership, do you want to help support, even in a small way, changes at the top? Then take a moment today to give a few bucks to the TexBlog PAC. We're looking for 50 donors and $1500, the deadline is tonight and we're only 9 short! Help out some candidates and take action to end the corrupt leadership of Tom CradDICK!
  • Who IS Austin Political Report? Who cares? The site is good, well written and usually pretty well researched. Apparently, there is some controversy now regarding Terry Keel (R-Worthless Parliamentarian) allegedly supporting Mindy Montford. Montford says it's not true. Keel says it's not true. Keel goes on to act totally indignant about the whole thing...

    Keel said the report tarnished his reputation.

    "The intent was to set up a fraudulent Web site, be able to remain anonymous and make it appear that this was reporting," he said. "I don't care which candidate it's used against; I am not going to be a victim of fraud."

    Keel, you stupid bitch. YOU aren't the injured party. You destroyed your own reputation and credibility. Your former constituents mostly think of you much like they do gum on the bottom of an old shoe. Or dogshit. If anyone was injured, it's Mindy. Your precious reputation was worthless BEFORE anyone posted a damn thing about you. Oh, and as for your complaint against Fero, it's bullshit. Nothing more than your pathetic need to play some of sort of part in the process.

    And change that stupid haircut, 'tard.

  • Posted by mcblogger at 01:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 12, 2008

    CradDICK and Dewhearse SPRING into action

    You know, it DOES make me laugh a little to think of tweedle dee and tweedle dum 'springing into action' on anything. Far more likely that they'd be moving with all deliberate sloth. However, this time they are actually being aggressive on transportation funding... and it has nothing to do with tolling.

    The short letter — signed by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Tom Craddick, Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden and House Appropriations Chairman Warren Chisum — recommends that TxDOT borrow another $1.5 billion against future gas tax revenue to bridge a temporary financial tight spot. The Legislature, the letter promises, will make sure that some of the gas tax money now diverted to other, nonhighway-construction needs will be returned to the agency to back the bonds.

    Left unsaid? An increase of (and indexing) the gas tax which is what the majority of Texans want and what will likely happen as tolling falls completely off the cliff.

    TXDOT, predictably, shifted the response on the letter back to the Governor. Retard Rick's spokesman, Robert Black, said that 39% wasn't interested in any of this and that the Lege would have to reopen road privatization 'to the lowest bidder'.

    "What this letter is asking TxDOT to do is a two-year stopgap, two years of going further into debt," Black said. "A long-term solution comes first. Last year the Legislature came in and all they did was say 'no.' With the rate this state is growing and the needs and challenges we have in transportation, we can't afford to say 'no' anymore."

    Just as a side note, does Black rock or what? I mean, the guy goes to work for a terrible pig of a man who spends an inordinate amount of time pandering to every special interest that will listen and who may be one of the worst Governors in the history of the State of Texas. Seriously, when we look at his association with privatization interests and the political contributions from them coupled with his support for their cause... well, it looks an awful lot like corruption. And this is what Black has to work with. Robert, I know we used to make fun of you but I've developed a new kind of respect for you. What's your trick? Anti-anxiety meds with a vodka chaser?

    But back to the issue at hand... TXDOT's 'financial crises'. TXDOT said it was cutting all constructions projects because of a lack in future years of money to pay for them. Money that the Lege has simply not appropriated. Which is a bit like me saying I won't do my job now because I may or may not get my expense reimbursement in June, 2010. I got news for the folks at TXDOT... you let the Lege worry about your funding. You build the damn roads.

    I guess that's a big part of the problem with TXDOT right now. It's controlled by our idiot Governor, Retard Rick, and overly politicized. These folks don't really do their jobs, they don't know how. They're mostly political hacks. The other big problem is that THEY DON'T EVEN KNOW HOW TO COUNT.

    TxDOT had announced the construction slowdown in November, citing inflation in construction costs and cutbacks in federal grants. In early February, at a hearing called by two Senate committees, TxDOT revealed that it had double-counted $1.1 billion in scheduling construction projects. That mistake, officials said at the time, had a lot to do with the crunch.

    The state auditor is now looking at TxDOT's finances.

    There's your funding gap, morons. GET. TO. WORK.

    And to our friends at the Lege who will no doubt read this, y'all need to go hyper aggressive against TXDOT. How about dismantling them next year and reconstituting the TTC to make it composed of statewide elected officials, like the RRC?

    Seriously, we can't afford to wait out Retard Rick. Hope Andrade alone could do some serious damage and not even realize it.


    Posted by mcblogger at 09:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 07, 2008

    It ain't just subprime...

    ...that's roiling the capital markets, it's also all the bond guarantees for tolling projects that are failing to meet their projected traffic estimates. Sal has more about FGIC which, like AMBAC and MBIA, is having problems meeting it's obligations to bondholders who hold paper they guaranteed. Why? Poor projections from the same people who've been fucking up traffic projections for years, URS.

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    February 27, 2008

    GM and GIANT Hybrid SUV

    This is it. The Yukon Hybrid. At best, this beast gets 22 miles per gallon. It's also $50k. Which is why GM will sell few of them and then moan about how the market really doesn't want hybrids.

    Meanwhile, Toyota and Honda will sell every hybrid they can make.

    Posted by mcblogger at 11:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    February 23, 2008

    Tolls : Overspending; Safety Concerns and more

  • It should come as no surprise that despite TXDOT's protestations of poverty, they still found the time to give TXDOT MANAGERS thousands of dollars each from a massive taxpayer funded bonus pool. It shouldn't surprise anyone because it's always the Republican way to give money to managers... not the people who actually, you know, do the work.
  • Senator Hinojosa is thinking about sunsetting TXDOT? Oh, be still my beating heart! However, we'd much rather you just got rid of the management. Like the 'tards Saenz and Houghton. Seriously, even for Republicans y'all are pretty damn stupid.
  • There's a rumor going around that Rep. Leo Berman (R - I CAN DO WHAT I WANT) recently told a crowd that he didn't care if taxpayers wanted an indexed gas tax, he was only for toll roads and he'd never work to index the gas tax.

    Does he have a Republican opponent? Or D running against him?

  • No one in East Texas likes TTC - 69. And those good folks own lots of guns.
  • Toll roads are in even worse shape than non-toll roads? You mean privatization isn't giving us better roads? Say it ain't so
  • Posted by mcblogger at 04:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Tolls : Overspending; Safety Concerns and more

  • It should come as no surprise that despite TXDOT's protestations of poverty, they still found the time to give TXDOT MANAGERS thousands of dollars each from a massive taxpayer funded bonus pool. It shouldn't surprise anyone because it's always the Republican way to give money to managers... not the people who actually, you know, do the work.
  • Senator Hinojosa is thinking about sunsetting TXDOT? Oh, be still my beating heart! However, we'd much rather you just got rid of the management. Like the 'tards Saenz and Houghton. Seriously, even for Republicans y'all are pretty damn stupid.
  • There's a rumor going around that Rep. Leo Berman (R - I CAN DO WHAT I WANT) recently told a crowd that he didn't care if taxpayers wanted an indexed gas tax, he was only for toll roads and he'd never work to index the gas tax.

    Does he have a Republican opponent? Or D running against him?

  • No one in East Texas likes TTC - 69. And those good folks own lots of guns.
  • Toll roads are in even worse shape than non-toll roads? You mean privatization isn't giving us better roads? Say it ain't so
  • Posted by mcblogger at 04:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    February 22, 2008

    Tolls : Dunnam calls out TXDOT

    Spot.On.

    Jim Dunnam Waco Tribune-Herald Copyright 2008

    Take the toll route?

    Tolling Interstate 35 lanes through Waco is a terrible idea, and I’m committed to stopping it.

    The Texas Transportation Department is claiming budget shortfalls over the next 25 years. Its claims are exaggerated.

    One independent analysis says the agency is overestimating the shortfall by $30 billion. In addition, the 2007 state auditor’s report identified an $8.6 billion error in the shortfall and questioned another $37 billion because of improper documentation.

    At a recent Senate committee hearing, TxDOT admitted to another billion-dollar “accounting error.”

    At that Senate hearing, Sen. Steve Ogden expressed dismay at TxDOT’s financials, calling them “screwed up.”

    More diplomatic, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst wrote that TxDOT “does not show the complete financial picture.”

    Sen. Kirk Watson summed it up best, stating Texans “cannot trust the Texas Department of Transportation or the policies that are consigning Texas to inadequate roads and privatized tollways.”

    Even a cursory look at the facts proves the senators right. The current state budget appropriates $16.9 billion to TxDOT — that’s a $1.8 billion (12 percent) increase over its previous budget. In fact, the 2007 Legislature gave TxDOT over $200 million more than TxDOT even requested.

    In addition, TxDOT’s planning process doesn’t factor another $9 billion in revenue — $3 billion in State Highway Fund bonds, $5 billion in voter-approved general obligation bonds and the possibility of $1.3 billion in Mobility Fund bonds.

    At the Senate hearing, Sen. Judith Zaffirini suggested the “funding crisis” and the “solution” of toll roads is simply TxDOT “scheming to promote its own political agenda.”

    So what is that agenda?

    Gov. Rick Perry and his appointees overseeing TxDOT make no secret they want to make Texas a toll road state.

    Their ultimate goal is to create a new privatized source of money that will be free from public accountability.

    Tolling Texas roads was an idea sold by Perry in 2003 as a limited tool for communities that wanted tolls. However, once voters said OK, Perry revealed his true plans — a Spanish-run Trans-Texas Corridor and a series of toll roads crisscrossing Texas.

    The first phase would take 71,661 acres and 8,036 other parcels of private land to build a road that would cost Texans more than $20 to travel one-way from Dallas to Austin.

    Once this real agenda came out, the Legislature promptly stopped it, overwhelmingly passing a moratorium on most toll road projects.

    Threatening Waco

    Perry’s reaction was to have TxDOT start threatening local cities. That’s exactly what just happened to Waco — either “agree” to toll I-35 lanes or TxDOT will cancel existing projects and delay all plans to expand I-35.

    While threatening Waco with “toll lanes or no lanes,” TxDOT chose to award more than $84 million from “Strategic Priority Funds” to Grayson County for local projects — that’s most of the cost of putting eight full lanes on I-35 through Waco.

    While undoubtedly important to Grayson County, these projects are not statewide “strategic priorities” like I-35.

    This just shows that the tolls agenda is one of choice, not necessity.

    Money from Perry’s toll lanes will go to issue bonds for other projects. The bond money will be separate from the main state budget, meaning there will be almost no legislative accountability.

    And lack of legislative accountability is the exact reason TxDOT feels safe in threatening our communities and thumbing its nose at the Legislature. TxDOT’s main funding, the gas tax, is dedicated by the Texas Constitution.

    That means TxDOT can ignore the Legislature and still know it will get its money.

    Bonds from toll roads will be like another dedicated revenue source, making TxDOT autonomous and the situation worse.

    TxDOT needs to be reined in and made accountable. TxDOT should provide the Legislature with accurate information; but how to pay for the roads should be decided by the Legislature.

    The Legislature will work to address Texas transportation needs responsibly through cooperation at the federal, state and local levels. But in order to do that, TxDOT must be an honest and accountable partner.

    Our forefathers gave us great free roads in Texas. Our legacy should not mean our children have to pay an extra $3 to drive from Lorena on I-35 to buy a Health Camp burger. Instead, Central Texans need to stand up and say “no” to toll lanes on I-35 — and I intend to do just that.

    Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, is State Representative for District 57.

    (Via TTC Archives)

    Posted by mcblogger at 11:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    February 13, 2008

    Tolls : A week of fun

  • Carona comes out in favor of raising the gas tax. He still won't commit to ending toll deals which is a real concern. The reality is that tolling isn't a good way to raise money. Period. It's not good for taxpayers and it's certainly not good for invesotrs.
  • Speaking of investors, they're taking a bath on the Central Texas toll roads...

    According to that statement, the three roads will make $8.7 billion in toll revenue through 2042. In that same time, there will be $7.2 billion in debt payments for that borrowed $2.2 billion, $1.1 billion in operations costs, $752 million in routine maintenance and $388 million for long-term maintenance. The net of all that? Almost $750 million in the hole over 35 years.

    More like an economic jalopy.

    Yeah, the traffic projections aren't panning out either. Traffic is about 73% of the projections. Didn't see that one coming

  • TURF's suit moves ahead with depositions due this week from TTC Commissioners Saenz and Houghton. Good luck, TURF!
  • In other privatization news, the Camino Columbia toll road (the first private 'superhighway' in Texas) was sold... to one of it's original investors. The road was built for $90million and sold for $12million. What a great investment! If you're looking for other great investments with a similar return, you might try Bear Stearns. I hear they are trying to unload some SIV's chock full of subprime paper.

    Posted by mcblogger at 06:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Tolls : A week of fun

  • Carona comes out in favor of raising the gas tax. He still won't commit to ending toll deals which is a real concern. The reality is that tolling isn't a good way to raise money. Period. It's not good for taxpayers and it's certainly not good for invesotrs.
  • Speaking of investors, they're taking a bath on the Central Texas toll roads...

    According to that statement, the three roads will make $8.7 billion in toll revenue through 2042. In that same time, there will be $7.2 billion in debt payments for that borrowed $2.2 billion, $1.1 billion in operations costs, $752 million in routine maintenance and $388 million for long-term maintenance. The net of all that? Almost $750 million in the hole over 35 years.

    More like an economic jalopy.

    Yeah, the traffic projections aren't panning out either. Traffic is about 73% of the projections. Didn't see that one coming

  • TURF's suit moves ahead with depositions due this week from TTC Commissioners Saenz and Houghton. Good luck, TURF!
  • In other privatization news, the Camino Columbia toll road (the first private 'superhighway' in Texas) was sold... to one of it's original investors. The road was built for $90million and sold for $12million. What a great investment! If you're looking for other great investments with a similar return, you might try Bear Stearns. I hear they are trying to unload some SIV's chock full of subprime paper.

    Posted by mcblogger at 06:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    February 06, 2008

    The TXDOT hearing... doodie aflyin'

    Well, it's been interesting. First off was this article in the Star-T detailing out the problems with TXDOT's claims of poverty.

    Poor planning inside the Texas Department of Transportation -- and not a shortage of state or federal funding -- is to blame for an ongoing cash crunch that led the agency to stop most road work in 2008, members of two state Senate committees said.

    "I think we have an agency in turmoil. I think we have an agency in chaos," state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said during a joint meeting of the Senate finance and transportation committees in Austin. "I think it's intellectually dishonest to blame Congress or the state Legislature for problems caused by poor planning."

    Then we moved on to the Trans hearing yesterday during which TXDOT got bitchslapped. Or did they? Sources have told us that members of the Senate Trans Committee met with TXDOT officials the day before the hearing a closed door session. Additionally, other's have called the Republicans on the commission 'chummy' with TXDOT officials during the meeting yesterday with the exception of Sen. Ogden who is really feeling the heat from anti-privatization forces. Not from the Stahls, of course, because they have lost all influence as a result of their sellout during the session last year on a toll moratorium.

    CapAnnex has their own take and a great quote from Zaffrini

    “The impression out there is that, really, this is a ploy to put pressure on us to go back to the toll road plan,” said Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who said the Texas Department of Transportation is scheming to promote its own agenda.(DMN)

    Then there was this one from Ogden...

    “This is screwed up,” said Sen. Steve Ogden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “I understand how to do a cash flow statement. I understand how to do an income statement. This isn’t one of them. This is really bad.”

    EOW brings the point home by pointing out (again) that the Republicans who've stood in the way of gas tax increases repeatedly since 1993 are the ones who should bear the blame. These same folks then pushed through the privatization legislation in this first place.

    Finally, in what I'd like to call "To MOTO, with love", I'd like to take a moment to say THANK YOU to Sen.'s Watson and Zaffirini. Glad to know you guys are finally seeing through the bullshit and the lies. Welcome back to the light, kids!

    Posted by mcblogger at 12:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    February 05, 2008

    Tolls : This week in BS

  • Today is the Joint Committee hearing on TXDOT. Sal is liveblogging it and so far we have Tran Commissioner Saenz admitting to Senator Watson that he's incompetent. That's right, a Transportation Commissioner of the State of Texas admitted he was incompetent and that the poor mouthing TXDOT has been doing is based on nothing.

    Keep going, Kirk. Do what Carona was too fat and lazy to do.

  • Dewhurst is apparently not buying TXDOTs protestations of poverty...

    “I’m at a loss to see why they’re saying (that) now when we’ve given them additional tools they’ve chosen not to take advantage of,” Dewhurst said in an interview late Friday afternoon. “It appears they haven’t used them. Maybe we’re wrong.” TxDOT officials were not available early Monday for comment. But I’ll be hearing from them later in the day and will post what they have to say.
  • TXDOT is looking for people to serve on Corridor 'Advisory Committees'. This gives ordinary citizens (you and me) a chance to feel like we're 'part of the process' and 'being listened to' without actually, you know, listening us or giving us any real power. Cool, no?

  • Posted by mcblogger at 12:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    February 01, 2008

    Tolls : Polls are fun!

    As part of TURF's successful lawsuit against TXDOT, a number of embarrassing documents have been recovered. Among them is a poll conducted last year regarding the TTC. It's a push poll, meant to 'educate' respondents about all the amazing benefits of the TTC and then ask them how they fell about it.

    It's a bit like calling someone, saying that President Bush is going to give them $1,000 and asking how they feel about President Bush. I'd bet $100 that his approval would be in the mid to high 50s, instead of the 20's where he currently sits.

    The best part about it... TXDOT PAID FOR IT WITH YOUR TAX DOLLARS! The second best part, the poll is tainted and couldn't be used anyway.

    1) The sample is HEAVILY Anglo
    2) The sample was obviously concentrated into three geographic areas, Dallas Metro, Houston Metro and possibly Austin Metro.
    3) Privatization is not mentioned. Not one single time.
    4) Tolling is mentioned only in the abstract.
    5) There's no mention of the fact that TXDOT will NOT be able to make major improvements to 35 due to the special provisions of the TTC privatization agreement.
    6) There's nothing in the poll regarding TXDOT being forced by CintraZachry/Bluebonnet to drop speed limits on 35 to make the TTC more attractive.
    7) There's no mention of the fact that should the traffic figures fail to materialize, the taxpayers will be responsible for paying off the bonds... and the profits of CintraZachry/Bluebonnet
    8) The sample was not representative of average Texans in terms of party ID, income or education

    Of those that actually knew something about TTC35 or TTC69, 18% were likely to support which contrasts nicely to the 28% that were less likely. The remaining people wanted to know what was going on with Britney and K-Fed who were in a custody battle at the time.

    One thing is for sure, the more Texans find out about the TTC and the alternatives to it, the less they like the TTC. This was the Governors best shot to put perfume on this pig and it failed.

    Posted by mcblogger at 10:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 25, 2008

    TOLLS : BUSTED!

    Here's a bit of fun... at the TTC-69 Townhall in Hempstead, Hank Gilbert filmed Texas Transportation Commissioner Houghton ADMITTING to using taxpayer funds to lobby for the TTC in violation of state law. In this clip, Houghton admits to hiring a lobbyist in DC to lobby for more highway money for Texas.

    He's right about that number. The problem is, we've been sending majority R delegations to Washington for years and getting nothing in return. See, that's what members of Congress from this state are supposed to do... get transportation dollars flowing in.

    Way to go TURF and fantastic job to Hank Gilbert for leading this fight. For those of you who don't know, one of Hank's promises during the election was to stay on top of the TTC and tolling whether he won the election or not.

    Good to see at least one guy who ran for office is keeping his promises. God knows Staples isn't.

    Posted by mcblogger at 11:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 23, 2008

    Big news on the the TURF front

    This isn't good...as part of the discovery process in TURF's lawsuit against TXDOT, they've uncovered massive payments and retainers to lobbyists who were used to 'sell' toll roads to elected officials. Just to clarify, taxpayer dollars are being used to lobby elected officials to support something that taxpayers don't want. Check out the link for the names and amounts.

    Posted by mcblogger at 02:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 21, 2008

    Tolls : More roads are on the way for WillCo and Travis

  • According to Sal, 290E's conversion from a free road to a tollway will begin this year, mostly because of a poor community response which was interpreted to mean that people supported the roads. As it turns out, not so much... the reality is, as usual in HD46, politics:

    I believe those early East Side meetings were contracted out to Rep. Dawnna Dukes sister, Stacey Rhone Dukes. Low income families were easily marginalized since advertising for the Phase II toll meetings was virtually nonexistent. Many East side families are pressed for time, some working two jobs, and have limited access to transportation, to attend public meetings in mass numbers. One of the public toll hearings I attended on the East side, in 2004, had less than 10 people show up, while West side hearings were often flooded - with hundreds.

    The East Side of Austin, known for low income families, currently has many times the double tax toll lane miles planned. When you also add 130 toll road, the disproportion is even more skewed, as East side residents would be "caged in" by toll roads. Federal law, Title VI (Environmental Justice) says must avoid disproportionately high economic effects on low-income populations. Title VI also states that we must “prevent the denial of, reduction in, or significant delay in the receipt of benefits by minority populations and low-income populations.”

    Saddling the poorest part of our community with the biggest burden. Yep, that sounds like Dawnna!

  • EOW has some information up on the latest scheme to come from CTRMA ED Mike Heiligenstein and WillCo Pct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman, some kind of microconnector from RM620 to the 45 Tollway. Which makes me wonder why the hell Heiligenstein, much like Duke's sister, still has a job. I know Kirk reengineered CAMPO to load it down with WillCo people but even they can't continue to defend him. Most of them will be gone in the next two years, anyway.
  • Farm Bureau finally grows a pair! In 2006, Farm Bureau supported 39% and Todd Staples, two Republicans who have done a lot to trample the rights... of FB members. It finally appears as if Farm Bureau has finally had enough as a result of 39% veto of HB2006 last year.

    Dierschke: Yes, I was very surprised at the veto. It was inconceivable to us that the Governor that has stood in front of Farm Bureau members at dozens of meetings, who was professing his support for property rights, turned his back on farmers and ranchers and property owners.

    The reasons for the veto, what I’ve heard, really don’t ring true. We’ve heard some ridiculous numbers [of what it] would cost the state. But I really haven’t seen an official estimate when you come down to it...

    You can’t say to people, “We want our property, but we don’t want to pay for what it is actually worth.” We can’t have that in the state of Texas.

    We also heard from the Governor’s office that all the condemnation lawyers would benefit from the diminished access provision of House Bill 2006. That’s just nonsense. Actually, by more clearly defining the circumstances by which diminished access would apply, the need for lawyers would be much less.

    Then there was the ludicrous claim that House Bill 2006 did not apply to rural Texas. Tell that to the farmers and ranchers whose land is in the path of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor.

    In fact, that is probably what the veto is about. For better or worse, the Governor has taken his legacy on the Trans-Texas Corridor. I think it is more likely that his legacy has already been defined by his property rights record, and it will not be favorable.

    Folks need to understand, though, that this is not just about the Trans-Texas Corridor. Anywhere, anyone in the state of Texas can have their property taken and be unfairly compensated.


  • Posted by mcblogger at 01:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 18, 2008

    Transportation funding in the spotlight...

    Raising the gax tax is the answer to the transportation funding crisis? Color me surprised...From the DMN

    A federal commission created by Congress called for big increases to the federal gas tax on Tuesday as part of a sweeping overhaul of how America builds and pays for its highways, bridges and transit systems.

    The proposal for a 40-cent increase over five years touched off a stormy debate in Washington that is expected to last until at least 2009, when legislation governing scores of transportation programs expires and must be rewritten.

    Gee whiz! Who would have thought that increasing the gas tax was a better idea than tolling? Oh, that's right. We've been through this, haven't we?

    39% is VERY upset about all this, as is Empower Texas, which is little more than a poor man's Cato Institute. Here's 39%'s take...

    “Raising taxes is seldom the right answer and sending more of Texans’ money to Washington, D.C. only to have it earmarked, redistributed to other states or locked into outmoded bureaucratic programs will do very little if anything to relieve congestion on Texas roads,” said Gov. Perry.

    Uhm... Governor... for YEARS the Republicans from Texas in Congress let Texas get shortchanged on federal funding for roads. This is what is particularly sad about 39%. He's so stuck on his ideological bent and his need to funnel taxpayer money to his campaign contributors that even when a MOSTLY REPUBLICAN body thinks raising the gas tax is a good idea, he just can't accept it. Yeah, the group that issued the report was appointed by the Republican Congress in 2005 and was heavy with them...

    Congress in 2005 created the — deep breath — National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission to help it understand what to do about the increasing financial starvation of the nation’s transportation system.

    Congress in 2005, you’ll remember, was still controlled by Republicans, so the commission was hardly a nest of fuzzy-headed Demotaxers, right? Well, the commission put out its long-awaited study Tuesday. Its solution for the money shortage: raise more money. The board recommended basically a tripling of the 18.4 cents-a-gallon federal gas tax over the next five years, and suggested that states consider raising their gas taxes as well

    One of the members of the commission, one of the ones who agreed that raising the gas tax was the best idea, was Paul Weyrich. He's one of the founders of the Heritage Foundation and has much better conservative credentials than 39%. At least Weyrich doesn't believe in crony capitalism.

    Let's not forget that Perry's brill idea was to build massive tollways in the middle of nowhere, spending hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, rather that using our existing right of way. Nice work, 39%. Just a like a good Republican, you've managed to find the most expensive, least effective solution and you've done it in such a way that your cronies can benefit. Marvelous.

    We've been a little behind on this for the last couple of days, but we're catching up. Eye on Williamson, Sal Costello, TTC and Dig Deeper Texas all have great articles up about this.

    So now we have a Federal commission, chock full of conservative Republicans AND a bunch of Aggies at the TTI telling us raising the gas tax is the best way to fund transportation? What more do you want, 39%? For Jesus himself to come tell you that raising the damn tax is the right thing to do?

    Posted by mcblogger at 11:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 14, 2008

    So what DOES happen with that money?

    Here's something you wouldn't know unless you had a toll tag : You have to keep a $10 balance at all times on your account. In fact, when you get below $10, it autodebits your account and 'replenishes' it. Normally, my balance is anywhere from $10 to $30.

    I'd be willing to bet your is as well and therein lies the rub. While that money is sitting in the account, TXDOT is earning interest on it. What are they doing with the money? Funding their PR campaign to sell still more toll roads.

    Still think it's crazy that TXDOT is looking for a funding mechanism independent of the Lege?

    Motorists who use the TxTag electronic transponders to drive on Texas toll roads are having their accounts raided by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). The agency requires a bare minimum of $10 be kept in any account at all times. If the balance falls below this level, TxDOT automatically charges the credit card on file $20. TxDOT then pockets the interest accumulated from the accounts linked to the 390,000 vehicles equipped with TxTags.

    An average account generates about $1 in interest every year. Although $1 is not much, Texas tolling authorities have mailed motorists bills for 25 cents in alleged unpaid tolls and added penalties of $5.25 on anyone who ignored payment of the trivial amount.

    For TxDOT, keeping the interest on the $9.8 million in motorist accounts generates about $400,000 in annual revenue. The money helps defray the cost of the multi-million dollar Keep Texas Moving public relations campaign designed to convince Texans of the need for more toll roads.

    Anyone in the Lege wanna step in here? Maybe there's a reader out there who'd like to tell the Sunset Commission what you think about TXDOT's little funding scheme? Maybe get the Fed involved?

    H/T to Muckraker

    Posted by mcblogger at 02:41 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    January 12, 2008

    Fly the friendly skies

    AA is, as part of a DHS test, mounting defensive laser systems on their jets. For all those shoulder mounted rockets being fired by terrawrists.

    Posted by mcblogger at 01:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 04, 2008

    Newsweek and the TTC

    You know, it pisses me off when I have to link to something on World Net Daily. However, they are spot on regarding the NAFTA superhighway, known here in Texas as the TTC.

    Hell, I don't think there is a conspiracy to combine all of North American into one super government. However, the road is real. In fact, despite all the bullshit from the Lege about a moratorium, Cintra is moving full speed ahead. Only now they are operating under a Texas DBA named 'Bluebonnet Infrastructure'. You know, you morons can change the name all you want, but it's still the same shitty road, with the same shitty funding mechanism and it's still going to be stopped.

    So much for Carona's love affair with TXDOT. Way to get something accomplished, you fatass blow hard.

    EOW also has some great information up about the appointees to the legislative study committee... no surprise, they're all pro-toll and pro-TTC. $100 says they'll find tolls the only way to fund our transportation infrastructure. Another $100 says no one in the press will call bullshit.

    Posted by mcblogger at 10:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    December 30, 2007

    So sad to see you go...

    Ric Williamson, Chair of the Texas Transportation Commission, died last night of a heart attack. He will, no doubt, be missed by friends and family.

    I am not among them.

    In point of fact, most Texans who stand adamantly opposed to the plans he helped advance, like tuition deregulation and infrastructure privatization, will be happy he no longer serves on the Commission. While we would have preferred his exit be through a letter of resignation, his departure removes a serious and malevolent obstacle from the TTC. Hopefully now we can have a true, honest and open discussion about transportation finance. One that creates real, long lasting solutions that don't leave the citizens of this great state in the slow lane.

    Burka points out that he had an 'inventive' mind. Inventiveness can be used for bad or good and what Burka refers to as inventive was in large part a singular fixation on privatization to the benefit of foreign interests and at the expense of the people of the State of Texas.

    Speculation now turns to whom 39% will appoint as Williamson's replacement. I've talked to a number of people today who feel it will be none other than Rep. Mike Krusee which would set up a special election in HD 52. With Krusee as Chair, we should not expect any substantial policy changes which means the fight against privatization and for rational solutions will continue unabated.

    Posted by mcblogger at 02:51 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    December 28, 2007

    It's nice when smart people act, well, smart

    The AAS comes around on the gas tax...

    We talked about all this before and frankly, it's good to see the folks at the Statesman finally pull head out of ass and come to the same conclusion we and EOW reached more than a year ago. Here's some of the fun...

    The refusal of most state political leaders to even consider raising taxes, no matter how popular the use for the revenue or how obvious the need, is costing the state dearly. There’s no better example than local highways and the testy holiday exchange between state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and the Texas Department of Transportation.

    No one who travels the state’s highways, especially in and around its growing, prosperous cities, is unaware of the need for rebuilding and expanding existing roads, as well as building new ones. Central Texas is no exception.

    How to pay for that, though, has been a problem.

    Governors and most legislators since 1991 have refused to raise the 20-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax , even as inflation each year ate away at its value. In 2006, revenue from the state gasoline tax grew 2 percent, but highway construction costs leaped 25 percent, according to the transportation department.

    The exchange was the one between Watson and TXDOT regarding the lack of funds since the legislature killed the sale of public roads to private companies. Williamson and the other Transportation Commissioners are playing a dangerous game since public private partnerships are roundly hated by the public and the electeds know that. What's it all mean? There are some changes coming in the next session.

    Still, one thing did catch my eye. That bit about the 25% increase in construction costs last year. That number's from TXDOT. Which means it's highly suspect. But let's give the folks at TXDOT the benefit of the doubt (for now) and assume it's right. Exactly what does that mean? Maybe private subcontractors are bleeding the state dry? Maybe it's time for TXDOT to start doing it's own construction again? It's pretty damn clear that private companies are incapable of holding down costs.

    What TXDOT needs is some balls at the top, not people who'll bend taxpayers over and let them take it up the ass, courtesy of Zachry Construction. Which means the new Legislature, which convenes in January, 2009, better work on replacing the leadership at TXDOT AND finally fix transportation funding.

    EOW has some additional details on how Sen. Watson got screwed by TXDOT. While we feel bad for Kirk, we also think he shouldn't have made the deal in the first place. It was class A stupid and very politically inept. However, maybe my expectations were too high... it's pretty clear it's amateur hour at Kirk's office.

    Posted by mcblogger at 02:06 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    December 06, 2007

    Sunset asking for input on TXDOT

    Via Sal Costello

    December 5, 2007

    Dear Recipient:

    The Sunset Advisory Commission would like your help in reviewing and improving the State’s transportation system. The Legislature, through the Texas Sunset Act, has charged our Commission with reviewing the mission and performance of the Texas Department of Transportation.

    In general, the Sunset Commission periodically evaluates state agencies to determine if the agency is needed, if it is operating effectively, and if state funds are well spent. Based on the recommendations of the Sunset Commission, the Texas Legislature ultimately decides whether an agency continues to operate into the future. Additional information on the Sunset Commission can be found on our website.

    As part of this agency’s review, we seek the input of organizations and individuals who have an interest in the agency. Please take some time to comment on the attached preliminary issues identified by the Sunset Commission staff as potential research areas. Also, let us know of other issues of interest to you or your organization. Feel free to share copies of this e-mail and the attachment with any others who may have an interest in the Texas Department of Transportation. To help ensure the free flow of information, anything submitted to Sunset staff during the review until the staff report is released is confidential, and will not be shared with anyone outside of Sunset staff.

    To give the staff time to consider your information during our review of the Texas Department of Transportation, we request you send your response by Monday, January 7, 2008. Please mail, e-mail, or fax your comments to the address or fax number provided in the attached Preliminary Issue List. Also, if you need more information or have questions about our process, please contact Jennifer Jones at (512) 463-1300. We greatly appreciate your assistance and look forward to hearing your ideas.

    Sincerely,

    Ken Levine
    Deputy Director
    Sunset Advisory Commission

    How about this... FIRE ALL THE MANAGEMENT AND HIRE PEOPLE WHO CAN ACTUALLY FIX TRANSPORTATION IN THIS STATE, NOT ABDICATE RESPONSIBILITY FOR IT.

    Posted by mcblogger at 02:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Sunset asking for input on TXDOT

    Via Sal Costello

    December 5, 2007

    Dear Recipient:

    The Sunset Advisory Commission would like your help in reviewing and improving the State’s transportation system. The Legislature, through the Texas Sunset Act, has charged our Commission with reviewing the mission and performance of the Texas Department of Transportation.

    In general, the Sunset Commission periodically evaluates state agencies to determine if the agency is needed, if it is operating effectively, and if state funds are well spent. Based on the recommendations of the Sunset Commission, the Texas Legislature ultimately decides whether an agency continues to operate into the future. Additional information on the Sunset Commission can be found on our website.

    As part of this agency’s review, we seek the input of organizations and individuals who have an interest in the agency. Please take some time to comment on the attached preliminary issues identified by the Sunset Commission staff as potential research areas. Also, let us know of other issues of interest to you or your organization. Feel free to share copies of this e-mail and the attachment with any others who may have an interest in the Texas Department of Transportation. To help ensure the free flow of information, anything submitted to Sunset staff during the review until the staff report is released is confidential, and will not be shared with anyone outside of Sunset staff.

    To give the staff time to consider your information during our review of the Texas Department of Transportation, we request you send your response by Monday, January 7, 2008. Please mail, e-mail, or fax your comments to the address or fax number provided in the attached Preliminary Issue List. Also, if you need more information or have questions about our process, please contact Jennifer Jones at (512) 463-1300. We greatly appreciate your assistance and look forward to hearing your ideas.

    Sincerely,

    Ken Levine
    Deputy Director
    Sunset Advisory Commission

    How about this... FIRE ALL THE MANAGEMENT AND HIRE PEOPLE WHO CAN ACTUALLY FIX TRANSPORTATION IN THIS STATE, NOT ABDICATE RESPONSIBILITY FOR IT.

    Posted by mcblogger at 02:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    December 03, 2007

    Tolls : Farm Bureau in a snit with 39%

    Let me preface this with a gentle reminder...

    Farm Bureau endorsed 39% over Bell despite the fact that 39% was a huge proponent of both the TTC and NAIS, two hot button issues for the FB membership.

    Farm Bureau is all upset because 39% is being a dick. Which is kind of funny to me since everyone already knew he was a dick and yet the FB endorsed him anyway last cycle. At issue now is 39%'s continued support for the TTC which FB continues to oppose. Why not endorse Bell last cycle?

    No, before you go into a ton of laughter, actually ask that question while reflecting on the fact that 39% has NEVER waivered in his support for the Great Texas Land Grab and Rick's-Cronies-Loot-The-State project that IS the TTC. FB and it's membership, though not the political action committee, have always been opposed to the TTC. So, why endorse him? And why continue to bitch and moan about it?

    Make no mistake, I don't have a lot of respect at this point for the political power of the Farm Bureau. They've sold out their own membership and the only way they'll get some respect is if they clean house at the PAC. Even then it's only 50/50 that they'll make the right moves to restore some respect.

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 28, 2007

    New group formed to fuck up mass transit

    As if Cap Metro didn't have enough problems...

    CAMPO has decided to involve itself in mass transit by creating a new 'working group' composed of mostly retards so full of themselves and their stupid ideas that it's pretty clear no one takes the issue of moving Central Texans around seriously. Honestly, out of the names announced in Wear's article, only Wynn stands out as someone who could get things done, though we've recently been kind of shocked by his capitulation to The Evil. Honestly, if you wanted to do something to accelerate the development of mass transit in Austin metro, these are not the fuckos you'd task with the job:

  • Senator Kirk Watson - Oh, hell. He's too busy voting for toll roads that won't relieve congestion, lobbying the city for development lulu's and writing those asinine emails detailing the activities of his family. No joke, Kirk, I think it's gross as hell and frankly no one cares. Most people don't care about their own families and trust me, yours is even less important to them.

    Other than that, Kirk's not a bad guy. He just shouldn't be doing this. He should be working with Democrats in the House to get a good transportation funding bill ready for the 2009 Session.

  • Austin Councilmember Brewster 'Release the' McCracken - Every committee needs a weak sister and in Austin, Brewster is normally it. My only concern is that something of this scale and scope will obviously require a lot of face time in front of cameras and many working lunches with reporters. I only hope Brewster is up to the challenge. Personally, I think he is since what Brewster does best is promote Brewster (his second best talent is running from Toby). Of course, he'll forget about promoting mass transit development, but that's to be expected. Brewster is, after all, running for Mayor and he needs to remind people why they need him. You know, since many of his think he's more hindrance than help.
  • Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketTravis County Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty - Fuckall. This 'tard hates public transport more than he hates the 'goddamn commies' who he thinks we're still fighting. He's another political dead man walking... Daugherty wouldn't be missed if he lost his re-election next year which he probably will as part of a project to beautify the Commissioner's Court by removing him from it. Gerry, why don't you follow Mikey's lead and retire. God knows, it'll cause some tears. OF JOY.





  • Retiring State Representative Mike Krusee - OH. COME. ON. He's throwing in the towel and taking some time off from all the hard work he's done to privatize infrastructure in this state to benefit private corporations at the expense of Texas taxpayers. Why would he want to get into this? He's no more an advocate for public transportation than Gerry The Ogre. In fact, Krusee and Daugherty on this thing makes me think CAMPO isn't, in any way, serious about mass transportation.
  • Seriously, you people never thought about tasking Capital Metro with developing it's own working group from stakeholders and letting them develop a plan that addresses the needs of the citizens of Central Texas? If funding is the issue, then why the hell was everyone so excited about all the new funding that would come into Cap Metro from CAMPO's new toll roads?

    At a recent Keep Austin Blue meeting on transportation issues, someone brought up just this very thing. It's obvious that all the stakeholders need to come together and get something done. Cap Metro, given it's task of operating mass transit systems (including rail) should lead that effort. Not people like Brewster and Gerry The Ogre.

    Posted by mcblogger at 12:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Shut up, Will

    You know, normally I'd find this funny. Then I realized he's just being a titty baby. In the end, he didn't solve the problem and instead just wasted time acting like an asshole. Get back in your car, Will. Endure shitty traffic like the rest of us.

    Especially since you are one of the people pushing for (and benifitting from) all the construction that's causing our current traffic problems.

    (h/t to Pink Dome)

    Posted by mcblogger at 12:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 27, 2007

    Changes at the TTC and in WillCo

    I've long thought that anyone who'd commit the State of Texas by signing one of those awful toll privatization agreements, selling out our infrastructure, was either stupid or criminal. And that, plus Mike Krusee's poor chances at re-election, are driving his decision to retire while fueling speculation about a possible move to a State transportation post once the shit hits the fan for one or more members of the TTC. At least, that's the rumor floating around... no one's making specific accusations, only repeating 'what they've been told' about wrongdoing involving certain interested parties who are all about tolling our roads. Don't read too much into it as it may just be the typical Austin bullshit that floats into Lake Lady Bird every now and then.

    Of course, it may not.

    It's no secret these toll roads deals aren't a good deal for the citizens of Texas. The people of Texas have realized it, which is why the word TOLL was not used once to sell those bonds to the voters of Texas at beginning of November. What people didn't know, because the DMN, Star T and Houston Chronicle didn't tell them, is that those bonds can be paid back in a number of ways. One of those ways is with tolls on public, taxpayer funded roads.

    The cool thing about all this is that the R's will try to replace Krusee with Round Rock Mayor Nyle Maxwell, who is about as popular in the district as a child molester at one of John Walsh's parties. So who does that leave? Well, frankly, no one. Which makes things really nice for a certain Democrat named Maldonado who is running to represent the people of southern WillCo.

    Whatever happens, two things are sure... tolling as the SOLE way of financing infrastructure in Texas is dead as Britney's career and Mikey won't be in the House. We at McBlogger would like to wish him only the best. As long as his next job has nothing to do with public service or lobbying.

    Posted by mcblogger at 02:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 25, 2007

    Republicans are dropping themselves in the grease?

    Larson expressed a concern that the Republican Party in Texas will become known as 'the tolling party,' and that image will damage the party's ability to win future elections. He says the vast majority of Texans disapprove of the aggressive toll road building policy promoted by Governor Perry and Texas Department of Transportation Chairman Ric Williamson.

    Too late, Commissioner. Y'all are already the Tolling Party of Texas.

    Posted by mcblogger at 12:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 19, 2007

    Tolls : Fiesta v. TXDOT

    The expansion of the Katy Freeway in Houston is causing some problems for a Fiesta that is set to lose much of it's parking lot to the expanding freeway. The State wants to give them $3mm but Fiesta says it wants $16mm. As in all eminent domain takings, the State will of course have the freeway completed before Fiesta's case even reaches a judge.

    Eminent domain is a real pain in the ass.

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 09, 2007

    Tolls : TXDoT to slow down 35 for Cintra-Zachry...

    Yeah, we kinda told you so...now the Statesman is all over it.

    The state's privatization contract for the 40-mile stretch of Texas 130, which will run parallel of I-35 to the east, includes the option for the state to earn credit, though not payment, for pushing traffic to the tollway. That includes by lowering I-35 speed limits.

    But a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation said the agency won't do that, even for financial gain.

    "We don't expect to be reducing speed limits on I-35," spokeswoman Gaby Garcia said. "They are set by traffic engineering studies and not by economic gain."

    The state signed the Texas 130 deal in March with a consortium made up of Cintra of Spain and Zachry Construction Corp. of San Antonio.

    Not to be rude, but who wrote this stupid story? For one thing, she did NOT say that they won't drop speeds on 35. She said 'they don't expect to' which is as good as 'we'll do it when no one is looking!'

    Oh, and it appears some R Legislators are really irritated about TXDoT's advertising plan. Wanna bet that goes nowhere?

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 02, 2007

    Toyota has a new hybrid

    And Toyota continues to lead the way on electric/hybrid vehicles, this time with a plug-in hybrid.

    According to Jalopnik, 'Toyota will officially be asking for permission from Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport "for the testing of a prototype plug-in Prius on public roads."' Pricing and availability have not yet been announced.

    "After completing the road tests, Toyota will then be able to begin the process of bringing them to market by leasing them to public municipalities and governmental offices. Asahi is also saying Toyota is testing a lithium-ion battery pack in the plug-in."

    Wouldn't it be cool if GM, Ford or Chrysler could get off dead center and do something in this direction?

    Posted by mcblogger at 02:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 31, 2007

    Dallas : Bag the Trinity Tollway

    (via Texas Cloverleaf)

    Posted by mcblogger at 11:40 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 29, 2007

    Tolls : TURF wins!; TXDoT to slow down 35 and more

  • TURF won, obtaining a continuance in the suit to force TXDoT to back off their TTC propaganda campaign...

    Judge Orlinda Naranjo granted Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) a continuance allowing TURF to move to the discovery phase and depose top Transportation Department (TxDOT) officials, including Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson himself. Allowing discovery is vital for TURF to force TxDOT to hand over key documents that they’ve been withholding via Open Records requests. TURF is seeking to immediately halt the illegal advertising campaign and lobbying by TxDOT.

    Of course, they've also been busy down in SA

    With a U.S. 281 tollway plan racing toward the finish line, critics Monday filed yet another lawsuit they hope will slam on the brakes.

    This time, they went to a federal court in San Antonio and reached back to the First and 14th amendments of the Constitution, which protect freedom of speech and provide equal protection under the law.

    The lawsuit seeks to remove non-elected officials from the Metropolitan Planning Organization board and to ban Sheila McNeil, a city councilwoman who serves as chairwoman, from squelching some discussions on toll issues.

    "The people of Texas are fed up with out-of-control, abusive government," said Terri Hall of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. "This is taxation without representation."

    Congratulations to Terri and Hank!

  • Sal Costello has come across some interesting information regarding a plan to make the 130 Tollway more competitive with the 35 Freeway, by dropping the speed on 35.

    The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has agreed to consider lowering the maximum speed limit on a stretch of interstate highway that competes with a planned toll road. Cintra-Zachary, a joint Spanish-US venture, paid TxDOT $1.3 billion for the right to collect tolls on 40-miles of State Highway 130 set for construction beginning in 2009. Although TxDOT suggested that free market competition was part of the goal of using a public-private partnerships to construct and operate roads, the contract it signed on March 22 to construct this portion of SH130 was specifically designed to limit the desirability of alternate, free routes.

    "The compensation amount owing from TxDOT to Developer on account of the competing facility shall be equal to the loss of toll revenues, if any, attributable to the competing facility," the contract states. (11.3.2.1)

    Yeah, we knew this was going to happen. Granted we didn't see them dragging down speeds, we just thought they'd stop the state from making improvements to 35 which the poorly written and negotiated contract obviously allows. Of course, we have our BRILLIANT Texas Transportation Commission to blame for that. Which is why you never let a Republican negotiate... they'll give concessions that aren't even necessary.

  • There a couple of great articles on privatization over at the TTC Blog...this one from Newsweek and this one from Time. The gist? Privatization is still rolling along and it's not all it's cracked up to be. Of course, people have to learn one way or another that the taxes they currently pay aren't keeping up with the paying for the services they demand. Which is exactly what people in 1980 predicted Reagan would start.
  • Posted by mcblogger at 06:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 16, 2007

    Auto-Fellatio

    It appears, according to EOW, that Mikee Krusee, TTC Chair Dick Williamson and a jelly doughnut who goes by the name John Carona had a lovefest where they talked about their plans for transportation infrastructure and pledged to work together.

    The gist? Williamson's not completely giving up on the corporate welfare scheme known as public/private partnerships and corporate tolling. Carona is saying he'll work to get the gas tax up. Krusee is saying the public doesn't want it. In other words, screw the taxpayer, lie about what you're planning and lie about what can be done.

    As EOW astutely points out, the fear of raising the gas tax is not that of public ire. It's simply a lack of political will on the part of the Republicans. That'll change early in 2009 when a new Democratic legislature convenes. But let's go back to the three dicks pleasuring one another...

    Indeed, this morning’s talk on the future of transportation funding in Texas found the men sharing much more common ground than bones of contention, leading Carona at one point to describe the talk as “a love fest.”

    Yes, yes. We get it, John. You love Dick. And Mikee. Neat.

    Krusee, though, pointed out that his amendment last session to index the gas tax went down in flames. The problem is that the public just doesn’t want to pay for roads, he said. They shot down reform of the gas tax as well as public-private toll partnerships. That leaves bonding as the only way to finance roads, but that method also has problems as it pushes the costs to future generations, he said.

    Oh, no, the public does want to pay for roads. The public wasn't asked to vote on this, the Lege was.

    Carona said that he agreed with the over the horizon ideas presented by his counterparts but that to convince lawmakers to change course on transportation should be done in baby steps – and on a biennial basis. He added that the Big Three – Perry, Dewhurst and Craddick– must push transportation funding in a more prominent manner. Big changes in public policy only happen when the state’s leadership support them, Carona said. “It’s important for them to make public statements on this,” he said. “We need their help.”

    OK, John, reality check. CradDICK isn't going to be speaker in January, 2009. The Senate can work without Dewhearse. Which leaves only 39% as a roadblock. In other words, half the job is going to be done for you by the Democrats just taking back the House. So what the hell are you whining about? You need whose help?

    Three Republicans. Three excuses. No solutions. Time to make some big changes in 2008. Starting with Krusee.

    Posted by mcblogger at 10:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 14, 2007

    Hope for the future

    We've talked a lot about transportation here with an emphasis on tolling and infrastructure privatization. Many of you around Texas and the nation have been able to follow what's going on in our corner of the world, even if you've felt a little left out or overwhelmed by some of the specifics. I know this because you've taken the time to email me and tell me that you're not following me on some of this stuff. 'Why are you so concerned with tolls?' is a common question.

    It's simple. Infrastructure privatization and tolls aren't a good deal for the citizens of Austin. It's more than likely not a good deal for you in your area. To recap, it's the most expensive option for funding infrastructure improvements, toll taxes are extremely regressive and it leaves open the door for infrastructure privatization.

    Which brings me to what happened last Monday night. Four people stood up for the people of Central Texas. One of them was Representative Eddie Rodriguez. Despite all the hype about tolls being the transportation panacea, Rep. Rodriguez made a decision based on research, common sense and what's best for his constituents.

    He also noticed that the plan, touted by the AAS, Chamber and a certain overreaching State Senator as relieving congestion, didn't do ANYTHING to relieve our current congestion points. In fact, even after these roads are built our congestion will get worse.

    In the wake of this, comes opinions out of the Statesman, which has been unabashed in their support of tolling, despite the fact that it doesn't fix our traffic problems. They spent a recent editorial lauding CAMPO and their great decision. Never mind the fact that they've been convinced that tolls are the only way by some really poor decision making. Their point has been 'indexing the gas tax would be best, but that's not going to happen so we have to take what we can get'. What they fail to mention is that the Lege is going to change dramatically as political power realigns in this state in 2008. They also fail to mention that should things change and TXDoT shift back to a bias for free roads, we can't undo what's done. In other words, CAMPO made a decision out of desperation and stupidity which we're all stuck paying.

    Well, some members of CAMPO did.

    A true public servant is someone who can withstand massive amounts of pressure from all sides and do the right thing. We know that Rep. Rodriguez was receiving the same pressure from members of the Chamber that Councilwoman Kim and the other 'no' votes received. On behalf of everyone here, thank you for standing up to it and doing what's best for all Central Texas. You voted not to tie Central Texas taxpayers to this ridiculous project. We won't forget that.

    Rodriguez is someone everyone in Texas should know. He's a leader, in the truest sense of the word. He's the future of the Democratic Party in Texas, one of many who'll be doing the heavy lifting to make our state a better place for all Texans.

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:54 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    October 11, 2007

    Tolls : New lights making for some happy voters

    Gotta say, this comes as one hell of a surprise...

    That's also when new traffic lights on Texas 71 at Texas 130 were turned on. Before then, there was no light on Texas 71 between Ross Road east of Onion Creek and FM 973 near the airport, a stretch of about a mile and a half.

    The new luminous obstruction, according to some of the e-mails and calls I've been getting, initially added at least 15 minutes to some people's morning commute. One Bastrop resident says her commute ballooned from 30 minutes to 80 minutes or more. One person wrote, perhaps engaging in hyperbole, that the backup extended as far as 10 miles.

    What about the 'no new lights' promise from TXDoT's Bob Daigh and our representatives on CAMPO? Turns out, not so much...

    A couple of things stand out here. Wear, in his typically pedestrian way, wends around to it at the end. The light has to be there because there are no flyways from 71 to 130 and vice versa. As for why, I'm thinking it's probably too expensive and as we all know, TXDoT's hardly been a good steward of the public's funds... remember those flyways at 45/35? Same thing here. I guess TXDoT's retards think if they don't budget for it, we don't need it. As always, they are Johnny On-The-Spot with the most incomplete solution.

    Given all that, you have to put in lights because God knows they aren't going to spend money creating an express pass through for folks on TX 71 who've NEVER had to stop at this intersection before. Now, traffic on 71 is what some would call pretty heavy due to commuters. Traffic on 130 is non-existent for the most part. So what kind of sense does it make to have the lights going green on both roads for roughly the same amount of time? TXDoT never heard of a simple optical sensor? I have one in my garage they can use if they need it. It can trip the light and go green on 130 when a car shows up that needs to go east on 71. That makes much more sense than timing a light for nonexistent traffic.

    TXDoT is not only giving us an expensive solution, it's not even a complete solution. Great work, y'all! Thanks for angering people in Bastrop County and Eastern Travis County!

    Just for fun, in the wake of CAMPO's decision on Monday, comes a News 8 poll that doesn't bode well for those seeking re-election. I told you people were 'upset'


    Posted by mcblogger at 12:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 09, 2007

    Tolls : CAMPO drops us in the grease, Eckhardt puts aloe on the burn

    You had to be there to believe it. The anti-toll faction even at this, the meeting to vote on the TIP which included few public comments, was still 50-55% of the crowd with the balance made up of folks who were either undecided or those who worked for the Chamber.

    It's rare, but not unknown, for me to see an organization with minimal political power decide to squander what little remains. All the Chamber has done is unify the anti-toll right with the left which already hated the Chamber and is functionally capable of electing their candidates anyway. I feel bad for the Chamber because they'll think they got their way (the TIP was going to pass with or without their dumb campaign) but really all they did was fully marginalize themselves into irrelevance, especially in west Austin. Their endorsement will be nice and poisonous.

    The vast majority of the anti-toll people at the CAMPO meeting last night weren't liberal Democrats. Most of them are moderate to conservative Republicans with a heavy salting of Libertarians. Traditionally, they are the pro-business folks a Chamber endorsement would appeal to. Not so much anymore. I saw three groups tonight taking pictures and gathering names of those who were part of TakeOnTraffic... they'll be looking for these people on ethics filings from now to eternity.

    So, the TIP passed and Senator Watson will get his toll roads. Here's the list of those that voted for all of them...

    Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, Texas Department of Transportation Austin district engineer Bob Daigh, Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, Austin City Council Member Betty Dunkerley, Kyle Mayor Miguel Gonzalez, state Rep. Mike Krusee, Cedar Park Mayor Bob Lemon, Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long, Round Rock Mayor Nyle Maxwell, Austin City Council Member Brewster McCracken, Georgetown Mayor Gary Nelon, former Austin Mayor Pro Tem John Trevino and Austin Mayor Will Wynn.

    Judge Biscoe looked as out of place as I've ever seen him. He won't last another cycle. Daugherty is in serious trouble and will likely be gone in 2008. Red Tag Betty is already gone, as is Brewster. Brewster tonight saw his political flame flashout and with it his hopes of being Mayor. No, Brewster, the Chamber can't help you. Truth be told, they didn't do anything for Will either (I worked on the campaign, they helped as much as they hurt). What got Wynn re-elected was the fact that Danny Thomas was a psycho homophobe and Jennifer Gale was, well, Jennifer Gale. Wanna see nasty, Brewster? Just wait for the endorsement meetings. People don't like you anyway and you've just given them another reason to treat you like shit.

    Will, you've been a real disappointment on this issue. We all see we need roads, but you let impatience get the better of you. That was stupid.

    As for the WilCo folks, Krusee's toast and Maxwell will join him in irrelevance. Cedar Park is a gray area for me but if the crowd tonight was any indication, I think Lemon is going to have issues as well.

    As for the others...

    Watson voted yes on four of them and recused himself on U.S. 290 East because he is a director of a bank with land along U.S. 290 East in Elgin. And Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt voted yes on all but Texas 45 Southwest.

    Eckhardt voted yes as part of a deal to get amendments passed to the TIP (see below). Watson voted yes because he's a dumbass. To wit...

    "We're not left with the ability to just say no," Watson said after the meeting adjourned. "Because if we just say no, then we saddle our community and our children with even more congestion."

    Senator, enough with the hyperbole. You failed, along with your colleagues, to do anything about transportation funding last session so your talk about not being left with alternatives is worthless because you didn't do anything to create them. All those opposed were asking you to do was think about the long term impact of what you were doing and work hard for an alternative in 2009. You failed to even do that.

    We have long term transportation funding problems in this state and they have to be fixed. You don't accomplish that by caving into TXDoT and saddling taxpayers, most of whom are your very constituents, with mountains of debt serviced by exorbitant tolls. It's irresponsible and stupid, Kirk.

    Suprisingly, it's the no votes that were most interesting...

    "I do believe there is enough money to do some or all of these roads as free roads," said CAMPO board member Jeff Mills of Sunset Valley. "TxDOT just isn't going to do it."

    Mills voted against all five, as did Austin City Council Member Jennifer Kim, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and Hays County Judge Elizabeth Sumter.

    Mad props to all those with the intelligence to stand up to TXDoT's plan and say 'NO'.

    Remember Eckhardt's yes vote? Here's why...

    The board also voted on a set of four "covenants" as amendments, setting out how excess revenue would be spent, stipulating that the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority would operate the roads and mandating that each road have as much or more free capacity as at present.

    Just so you know, this was ALL Eckhardt. She was the one that forced these amendments. Why? Because she knew as we all did that the TIP would pass. She tried to make it as palatable as possible. One of the amendments stipulated funding from tolls to fund public transportation expansion, something that I don't think anyone can complain about. This will, of course, be the silver lining in a very dark storm cloud. EOW has more on Eckhardt's vote. NONE of the other yes votes offered anything similar.

    The money quote comes from Krusee...

    "We took a year this time to make sure everyone knew what they were voting on and what the consequences would be," Krusee said.

    Yep. And now what comes next is inevitable. Which brings to mind an interesting conversation I had with one of the Chamber folks I happened to know. I explained to him that they'd really cut their own throats politically and that many of the people up on that stage wouldn't hold office after 2008 and 2010. He laughed and said something to the effect of 'Sal (Costello, head of the Austin Toll Party) didn't have the ability to be really effective'. I replied, 'Who said anything about Sal?'.

    Make no mistake, y'all made a lot of enemies last night. Common cause is a powerful force.

    Finally, there are two issues that have been bugging about this TIP.

    1) None of this, other than super expensive toll road at the Y in Oak Hill, does a damn thing to solve our current congestion issues which are primarily related to bottlenecks on existing freeways. It never occurred to CAMPO that we had some more pressing issues?

    2) If the toll revenue fails to be less than what's needed to service the debt used to build the roads, who's going to pay? Property taxes, anyone?

    Thanks a bunch CAMPO! You've just made tolling an issue all the way into the 2010 cycle.

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:27 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    October 08, 2007

    Tolls : For anyone waffling on the TIP

    Via EOW comes word that of the public comments received to date, 75% have been anti-toll. Just a little something interesting for those of you about to vote on a massive infrastructure project this evening. The decision you make could potentially saddle us with BILLIONS in new taxes for the next 50 years and do little to alleviate the traffic problems we have now.

    Don't focus on how regressive the gas tax is. What you're thinking about doing is FAR more regressive as the tolls are more expensive and will effect us all.

    We're counting on you to do the right thing and tell TXDoT that their plan for Central Texas is unacceptable. I'm not going to lie, what we're asking you to do is not only kill this plan, but develop a better one. Neither will be easy. However, if you're the leaders you claim to be, it's exactly what you have to do.

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 04, 2007

    Tolls : Reason steps into the TTC debate

    No, not that reason, THIS Reason. The same people who think free trade agreements are a hoot without ever realizing one inescapable fact... that they always drag down the stronger partner IF there isn't parity between them prior to the agreement going into effect. The same folks who years ago told us utility deregulation would save consumers tons of money (it's cost them more than their old regulated service). The same people who've been pimping tolls for a while as the transportation panacea.

    Yeah. These are a bunch of Randroids and Friedmanite Libertarians shouting crap to anyone who'll listen. Now, they've decided to advocate for the massive toll road project that is the TTC.

    This is all too sinister for Jerome Corsi, the Vietnam War veteran who helped lead the Swift Boat charge against John Kerry. Corsi has knitted disparate strands of each of these separate road projects to help convince fellow xenophobes such as Pat Buchanan, Phyllis Schlafly, Lou Dobbs and the John Birch Society that the corridor is the first leg of a secret federal project called the NAFTA Superhighway, a four-football-field wide monstrosity that would run from Mexico's Yucatan to Canada's Yukon.

    Oh, it's something Swift Boat Corsi is involved with? Shit, I better run right out and support the TTC. Problem is, public opposition to TTC isn't based on conspiracies and no amount of lying by the uninformed spinners at Reason will change that.

    Uhm...yeah. For the folks at Reason who aren't even, you know, IN TEXAS, public opposition to the TTC isn't based on paranoia. It's based on the financing structure, the privatization of infrastructure and of course the fact that the TTC will pave over (in it's current configuration) more than a 100,000 arces of the best farmland in this country. Let's also consider the tens of thousands of people on family farms that will be displaced.

    However, in terms of paranoia, maybe someone should tell the reasonable people at Reason that the TTC that will run parallel to the 35 will be bringing in goods from the Mexican Pacific coast, NOT from Houston. Goods that didn't go through American customs. Considering how little of the shipping into the US we inspect today, do they really think it's a good idea to start allowing in more uninspected shipping? To have a shipping container loaded with a
    nuke able to get into the US and come with in 25 miles of three of the largest cities in the state?

    Corsi, despite his lies about Kerry in 2004, is right about one thing in this piece... foreign ownership. To Reason, it's just another asset sale and more buyers means higher prices for the remaining assets we don't privatize. However, what Reason doesn't tell you is that the toll money is leaving our shores at a time when we are already laboring under a weak dollar created in large part by our massive trade deficit. Any economist worth a damn, one interested in long term gain, would tell you that the best thing to do is to use our own money to finance our own infrastructure.

    Finally, where the crack team from Reason really fails is on cost. Compared to just expanding the 35 corridor, the TTC is actually more expensive. Why? Because most expansion plans would be through already owned rural ROW with city bypasses to the west and in some cases the east of the cities along 35. A hell of lot less expensive than a massive eminent domain purchase followed up by a massive construction project.

    The TTC isn't a reasonable project at all. Even the people at Reason should have figured that out instead of railing on about what Jerome Corsi is doing.

    Posted by mcblogger at 01:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 03, 2007

    Tolls : What CAMPO should fix...

    Talking with Sister Ruth and The Mayor Saturday it became clear that there are a few choke points on Austin roads that, if fixed, would make life in Central Texas much better. It also brings to mind a conversation I had with Rep. Eddie Rodriguez about the upcoming vote on October 8th. What do you fix? What projects make the most sense? How do you best spend the money we have NOW?

    Here are some ideas. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.

    1) Widen or deck MOPAC from 35th St to the 290 interchange
    2) Go with Fix 290's plan for the Y at Oak Hill
    3) Flyway from 183 to northbound 35
    4) Flyway from 290 to southbound 35
    5) Widen the ramp from MOPAC to eastbound 360
    6) Widen access from eastbound 360 to southbound MOPAC and build a flyway to northbound MOPAC

    Obviously, 1 and 6 are the most expensive and could potentially be budget busters. It would also be nice to complete 183 out to the airport. However, on a DAILY basis, these are the most frustrating parts of our infrastructure. You'll notice I left off 35. That was simple... the only way you're going to fix it is to pull traffic off it and the only way you'll do that is to kill the tolls on the 130. Any other solution is too expensive and utterly stupid.

    Sal has more on almost one billion we have to spend... and the games TXDoT is playing with it. While we're talking about TXDoT and more specifically our wonderful District Engineer, one question still remains... what about the missing DC's at 45 and 35 in Round Rock? If the flyways were budgeted but the holdup is the environmental clearance, when will that be done?

    Has ANYONE audited the 45/1 tollway? Where DID all that money disappear?

    Posted by mcblogger at 03:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 02, 2007

    Tolls : CAMPO's next step

    What happens next? Since the CAMPO meeting last month, we've all been wondering exactly what is going to happen on October 8th. Granted we're not as concerned with it as we are with, say, the return of Drawn Together on Comedy Central, but we are curious as to exactly how CAMPO is going to vote on the TIP.

    No, no... I mean the actual mechanism. I want to know if they are going to vote on the individual amendments or the TIP as one big project. Further, who'll make that decision and under what rules? Simply put, will the Chair (Senator Watson) be making all the decisions by fiat?

    It's clear from the recent TTI report that Austin is congested like a man with serious allergies when the cedar starts to pick up. Anyone who has to go anywhere during the morning or afternoon knows that. Personally, I find it amusing as hell that the Statesman chooses to pay so much attention to THIS TTI report and not to the one detailing gas tax indexing as the cheapest alternative to soaking taxpayers with tolls. Which brings us back 'round the mountain to where we began... how is all this going to happen?

    And will any of the members be allowed to bring motions?

    Why don't we get this settled out before we actually, you know, have the meeting. Oh, and please have the chamber mooks come on out again. It was a blast!

    Posted by mcblogger at 08:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    October 01, 2007

    Super advanced electric car? Yeah. Sure.

    Many companies are talking about electric cars that charge in 5 minutes and can run for 500 miles. Yeah, while we think eventually this will happen, we have serious doubts as to it happening now.

    Posted by mcblogger at 10:59 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    Tolls : Big news on anti-TTC efforts; Krusee's still with CradDICK and more

  • Stewards of the Range in cooperations with the American Land Foundation have aided four Texas cities in a coordinated effort to stop the TTC.

    Texans have finally found a way to fight the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) by requiring the government agencies to comply with the coordination requirement found in state and federal law.

    On Friday, August 24, 2007, the four cities of Bartlett, Holland, Little River-Academy, and Rogers sent notification letters to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDoT), Governor Rick Perry, and Attorney General Greg Abbott, informing them that they had formed a commission under the authority of Chapter 391 of the Texas Local Government Code and were demanding the agency now coordinate all studies, plans and management activities with the Commission on the Trans-Texas Corridor.

  • Our good friends at TURF, Terri Hall and Hank Gilbert, have been busy as well, filing suit to stop TXDoT from spending taxpayer money on a propoganda campaign aimed at 'selling' the TTC to Texans.

    TURF founder Terri Hall says, "Between TxDOT's PR campaign, report to Congress asking that all limitations on tolling be lifted including buying back existing interstates, and chairman Ric Williamson's recent trip to D.C. lobbying for the same, it's clear they've not only crossed the line into illegal lobbying, but they leaped over it. The citizens of Texas are fed up with TxDOT's blatant disregard for the public's disdain of toll roads and their infinite attempts to cram toll roads down our throats using TAXPAYER MONEY to do it! It's high time someone puts a stop to it!"

    The TRO they had requested was shut down on Wednesday, but the PR value alone is incredible as more and more people learn that TXDoT is using taxpayer money to promote something opposed by more than 60% of Texans.

  • Mike Krusee is having a fundraiser that will be headlined by none other than Speaker CradDICK and 39%. PLEASE someone go and take pix. Could Maldanado really be this lucky? Is Krusee really this stupid? Come on, Mikey... we're going to beat the hell out of you anyway. Why make it easy for us?
  • Doublepaying your toll? Yeah, apparently we aren't alone. More fuckups on the incredible CTRMA toll road system (brought to you by some really stupid decision making).

    There’s no mention of how TxDOT actually arrives at that number. I think most taxpayers/toll payers would prefer an independent audit to see how often this is really happening. Thre’s no mention about what they’re doing to fix the problem. Just a glitch, oh well, deal with it. The other thing that I didn’t find in this article was whose responsibility it is for finding who gets “tagged” by the glitch? If a driver gets double charged and never notices, does TxDOT get to keep the money? More than likely that was part of the fine print when acquiring a TxTag. Here’s Mr. Davis again.

    This is an extremely interesting story coming a little more than a week before CAMPO is set to vote to massively expand tolling across Central Texas. The lawsuit is proceeding forward.

  • You may have seen an email from Hairdo bragging about her bill to keep tolls off publicly owned roads. Turns out, she wrote that bill full of loopholes so large they could pass a city bus.

    Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (Repub) has now issued a statement claiming that none of her “toll prohibition bills” really prohibit tolling! A statement of Sept 12 from her office says: “Efforts to toll newly constructed lanes or new highways would not be prohibited in Sen Hutchinson’s amendment (S AMDT 2825 to HR3074), or in S2109 or HR3510.”

    “I’ve long believed that if local communities and the state want to come together and build a toll road, they should be able to do it,” she is quoted.

    So do we. The problem is, a small minority wants the tolls. The rest of us just want the roads and we want you to use the most sensible funding option, the indexed gas tax, to pay for them. We don't want it privatized. Hairdo is, of course, running for Governor on a platform of completely ignoring the transportation needs of the citizens of Texas (how much do we get back in federal gas tax dollars?). Of course, unless the Democrat who runs against her goes really nasty then she'll probably win. And hopefully have a meaner than a rottweiler Democratic Lege to deal with.

  • It's also worth noting that we have now spent enough on this stupid war in Iraq to have rebuilt our crumbling infrastructure. Across the entire country. Without tolls.

    Posted by mcblogger at 08:58 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 28, 2007

    Tolls : Leadership and money... two things lacking

    The Republicans on the Texas Transportation Commission (the folks who run TXDoT) are running around scaring the hell out of everyone by

    1) Claiming that TXDoT is broke
    2) Pushing to remove the moratorium on privatization which will allow them to sell our roads

    You can read the entire piece at the DMN or at the SAEN. It's basically the same article. Though the DMN does decide to use TXDoT's now defunct $86 Bn transportation shortfall estimate. I guess no one told the reporter about the TTI report from last fall. It's the one Ric Williamson is terrified of because it neatly points out his lies.

    Let's address point one, TXDoT is broke. Actually., at the moment TXDoT is funded adequately. It could, of course, do more with more money but at this moment in time things are still getting done. The reality is that as one moves forward in time, less and less of TXDoT's budget is going to go to actually building roads. We knew that already. Why the reporters for the DMN and the SAEN chose to report this as if it were a NEW story is beyond me.

    What to do about this issue? How do we keep, or even expand, TXDoT's available funding? Well, there are a couple of ways... taxes and taxes. One is the indexed gas tax you already know and love. The other is privatizing our roads, selling them off to the highest bidder, and allowing them to toll them, another form of taxation. Traditionally, toll roads have been few and far between. However, in Ric Williamson's best case scenario, the entire state would be covered with them, not to mention existing freeways that would be converted to tolling. That means it's going to be broad based and will likely catch everyone. That means it's a tax, pure and simple. Only in this case, it's a tax paid to Ric Williamson's buddies, the private toll road companies like Cintra.

    Think I'm lying? Central Texas is the blueprint for what TXDoT and the Republicans want to do statewide. Oh, there will be a free road you can take, but it won't be like 610 in Houston or Central in Dallas. It'll be a frontage road. With lights set to cause the greatest amount of impeded traffic flow and frustration. Seriously, folks are already doing reports on them.

    The other alternative, indexing the gas tax, takes care of our maintenance woes as well as building new projects, without the adding cost of toll infrastructure. It also allows us to not worry about a private toll road operator's profits over the next 75 years. Ric Williamson, for his part, is worried about how regressive the gas tax is which is funny because it's THE ONLY TIME I'VE HEARD A REPUBLICAN WORRIED ABOUT THE REGRESSIVENESS OF A TAX. That aside, yes the gas tax is regressive. So is the sales tax. So are tolls. Whether you like it or not, without a real freeway alternative, a toll road will be the only limited access roadway that can be used by rich and poor alike. It should be obvious that since what Williamson has envisioned will cover the entire state and effect everyone, it too is a regressive tax on people.

    Given that, would you rather them pay less that one cent per mile or 12 cents per mile? Seriously, Ric, I'd LOVE to hear your answer to that.

    Posted by mcblogger at 04:01 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    September 11, 2007

    UP building ANOTHER intermodal hub, this time in SA

    The framework for the TTC continues apace with a new NAFTA intermodal hub being constructed by UP in SA which is expected to process as many as 100,000 tractor-trailers per year, further adding to the problems already on 35.

    Of course, this is why 39% will say we NEED the TTC. What 39% hasn't told you is that the truck drivers have already said they aren't going to use the TTC. They've already begun negotiating for longer transport lead times. Which leaves us stuck with 39% transportation 'legacy' until the end of time (not to mention sitting in traffic). Unless those in the Lege finally sac up and do something.

    Not mentioned in the press release were the longshoreman in CA who will lose their jobs as shipping traffic transitions to Mexico's Pacific coast.

    Posted by mcblogger at 03:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Tolls : Release the McCracken!

    Yes, I went to the CAMPO meeting last night. Then had to leave because I was LAUGHING too hard at the folks from the Chamber who did mob the meeting, yet still weren't in the majority. One key for you Chamber folks... if you're going to stack a meeting, cut back on the paid people and the buttons.

    Specifically, I DIED laughing when some moron got up to speak and talked about the 242k people in Central Texas that have purchased TXTags basically supporting tolls. In fact, I wasn't the only one laughing. Further, I have one of those tags. So do MANY of my friends. None of us like the tolls, but we have the tags because we're going to use them and we're not stopping at some stupid booth. There are a lot of people who don't like the tolls who have the tags. These are the people who almost turned out Mike Krusee in 2006 and will succeed in 2008. Wanna talk about those voters, pal? They're angry. Not happy.

    Sal's account is here and very true. I arrived around 6:30 because I was busy underwriting loans. Unlike most of the people who have a vested interest in tolling, I was just an ordinary citizen who found a 6:00 pm start time a little unusual, mostly because at the last CAMPO meeting I attended, we waited FOREVER for the politico's to show up. I should have realized they were stacking the deck with the venue and the start time. By the time I got there, all speaker slots were filled. I was one of the 260+ people who filled out a comment card.

    I also found it unusual that so many of the speakers were pro-toll... until they started announcing who they were. Folks, don't be delusional. These people don't represent voters. If they did then Krusee would have won handily in 2006 and Karen Sonleitner wouldn't have been turned out. Stacking a meeting provides a false impression and it's one that at least one politico is buying hook, line and sinker...

    "I intend to vote for it, and I think it will pass," Austin City Council and CAMPO board member Brewster McCracken said Monday. McCracken supported the 2004 plan before developing doubts.

    "We have to make our decisions based on facts and based on the broadest common good," he said.

    Brewster, for those of you who have been living on Mars, is always free to talk to the press. He's also running for Mayor. Now that he's pissed up OHAN's leg on Phase 2, wanna bet he doesn't even make it into the runoff? I don't know what else I expected from an opportunist like McCracken who's only political conviction seems to be supporting what he perceives will help him, even if it means flip-flopping like a fish out of water.

    I remain stunned at the Chamber's support for the most expensive form of transportation financing we have at our disposal. These are smart people (I know some of them) and can't believe they are really this clueless on this issue, from a financial and political perspective. Talking to some people at the meeting, I came away with the impression that they were 'along for the ride', that the Chamber's leadership pushed the tolling issue and that the membership is more than a little angry. If I was running for office over the next few years, I would avoid the endorsement of the Chamber like the plague. It'll be about as effective as the Statesman's endorsement at driving voters FROM you.

    The folks who talked in support of Phase 2 don't know the political landscape or how things are going to change in 2009. All they see is an immediate need for roads. I see it, too... so did EVERYONE there. There was not a single person who said we DON'T need roads. The issue is how it's financed and tolls are the worst option. Much like children, they've been uninvolved with this for a while and now are ready to jump at anything. It's wiser to wait until the political situation changes and we get the legislation we need. Unless you like paying full price today for something you'll get a discount on in a little over a year.

    Here's to hoping that the remaining CAMPO board members are a little smarter than Mr. Political Suicide, Brewster McCracken. Brewster, sometimes it's better to keep your mouth shut and be thought an idiot rather than open it and remove all doubt.

    Posted by mcblogger at 12:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    September 09, 2007

    Tolls : Pissed at TakeOnTraffic? Try this...

    The folks at the Chamber of Commerce have gone one further with their Take On Traffic campaign. They are now putting up signs in public ROW. To say the least, it's annoying as hell and I'm not just talking about the butt-ugly logo. Always being one with an eye to maintaining the natural aesthetic of our frontage roads, I called the lovely people at 311 on my way to a friends tonight to report one of the offending signs. Alas, they weren't able to help me as the sign was on a state road. However, the operator was kind enough to transfer me to TXDoT. The person who answered sighed, made some comment about a lot of reports on those and said someone would be by on Monday to pick it up.

    Run your advertising on billboards. The rules apply to you, too.

    Posted by mcblogger at 12:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 08, 2007

    Tolls : Buy in haste, repent at leisure

    CAMPO is meeting next Monday, September 10th, at the Capitol in the extension auditorium, E1.004. The meeting will start promptly at 6:00 or whenever Mike Krusee is able to make it on one of the time machines as he'll be driving in from WillCo where he'll be busy trying to find anyone who will support his re-election. I kid! He totally has supporters. He'll actually be spending most of the day looking for supporter #3.

    If you're entering from the Capitol building from the north, hit the elevators closest to you (before you get to the rotunda) and drop on down to E1. If you're coming from the south, just walk through the rotunda to the elevators in the north wing. As for parking, you're best bet is the garage at 1201 San Jacinto. It's 3 or 4 blocks to the Capitol from there but it's an easy walk.

    Now that the mundane details are out of the way, here's what you need to know. This ISN'T the vote on Phase 2. This is a meeting to hear public testimony and evaluate what TXDoT has said. The politicos call that accountability, but it's really a requirement of state law (though we did like your attempt to make it seem like you were being gracious, Gerald). Accountability is the word being used by the electeds which is good because it means they are listening. And they know what's at stake.

    The members of CAMPO are in a tough spot. On one side is TXDoT saying if you don't toll, you get no roads. On the other is the Austin Chamber whining about how much we need roads. As an aside, this is exactly the reason why I shun Chamber's of Commerce like I would a boy with a venereal disease. They are masters of the obvious, always late to the party and usually with the wrong solution. These are smart people (you don't rise in even a smaller, regional bank or title company without some modicum of intelligence) but they are none the less acting like impatient children ready to give up far more than needed for a system which by design will be inadequete. Phase 2 is a poor substitute for what's needed. Moreover, what CAMPO should be focused on is us.

    The always stupid Ray Perryman, in a op/ed a month ago, referred to the opposition of a 'vocal minority' to toll roads and that needs to be corrected. We aren't one big group. We're all independent of one another. We've all come to roughly the same conclusion which is that tolls are too expensive. We are the tip of the iceberg, just the most vocal and informed in the community. We represent the majority who want roads and have no problem paying reasonable taxes for them. We do, however, have a massive problem with tolls. Why?

    Because they are too expensive to consumers.

    200,000 commuters daily. 8 cents per day per commuter vs. $3.00 per day per commuter. That's the math. $16,000 from the pockets of Central Texas taxpayers vs. $600,000 per day. Which do you think is cheaper?

    Sounds incredible, right? The numbers are solid. Tolls include profits for private contractors. The gas tax does not. Granted, if the gas tax is indexed it will go up over time. But so will the tolls and their starting point is far higher. The other complaint about the gas tax is that it hits everyone. As we've discussed a number of times, so will the tolls. Seriously, there isn't a region in Texas that isn't getting toll roads and there isn't a freeway or highway in Texas that's not being considered for toll lanes. We're all going to pay, whether it's a gas tax or tolls. Wouldn't you rather pay the least?

    Yeah, so would I.

    Part of the mission of the Chamber's Take on Traffic is to reduce congestion. The only way to do that in Austin is to take traffic off 35 and the only way we're going to do that is to cut the tolls on 130. The only way that is going to happen is if CAMPO sends a message to the Lege that they aren't going to be bullied.

    Let me be clear... what CAMPO is tasked with is choosing to put Central Texas taxpayers into massive debt with extremely high costs or choosing to wait and see what changes come in January,2009. Is it too much to ask to err on the side of caution before you write a check we'll have to pay off over the next 100 years?

    Let the CAMPO board know what you think by clicking here...oh, and if you really want to rehash the TakeOnTraffic talking points, here they are.

    Posted by mcblogger at 04:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    September 05, 2007

    Public Citizen and the Teamsters join up!

    I don't know about you, but if I was a legislator, I wouldn't be too scared of Public Citizen. Don't get me wrong, it's a great group but it's been unable to make much of an impact in recent years. However, I would be scared as hell of the Teamsters. The two forces together? Forget about it. Apparently, NAFTA is being used to force us to allow Mexican truckers to deliver goods in the US on a long haul basis, something that will severely impact safety on our highways here in Texas especially.

    The suit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, maintains that the Bush administration’s pilot program, which authorizes up to 100 carriers based in Mexico to perform long-haul operations within the U.S., violates several key congressional requirements. The groups filing suit include Public Citizen; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Sierra Club; Environmental Law Foundation; and the Brotherhood of Teamsters, Auto and Truck Drivers, Local 70. The groups filed an emergency motion asking the court to delay the pilot program before it goes into effect in a matter of days...

    In 2001, a NAFTA tribunal ordered the U.S. to fully open its border to Mexico-domiciled trucking companies. In response, the Bush administration said it would implement a pilot program to allow up to 100 motor carriers from Mexico full access to U.S. highways. However, the project violated U.S. laws governing the conduct of pilot programs, in addition to a 2001 congressional mandate that Mexico-domiciled trucking companies meet U.S. safety standards regarding hours of service, driver training and licensing, and vehicle safety before being allowed access to the nation’s roadways.

    Congress this year held hearings examining the plan to allow trucks from Mexico to travel beyond the border zones. Lawmakers uncovered serious safety deficiencies and deemed the pilot program a sham and in violation of existing law. In response, Congress passed a measure designed to ensure that any pilot program does not circumvent safety standards or congressional oversight and that such a program is conducted within strict parameters designed to facilitate informed decision making.

    On Aug. 6, the Department of Transportation Inspector General released a report finding that the system used to monitor Mexico-domiciled carrier drivers with license convictions is not yet adequate. Officials still don’t have the data necessary to identify drivers not permitted to operate on U.S. highways. Further, the system designed to ensure that Mexico-domiciled carriers comply with U.S. motor vehicle manufacturing safety standards is incomplete, and it is not clear whether the drug and alcohol testing program is functional, the inspector general found.

    I'm fine with competition... just as soon as the Mexicans implement the same standards we have the in US. Failing that, I don't give a damn what a free trade tribunal says. We should not be forced to open our roads up to people and transports that haven't had to pass the same safety and environmental standards that US truckers and vehicles have to pass.

    Posted by mcblogger at 01:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    August 31, 2007

    PLEASE roll out the PR campaign. PLEASE!

    Eye on Williamson has a great piece up on the Chron story detailing TXDoT's plans to use public funds to sell toll roads and the TTC to the public. I think this is a fabulous idea. The limited campaign that's been used to far has been tremendously successful at raising the TTC profile as well as galvanizing public opposition. This PR campaign will no doubt bring even more attention and criticism to it.

    Sure, it's a waste of money as Rep. Chisum points out. Please note, this is probably the only time I will ever agree with Warren Chisum. I certainly hope Reagan and Nixon are enjoying the snowstorm in hell. However, for those of us opposed to privatization of infrastructure, it's a massive boon. This will finally put TXDoT's stupid plans in the spotlight on the mismanagement of transportation in this state going back to then-Governor George Bush.

    And see, it's already starting...

    Oh, and while you're at it, please tell us what a good idea it will be to toll existing lanes on interstates! People will LOVE that idea.

    Roll on, TXDoT! You're making my job sooo much easier!

    Posted by mcblogger at 08:39 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    August 30, 2007

    Tolls : Sometimes the adults have to step in

    It's clear from the recent CAMPO meeting and the Statesman's most recent editorial that our leadership is ready to throw in the towel. Like children, they are incapable of seeing all the options on the field and seemingly unaware of the long term impact of their decisions. Immediate gratification and long term pain. If that isn't childish, I don't know what is.

    Central Texans shouldn't kid themselves, there IS a cheaper alternative. However, as Eye on Williamson points out, it's going to require leadership from our elected officials...

    I believe there is a choice and it’s not one that the AAS or many politicians, if any, have the courage to take on. It entails doing what the people want, not doing what it easy. It entails taking an tough stand, stepping our front, breaking down GOP talking points, and leading on this issue. If put to a public vote these politicians know the toll roads would fail, overwhelmingly. But they still proceed as if this is the only option.

    The Statesman believes that an increase in the gas tax is unlikely, so CAMPO should go ahead and authorize the burdening of Central Texas taxpayers with paying off toll roads into infinity. Problem is, increasing the gas tax isn't unlikely if Democrats are able to retake the Lege next year. In short, we can afford to wait... we have this long... for a better solution that will benefit all Central Texans, not just those that stand to profit from toll roads. At the end of the day, the next session will not see two major obstacles to increasing the gas tax, Mike Krusee and Speaker Craddick, gone. That, in and of itself, means there is a major transportation funding policy shift coming.

    If CAMPO is smart they'll realize this and lead the way to better future for all of us. If they don't, then everyone who votes for this plan will have problems getting re-elected. Yes, Kirk, even you. We like you, but we won't hesitate to recruit and fund a challenger to you in the primary. And she'll win.

    Take a moment and let CAMPO know how you feel...

    Posted by mcblogger at 11:25 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    August 23, 2007

    Tolls : A modest proposal that does not involve Carona gorging on Children

    The Statesman now thinks it's a good idea. At the federal level and we can only assume at the state level as well. Peter Stern loves it. So does Eye on Williamson.

    So, one has to wonder, why the hell the gas tax hasn't been indexed?

    There is a really simple explanation... it's a lack of courage and an inability to do the right thing, especially when it's most important. Save CHIP? Well, sort of. Save our infrastructure so that the economy can continue to grow? Sadly, no. Instead, Republicans in executive office and the Lege hide behind the non-existent 'need' for privatization and tolling. Which is why you're going to see so many Republican members of the Lege out of office next year.

    Think about that fatass Carona in Dallas. Go on, think about his twinkie-cream filled ass. Right now there are four Democrats thinking about getting in the race. Three of them actually look human, as opposed to Carona who looks like the human equivalent of a jelly doughnut.

    One of them will beat him in the general and there will be a new Senator from Dallas County. Which is my affectionate way of letting all of you know, Republicans and Democrats alike (but mostly you stupid, obstinate, inactive Republicans), that you're all expendable. And you're all threatened.

    You need to be worried because the groups and individuals aligning against you have money. And feet on the street. Republicans have been able to get away with the toll road bullshit because the industry groups that stand to benefit from them have been the only voices running PR. That's about to change.

    I gotta tell you, I'm pleased as punch. I love a good, bloody fight. Speaking of a fight, Pink Dome has some information up on the Democrat who is going to fuck Time Machine Krusee up. One has to wonder why Seabiscuit hasn't resigned yet. It almost makes me think he's kinda gutsy.

    Almost.

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    August 20, 2007

    Coming soon : Hoverboards

    Think skateboards are cool but you really want the next best thing? Think that Segway's are lame? Do you remember those badass hoverboard's from Back to the Future 2? So do the folks at Gizmodo who have the skinny on the start of the art in really cool personal transportation devices.

    Posted by mcblogger at 02:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    August 17, 2007

    GM wising up?

    Apparently, the idiots from Detriot are finally getting serious about electric cars...

    According to this here self-produced news segment straight from the phallic Detroit tower of power that is the Renaissance Center, the General is really serious about testing the Chevy Volt electric car. And if they're serious about showing us how serious they are about testing the Volt and the E-Flex system, then maybe that means they're serious about building it too. Right? Well -- In addition to the knowledge the big automaker from 'merica is now working with their vendor A123 systems on testing Li-Ion battery systems we now know thanks to GM CEO Rick Wagoner, that yes, electric vehicles really are driven by electricity.

    Posted by mcblogger at 12:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    August 09, 2007

    Tolls : Well, first you have to stop being a whiney bitch

    Senator Carona had a little 'transportation summit' during which he asked

    "What does it take to get TxDOT to listen to the will of the legislators?" he said. "It is a core attitude of arrogance that I believe still exists."

    Remind me who caved on tolling last session, Senator? Who was out beating everyone up to pass 792? Who was that?

    That's right, it was YOU!

    I thought, for a second, it was some other fat senator from Dallas but then I realized, there aren't any, other than your corpulent little self. What? You thought we'd forgotten about you? Not a chance Lard-o.

    Here's some advice if you'd like to be taken seriously (which is already hard enough given your status as a member of the Texas Legislature which is just a small step above Sonic car hop)... When you say you are going to do something, do it. Don't come back and say it was too hard or that you didn't have the power, you intimidate those that do until they cave in. Why? BECAUSE YOU'RE RIGHT. Had you been serious about shifting the gas tax, the House could have easily gone over Krusee and CradDICK's head to put that bill on the floor. You could have DECAPITATED TXDoT but you whimped out. Like the tame little fat man you are. So quit whining, Senator, and understand one fucking thing: NO ONE takes you seriously on this, least of all your constituents. It's little wonder Dick Williamson won't acknowledge you. I sure as fuck wouldn't.

    Of course, Carona wasn't the only one whining about all this...

    State senators Robert Nichols, R- Jacksonville, and Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, the only other committee members there, also fired shots.

    Nichols, who has served on the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees TxDOT, said using availability payments would be like the state co-signing private loans.

    "I'm not so sure you have the ability to do that," he said.

    After Carona noted that he couldn't make TxDOT play nice but he sure could turn up the heat, Shapiro flashed a friendly smile and chimed in: "I think he speaks for most of us."

    Oh, Bob, we could never forget that you were a member of the Texas Transportation Commission when the decisions were made on the TTC and Toll taxes. We know you voted for it and you have all the credibility on this issue that Krusee and Carona have, probably less. You and Carona make quite a pair, the biggest bitches in the state, bent over without vasoline or a kiss by 39% and Dick Williamson.

    Flo, you'll want to stay out of this altogether. You've already earned a rough re-election thanks to vouchers.

    Speaking for TxDOT, Assistant Director Amadeo Saenz and Transportation Commissioner Fred Underwood emphasized there's a severe shortage of funds, which means toll roads are needed.

    "Texas is facing enormous and rapidly increasing transportation needs," Underwood said. "Achieving our goals will require a long-term program of investment in our transportation system by state, local governments and, we believe, by private participants."

    Carona said he wasn't directing his attacks at Underwood, saying he's too new on the commission to have caused problems, or Saenz, saying he thinks the world of him.

    Oh, Senator. Do you ever stop kissing ass? Can you honestly not separate a man from the post he occupies? Saenz may be a sweetheart, but he's he's also a large part of your problem in this capacity as a director at TXDoT. Nothing personal, but if you want to save your ample ass you're going to have to take down his.

    The one thing that has consistently shocked me with the Texas Lege is the assumption that the members deserve respect. Understand something... respect is EARNED. Quit acting like 'tards and maybe you'll get some. Y'all cut through the bullshit and get us moving the right way. The first step for all of you out there looking for action? Join TURF.

    (via EOW who rocks!)

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:23 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    August 08, 2007

    Tolls : More from Dumb Perryman

    The ever stupid Ray Perryman has once again surfaced to pimp for toll roads and EOW has a great post up taking his statements apart. As always, Ray fails to mention that tolls and public/private partnerships are THE most expensive way of funding our transportation infrastructure. Who can blame him? His livelihood is in part dependent on toll roads.

    One last thing Ray fails to mention in his horrible little op-ed piece... ROADS are needed to maintain and grow the economy in Texas. Whether they are toll-tax funded or gas tax funded is largely irrelevant, save for one fact. Tolls will take more out of the pockets of consumers than a gas tax. Which means that toll roads (like the TTC ) will actually TAKE money out of the economy that could be used by Texans for Texans.

    Again, it's forgivable since Ray doesn't want to bite the hand that, in part, feeds him.

    Posted by mcblogger at 08:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    August 03, 2007

    Tolls : Can we finally talk about infrastructure?

    So, a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis-St. Paul on Thursday. An aging, decrepit part of our interstate system failed during morning rush and may ultimately claim the lives of more than 30.

    Can we finally talk about making a real investment in our infrastructure? It's not like it doesn't need it. As Mark points out at BOR, Texas has almost 200 bridges that are rated the same as the 35W bridge in M-SP, structurally deficient. Of course, this didn't happen overnight. It's been going on more decades, the legacy of 'cut taxes and borrow' Republican policies that have left local, state and federal governments without the money to make improvements to the very systems that allow us to get from home to work. Or the grocery store. Or the hospital.

    The solution, recently, has been tolls and privatization, instead of raising the gas tax. Senator Watson even talked about it with the Aus Chron and pointed out that something has to be done...

    Watson wasn't around in 2003 for the original vote on the corridor and agreements with private companies to build toll roads. But he came to the Lege with voices ringing loudly in his ear -- those of his new constituents. "Part of the reason there is this vitriolic, partisan [no-toll or toll] debate is that we haven't had a thoughtful, systematic, transparent means of analyzing what we want to do," he says. "There are clearly two agreements in this community -- one, we are too badly congested, and two, we want it fixed. When we get to three -- how to do it -- now it's not as unanimous."

    What Watson understands and others (Krusee) don't is that we are BADLY in need of the equivalent of a Manhattan Project for transportation in this country. It's going to cost 600 Billion or more. Given that, doesn't it make sense to go with the cheapest option, the gas tax?

    Posted by mcblogger at 11:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 30, 2007

    Tolls : Bipartisan coalition takes initial steps to kill TTC

    Late last week, a bipartisan majority in the House passed the Hunter-Kaptur Amendment to the 2008 Transportation Appropriations Bill.

    The House approved an amendment crafted by Kaptur, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (CA-52), a Republican, which prohibits the use of federal funds for Bush Administration officials to participate in continental working groups under the secretive Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). The proposal to create the NAFTA Super Highway has become a topic of enormous controversy in Texas and the heartland states.

    “The Hunter-Kaptur Amendment,” Kaptur said, “was a victory for openness in trade negotiations, highway safety, good wages, and fair trade policies. The grip of global corporations was loosened last night as House members cheered this amendment’s passage and its call for transparency and oversight over the Executive Branch in trade proceedings.”

    No, it's not the end of all federal money and financing for TTC. However, it's a first step that desperately needed to be taken. The next one will be changing bias at the federal level from private to public financing for transportation projects.

    Posted by mcblogger at 07:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 22, 2007

    Tolls : Innovative NW residents find way around tolls on 183A

    Apparently, cash strapped (yeah, the 'time machines' sure are expensive!) Central Texans, specifically those that live in far NW and Cedar Park, have found an inventive way to avoid the tolls on the newly completed tollway. They just decided to jump them.

    The numbers are particularly bad for the northbound all-electronic gantry, which looms over the road just north of the Lakeline Mall Drive exit. In June, 38 percent of northbound drivers in that section did not have a toll tag.

    The good news, at least for CTRMA, is that traffic is running at about 125% of the 2004 projections, making this the first toll project in the country (including the 45/1 and 130 facilities here in Austin Metro) that actually exceeded expectations. Unfortunately, what Ben Wear (seriously, ARE YOU RETARED, BEN?) didn't mention until the very end is that the toll jumpers are part of the overall traffic number. Meaning, more than 20% of the transactions have no value and the road is still being discounted to those early adopters who have tags. Of course, anyone who has seen traffic going on 183 over the last ten years could have told you that road was a good idea.

    The question is, how much are consumers going to like it when they realized just how badly they are getting fucked? You know, when they start getting the full monthly bill... Mine is still running more than $20 per month and I'm rarely on the roads.

    Posted by mcblogger at 11:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 13, 2007

    Tolls : It bears repeating...

    The toll moratorium that's not so much a toll moratorium doesn't include TTC 35.

    “The moratorium doesn’t affect TTC-35,” Williamson said. “I don’t know what else to say.”

    State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, got an assurance read into the House record for SB 792 last month that says no construction of TTC-35 projects, except for Loop 9 around Dallas-Fort Worth, would start over the next two years.

    Gov. Rick Perry’s office told her that work couldn’t start within two years anyway because environmental studies won’t be finished.

    But today, in a conference call Williamson and other officials held with reporters, Texas Department of Transportation Assistant Director Amadeo Saenz said otherwise.

    A big-picture environmental study for TTC-35 could get federal clearance this summer and the first second-phase studies to determine specific alignments could be finished in a year or year and a half, Saenz said.

    TxDOT announced two weeks ago that they’re ready to pursue 87 toll projects statewide, including three four-lane TTC-35 tollways — one from I-35 south of San Antonio to I-10 near Seguin, a segment from Austin to Dallas and another from Dallas to Oklahoma.

    Williamson said today that a construction contract could be ready within two years for the toll-road from Austin to Dallas.

    Didn't see this one coming at all...

    Posted by mcblogger at 11:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    July 06, 2007

    Tolls : Kirk Watson is a really decent guy

    You know, it's rare that a Senator who disagrees with so many of his colleagues will run interference for them, but that's exactly what Kirk is doing. This last session, there was a tremendous amount of momentum to rejuvenate transportation funding in this state and really address our problems. All that enthusiasm turned to shit by the end of the session because of two issues:

    1) Republicans are pussies when it comes to doing the right thing and raising the damn gas tax. They'd rather us all have to deal with unreasonably high corporate toll taxes.
    2) Republicans from DFW Metro are a bunch of fat candy asses (yeah, you Fatass McFaterson) when it comes to dealing with the RMA's who just happen to INTIMIDATE THEM.

    Still, Watson doesn't drop them in the grease. He takes time out of his busy summer schedule to pen an op/ed piece in the Schlockman basically saying we need to stop fighting over the 'funding tools' out our disposal and start making decisions. I couldn't agree more.

    If the environment was ever ripe for the creation of tools other than toll roads, it was during the past six months. It didn't happen. If you want less traffic and dislike toll roads, you should be disappointed.

    Instead, the state budget effectively decreased funding for the Department of Transportation, since it didn't provide enough money to keep up with double-digit inflation in the cost of road building. There was talk about raising the gas tax, or at least indexing it to inflation, and reducing the need for toll roads. But tax bills must start in the state House of Representatives, and a potential increase never made it to the floor.

    Note that he doesn't single out Krusee, CradDICK or that simpleton Chisum, all of whom played a roll in keeping that bill off the floor. And all of whom happen to be Republican. For those Republicans out there always pissed off about partisanship on the part of the Democrats, here's one Democrat who's not pointing fingers and assigning blame, no matter how richly that blame may be deserved.

    Kirk is, of course, right and honestly a bit of a MOTO for writing shit like this...

    It costs money to increase road capacity and enhance mobility. There are no free roads. And it will take generations to pay for our current needs — not to mention our future ones — using only the financing tools we've been given. That means we'll spend more and more of our lives sitting in traffic, and our children will have to fix the problems we'll leave them.

    I fear for our economy, our air quality and our quality of life if Central Texas becomes a gridlocked mess where every highway is like Interstate 35, every surface street is like Lamar Boulevard at rush hour, and every neighborhood needs speed bumps because so many drivers are desperate for a short cut.

    We have too much traffic. More people are coming. And they'll be driving cars.

    But more roads and road capacity are not coming for all of those people and cars — not without more money. And the only possibilities are gas taxes (which the Legislature has rejected), property taxes (which are unfair and already too high), toll roads and innovative growth strategies that give people options besides their cars.

    We all have a lot of work to do on this issue. We can't just pretend we can get something for nothing. Nor can we defer to an almost instinctive distaste for things like toll roads or land-use planning.

    It's time for us to honestly assess our needs and come together around tools that will meet them.

    Yes we need infrastructure. If you want to be brutally honest, we should have had this discussion in 1995. However, Laney and Bullock didn't want it and then Governor Bush was too hopped up on the exotic chemicals coming from Karl Rove's mouth to even think straight. However, we don't need to jump into a 40 year contract. We can more than afford to wait another year or two. Here are some suggestions for either the next session or, if by some miracle, a transportation special.

    1) Let the voters decide... indexed gas tax to meet transportation goals or STATE controlled and operated toll roads.
    2) Restructure TXDoT and make all transportation related offices elected, not appointed, including the metro and county levels.

    The first idea will put the decision in the hands of voters, not the Lege which is too full of stupid Republicans to ever acknowledge that taxes aren't a waste of money. It also eliminates the corporate middleman (that's called disintermediation for all you non-B school folks) who will exist not to protect taxpayers from liability, but instead to increase their liability while demanding hefty profits for a service that should be provided at cost.

    The second will make TXDoT more responsive to the people of this state. Plus, it creates a much more public platform from which a commissioner can call out the bad actions of the Lege. Or the Governor.

    The bottom line question was, is and should always be What is best for the people of Texas? The reality is that it's a broad based fuels tax that will allow the state to borrow at much cheaper rates than those available to private companies. This will allow TXDoT to dramatically expand the building of roads around the state, providing jobs and a massive amount of economic growth that will create the kind of broad-based prosperity Texans deserve. It'll also take care of pollution and traffic delays, which both Watson and I agree would be a good thing (I don't like sitting in traffic either, Kirk).

    The reality that Senator Watson is trying to make clear is that given the current republican-saturated nature of the Lege, none of this is likely to happen. We need to get him some help and we need to make sure that we don't jump from one bad situation to another.

    (h/t to EOW which has a slightly different take)

    Posted by mcblogger at 01:28 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    June 22, 2007

    Tolls : Harris County cuts congestion pricing

    Yesterday I mentioned that toll rates were going up on the Westpark Tollway in Houston Metro. Apparently, the Harris County Commissioners Court has reversed course on this and abandoned the idea. Why?

    BECAUSE IT PISSED PEOPLE OFF


    County Judge Ed Emmett announced today that the county will not double fees during peak hours on the Westpark Tollway, backing off a decision made two days earlier that was assailed by many tollway drivers and area residents.

    "We will cancel the Westpark (peak-hours) increase,'' he said.

    Member of Commissioners Court, especially Commissioner Steve Radack, have received phone calls and e-mails from residents criticizing the court's decision Tuesday to raise Westpark fees from $1 to $2.50 per transaction during peak hours.

    Rescinding Tuesday's unanimous vote by the court "was certainly influenced by the public's reaction,'' Emmett said.

    No shit, Judge. For those of you in the Lege and in county offices across the state (pay attention, Whitley) who may be thinking tolls are AWESOME, give the Harris County Commissioners a call and ask them how much fun they've had recently.

    Posted by mcblogger at 04:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    June 21, 2007

    Tolls : The moratorium that wasn't

    And now we know just how much of a moratorium was in 792. EOW has the deets on the meeting last week at which TXDoT approved 87 toll projects...

    At a special meeting in Austin, the commission authorized the Texas Department of Transportation to work with local toll entities such as regional tollway authorities, regional mobility authorities and counties to begin moving forward on 87 projects that are currently years away from being fully funded. View map of project locations.

    “These are projects that local officials have said are needed to reduce congestion but are waiting in line for funding. We want to help our local partners build the projects as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Williamson said.

    To accelerate improvements, the projects are being proposed by TxDOT for development, construction and operation as toll projects.

    In case you were wondering, elements of TTC 35 (which Corridor Watch assured us would be in the 'moratorium') are among the 87 approved projects.

    To add fuel to the anti-toll fire, HCTRA is raising tolls on all Houston area tollways. The one that will have the biggest increase (DOUBLING during rush hour) is the Westpark Tollway...

    Some drivers wondered whether commissioners have forgotten the working people.

    "There are people who have budgeted a certain amount for tolls and need to use the tollway to get to work by a certain time in the morning," said Carol Ann Shipp in an e-mail to the Chronicle. These are not affluent professionals for whom the doubling of tolls is negligible. These are hardworking middle class workers who must count every penny."

    County Commissioner Steve Radack said those who cannot afford the rush hour fees should use alternate roads.

    "Let them go down Richmond Road,'' he said. ``Or they can use Westpark,'' the surface road running nearby the tollway.

    Oh, Commissioner (Marie Antoinette) Radack! Not only have you earned yourself an opponent when you're up for re-election, you've guaranteed they'll win. It's rare that you get a chance to see a politician cut his own throat, so when it happens we sometimes miss it. I'm so glad I saw this one! It's almost like watching Krusee go down with the ship on 1892!

    In another part of the state, the NTRTC decided to save themselves and awarded the 121 Tollway to the North Texas Tollway Authority instead of Cintra. Of course, TXDoT's Dick Williamson reserves the right to overturn that and award it to Cintra who came in the lower of the two in the bidding. Why on earth would Williamson shortchange North Texas taxpayers? Simple... he's dumb enough to think that the Cintra deal is better because they've assured him they'll eat the losses if the traffic projections fail to materialize.

    Is this the same kind of 'assurance' Kolkhorst got from 39% that TTC 35 would be in the moratorium before she flipped on Amendment 13? Or, is Williamson really so stupid that he thinks Cintra's shareholders are dumb enough to come into this with their collective noses open?

    I'm betting it's the latter.

    Why? Simple. Those contracts have inflated traffic estimates. Should the traffic fail to materialize, THE PRIVATE CONTRACTOR CAN PUT THE LOSS TO THE STATE AND BE REIMBURSED. Should the traffic materialize and the road still lose money, the private contractor would be forced to eat the loss. Dick Williamson, the eternal optimist, actually thinks the traffic will materialize. Problem is, it won't. It never will and taxpayers will end up paying the tab for Dick Williamson's stupidity.

    Yes, Dick, you're an idiot. You and your patron, 39%. You boys both drive a hard bargain... it's hard as hell to get private enterprise interested in an investment where they are guaranteed not to lose a dime and instead stand to make billions. With folks like y'all in government, it's no wonder our pensions are underfunded and we can barely keep our schools open.


    Posted by mcblogger at 02:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Tolls : The moratorium that wasn't

    And now we know just how much of a moratorium was in 792. EOW has the deets on the meeting last week at which TXDoT approved 87 toll projects...

    At a special meeting in Austin, the commission authorized the Texas Department of Transportation to work with local toll entities such as regional tollway authorities, regional mobility authorities and counties to begin moving forward on 87 projects that are currently years away from being fully funded. View map of project locations.

    “These are projects that local officials have said are needed to reduce congestion but are waiting in line for funding. We want to help our local partners build the projects as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Williamson said.

    To accelerate improvements, the projects are being proposed by TxDOT for development, construction and operation as toll projects.

    In case you were wondering, elements of TTC 35 (which Corridor Watch assured us would be in the 'moratorium') are among the 87 approved projects.

    To add fuel to the anti-toll fire, HCTRA is raising tolls on all Houston area tollways. The one that will have the biggest increase (DOUBLING during rush hour) is the Westpark Tollway...

    Some drivers wondered whether commissioners have forgotten the working people.

    "There are people who have budgeted a certain amount for tolls and need to use the tollway to get to work by a certain time in the morning," said Carol Ann Shipp in an e-mail to the Chronicle. These are not affluent professionals for whom the doubling of tolls is negligible. These are hardworking middle class workers who must count every penny."

    County Commissioner Steve Radack said those who cannot afford the rush hour fees should use alternate roads.

    "Let them go down Richmond Road,'' he said. ``Or they can use Westpark,'' the surface road running nearby the tollway.

    Oh, Commissioner (Marie Antoinette) Radack! Not only have you earned yourself an opponent when you're up for re-election, you've guaranteed they'll win. It's rare that you get a chance to see a politician cut his own throat, so when it happens we sometimes miss it. I'm so glad I saw this one! It's almost like watching Krusee go down with the ship on 1892!

    In another part of the state, the NTRTC decided to save themselves and awarded the 121 Tollway to the North Texas Tollway Authority instead of Cintra. Of course, TXDoT's Dick Williamson reserves the right to overturn that and award it to Cintra who came in the lower of the two in the bidding. Why on earth would Williamson shortchange North Texas taxpayers? Simple... he's dumb enough to think that the Cintra deal is better because they've assured him they'll eat the losses if the traffic projections fail to materialize.

    Is this the same kind of 'assurance' Kolkhorst got from 39% that TTC 35 would be in the moratorium before she flipped on Amendment 13? Or, is Williamson really so stupid that he thinks Cintra's shareholders are dumb enough to come into this with their collective noses open?

    I'm betting it's the latter.

    Why? Simple. Those contracts have inflated traffic estimates. Should the traffic fail to materialize, THE PRIVATE CONTRACTOR CAN PUT THE LOSS TO THE STATE AND BE REIMBURSED. Should the traffic materialize and the road still lose money, the private contractor would be forced to eat the loss. Dick Williamson, the eternal optimist, actually thinks the traffic will materialize. Problem is, it won't. It never will and taxpayers will end up paying the tab for Dick Williamson's stupidity.

    Yes, Dick, you're an idiot. You and your patron, 39%. You boys both drive a hard bargain... it's hard as hell to get private enterprise interested in an investment where they are guaranteed not to lose a dime and instead stand to make billions. With folks like y'all in government, it's no wonder our pensions are underfunded and we can barely keep our schools open.


    Posted by mcblogger at 02:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    June 20, 2007

    Flyway or direct connector... does it really matter? Just BUILD it!

    Kuff has an interesting piece up about he construction of connectors in SA from the 281 freeway to the 410. Anyone who's been stuck in traffic in this miasma (like, I don't know, a certain someone I see every time I look in the mirror) knows this has been going on for a while and basically shrugs and says, "It's about time". I'm thrilled TXDoT is finally getting 'round to this, but Kuff's post left me with a question...

    WHY THE HELL DID IT TAKE MORE THAN 30 YEARS FOR TXDOT TO BUILD IT?!?!?!?!? Yeah, yeah, I know about the enviro's, but when all that was settled, why the hell did is still take so long?

    You're probably wondering why I'm even reading this. First, I have to drive through that area a couple of times a week and it's always irritating. Second, I live in Austin... remember all those missing flyways I mentioned a few months ago? Yeah... this same situation will crop up in Austin Metro in a few years, not 30. Which brings me to the conclusion that TXDoT has NO institutional memory and even less common sense.

    Which reminds me... has anyone done a full on audit of the tollways in Central Texas? After all, money was raised for these connectors and the only reason they weren't built, according to Bob Daigh of TXDoT, was the lack of environmental clearance. SO, what happened to the money, Bob?

    Posted by mcblogger at 02:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 30, 2007

    Tolls : Perry on SB 792

    Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

    That’s what I’ve always cared about. Frankly, I don’t care who builds roads. I want them to get built timely, I want them to get build effectively, I want them to be built as cheaply for the taxpayer’s and the users of the state of Texas as they can be. And that is what is happening in our state.

    Coulda fooled us.Seriously, 39%, if you want to go around lying you might want to do it about something no one knows a thing about. We call your bluff, asshat.

    From the Chron blog (via EOW). Picture credit to one of Pink Lady's readers who ROCKS!

    Posted by mcblogger at 10:58 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 26, 2007

    792 going to the floor today?

    We've heard that SB 792 is going to the floor of the House today. Seriously, we've talked enough about this bullshit bill. At this point the damn thing should be voted down 2-148. Come on, y'all... kills this POS and override the veto on 1892. It's time to call 39%'s bluff and really put the fear of God in Ric Williamson.

    Yeah, people are watching. Keep in mind we've been pissed for a while and are only getting angrier. You might also keep in mind that this hasn't gone away and won't. It's spreading. You either get on the right side or you get Krusee-fied. Your choice. Make the right one, please, because we've grown kinda fond of some of you.

    Not you, Krusee. You'll NEVER be invited to the parties. And the doorman will always have a pic of you with a big red X over your face.

    Posted by mcblogger at 12:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 25, 2007

    Tolls : You shouldn't be afraid of 39%, Senator Carona

    Compromise on 792? Yep. And trust us, it won't be forgotten.

    What about an override of the veto on 1892? There are still a few days left, plenty of time to tell 39% to piss off. I think the will exists in the House, but the Senate is weak. They've been intimidated by political has-beens in DFW (like that ridiculous Tarrant County Commissioner who's going to realize very soon that his political career is, in fact, over).

    For those of you who just want to understand WHY 792 is so bad, take a look at this piece on just one bad aspect of the bill, market valuation for infrastructure assets. Sounds dry as hell, right? Just take a read... it'll take you all of five minutes to see that the only possible reason for 39% to demand this be in the bill is that he's looking to enrich his friends at Cintra-Zachry (who have contributed HEAVILY to him... at least the Zachry friends) at the expense of Texas taxpayers. If you think that's not going to get much wider public knowledge in 2008, you better think again. I wasn't kidding Wednesday.

    Before I publish this, just a little funny blurb from Senator Carona in the Statesman post

    “We have far more to lose on this than the governor,” Carona said. “And he’s given in to the will of the Legislature on a great many points.”

    Actually, Senator, he's given in on little, if anything, of substance. As for having more to lose, you're right. You have your job to lose. Don't look at the Stalls. They can't help you. And neither can the walking dead politicos in North Texas you're so scared of.

    The sad thing about weak politicians is that they are NEVER scared of the folks who end up being able to do the most damage. The saddest thing is that these folks are thinking of trusting Ric Williamson and 39%. You won't be forgiven for that in 2008 and 2010, folks. If you guys think Sal Costello is bad (or are threatened by millions in oppo hits from Zachry funded PACs), you ain't seen nothing yet.

    Override the veto on 1892. Call 39%'s bluff.

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:25 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 23, 2007

    Tolls : Congress working on PPP's; Lege Blacklist; Nothing on the moratorium

  • Congress has decided they aren't so much for corporate welfare and have started the process of putting the brakes on it. You know, since the states can't stop handing it out.

    Congressional Democrats are strongly discouraging states from entering the kind of public-private partnerships that led to the lease of the Indiana Toll Road by a foreign consortium,

    Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn. and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has warned states that the committee will try to undo any agreements "that do not fully protect the public interest and the integrity of the national system."

    The committee said that could happen when Congress rewrites federal transportation programs and policies, which are funded through 2009.

    "We have become increasingly concerned with a new type of agreement that was approved for projects in Chicago and Indiana," Oberstar wrote in a May 10 letter to governors, state legislators and state transportation officials. The letter also was signed by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who heads the panel's highways and transit subcommittee.

  • There will be more on this, but a pro-toll legislative hit list is being generated as a roadmap to the Democratic and Republican primaries next year, as well as the general election in November. I'm getting this from a few different sources and no, I've not been invited to the party. One other bit of detail... funding for some of this may be coming from Washington. I do know that the group is bipartisan, smart and mad as hell.
  • No gas tax increase which is not all that curious since, as we noted before, the necessity but not the political will exists for it. Either here in Austin or in Washington. The ridiculous thing is that the federal government is going to run out of money to support highway maintenance soon. When you underinvest in infrastructure, you pay for it in economic inefficiency. Sometimes taxes are cheaper and no one is saying the money has to only come from a gas tax. How about making corporations pay for the burden they put on free roads?
  • Well, 1892 has been vetoed, but nothing it being done on over-riding it. We also know that's exactly what everyone wants. So, what about SB 792, the so-called compromise bill? Well, without Amendment 13, it's useless. So, the conference committee will likely leave it on the bill and Perry will veto it. Which means exactly nothing will change. It's hard to be disappointed when you knew what the outcome was going to be all along. Granted, I was very wrong about the moratorium even being passed. However, the end result is still the same. Nothing is going to happen until we change some of the people sitting in the seats in the House and Senate.

    Which means next year is going to be brutal for a lot of people in the Lege. Don't say we didn't warn you.

  • Posted by mcblogger at 03:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 18, 2007

    Those cunning Swiss

    Damn them! They've developed a semi-workable prototype hydrogen car and fueling system. I say semi because it's still got some kinks... like the fact that car hasn't been tested in the rain (a biggie) and that the refueling electrolyzer is the size of a garage (massive problem). Still, these innovative mountain dwellers have developed a bottom up system from scratch that works in the real world, not some DoE fantasy land. And they didn't need billions from the government to do it, GM.

    I'm still not sold on the hydrogen thing, mostly because I think by the time you get PV systems efficient enough to make electrolyzing cost competitive, you could just use them to juice batteries combined with a good capacitor system. However, those batteries are a quantum leap in materials science away. This could be developed in 5-10 years.

    And here I was thinking they just made great watches and decent chocolate.

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 09, 2007

    Tolls : Commissioner Whitley the witless; Austin CoC still bringing the stupid

  • It's been a while since the FWST has run a pro-toll opinion piece, so I guess it was time they ran another one. With the same tired and stupid talking points but this time with a new semi-celebrity author. This time, it's B. Glen Whitley, one of the Republican Tarrant County Commissioners. I should say one of the soon to be politically dead because, much like Krusee, he's sticking to this toll road pap. The sad thing is that reading his retarded op/ed, I'm unsure if he's just naive, horrendously stupid or outright lying by omission.

    A transportation disaster is impending in Texas. Current funding sources will not allow us to maintain state highways, roads and bridges, let alone build needed infrastructure to serve our growing population.

    WOW. Glen's quite the master of the obvious, isn't he? You folks up in Tarrant County must have really been snowed to have elected Mr. Smartness here.

    Proposals to increase the gasoline tax to help pay for roads have come before the Legislature this year, but neither state nor federal officials have been inclined to raise the tax in the past. It would take a hefty boost of the current 20-cent-per-gallon state tax to put Texas transportation back on track.

    Lawmakers appear unlikely to raise the gas tax sufficiently to fund all of the needed transportation projects. The additional revenue for road construction must come from somewhere, or traffic congestion will continue to worsen.

    Actually, GoodBuddyGlen, it's your party that's holding up the bills down here in Austin. CradDICK won't let the one Krusee wrote (only to say he wrote one) out of committee. Why? Because the people who stand to make the most off tolls roads are also HUGE contributors to Republicans (I'd be willing to bet some even gave to you, right Glen?) and no one wants to upset that honey pot. Just think about Zachry... they stand to make billions over decades doing nothing but collecting tolls. That's quite the deal for a construction company.

    In the short term, building highway toll lanes might be the best option available to get North Texas traffic moving and keep it that way. Even then, there are no guarantees.

    Nobody likes toll roads, and nobody likes to sit in traffic.

    We now might have an opportunity to build additional lanes and roads more quickly, using public-private toll road partnership projects such as that planned for Texas 121.

    And there it is, boys and girls. Glenda makes his case for the wonderful public-private partnerships that are designed to rape the public. He even mentions the 121 in Dallas. Which is cool because that's an interesting case of just how bad the state is at selling off assets.

    One company has agreed to spend $5 billion for the right to build and lease the Texas 121 project, with the road reverting to the region when the lease expires in several decades. This agreement provides $2.1 billion in upfront money to the Metroplex for some of its current and future transportation needs.

    Some of these improvements in Tarrant County include Interstate 35, Loop 820, Airport Freeway and the anticipated freeway interchange that includes Interstate 635, Texas 114 and Texas 121 in Grapevine.

    Local transportation officials agreed to tolls, but only if the revenue generated stays in the region -- and only if other transportation dollars continue to flow to the region as before. We must oppose any attempt to use toll dollars outside of the region in which they are collected.

    That one company was the worst of the bids, yet the state accepted it, right? Sure gives me faith in their future. Next question, Glen... why do you like deferring taxes to our children? That's what that $2 bn up front payment amounts to since tolls are a tax. You don't think the tolls on 121 are going to be huge? Just wait. No private company does something for nothing.

    Lastly, ALL the money isn't staying in North Texas which is pretty easy to understand. It's going to a private company. If you wanted all the revenue to stay in North Texas, then you should not be for public-private partnerships because part of the revenue generated for the PRIVATE company by the PUBLIC infrastructure goes to their PROFIT, never to be seen by you again.

    Seriously, it's hard to tell if you're just stupid or really sociopathic. Given that you're a county commissioner, I'm betting it's the former.

    Seriously, Glen... come down here and have a drink with me so I can buy you a clue. Tolls are ALWAYS more expensive for consumers and the only people for whom tolls are a good idea are the corporations that stand to benefit from running them. We can slice and dice the math any way you'd like and I'll still win. Because I'm right.

  • Yet AGAIN the Austin Chamber of Commerce sent out a pro-toll road piece, designed (I've heard) by Karl Rove's old company. Just like the first one, it's deceptive as hell and completely worthless. Why? Because they present tolls as an option to drivers. What they don't tell you is that they are pretty much the only new roads going up AND the only expansion option on existing roads. So you'll be feeling the pinch, regardless. Nice work, y'all. If the truth isn't working for you, just lie, exaggerate and omit all the details.

    How much money have y'all wasted on this so far? Remind me never to go into business with y'all... I don't like going broke.

  • Posted by mcblogger at 09:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 07, 2007

    Oh fuck, Warren. Don't you have anything better to do?

    In the wake of Dumbass Debbie Riddle's stupid pledge bill, Warren Chisum (R - Country Club Christian) has decided that he needs to put out a floor substitute to his bill that would allow the Bible to be taught in public schools. Apparently, Warren's got his panties in a bunch over the fact that the Public Education Committee modified his badly written (seriously, Warren... crayon? Aren't you a little old for that?) bill and added some common sense to it.

    Already this bill was known as The Soon-to-be-the-subject-of-many-lawsuits Bible Education Class. Warren's working to ensure that it's the dead as soon as Perry signs it. All so Warren can look like he loves him some Jesus.

    Jesus didn't care much for hypocrites, Warren. Just ask Debbie. Do you think she looks that way on accident?

    Posted by mcblogger at 08:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Tolls : Bring on the Endless Summer

    Kuff and Burka both think we're destined for an endless legislative summer. The story goes that since the Lege will likely override the veto, 39% will call Special after Special until the Lege finally works out a solution for transportation funding. For what it's worth (likely not much since the only people who pay attention to us are those who drink a lot. Or are at bars while reading this... love y'all), the interesting part is not whether or not the veto is overridden, it's who will vote to override 39%.

    After talking to a certain candidate earlier tonight, I'm betting Carona, Ogden and Nichols all bail on the veto override vote.

    Posted by mcblogger at 10:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    May 04, 2007

    Tolls : TXDoT overestimated? Say it ain't so...& Moratorium fun

    BOR's Jose Blasquez has a post up regarding an article on the SAEN website showing that TXDoT's estimate $86 Bn funding gap (the reason we need all these 'public private partnerships) is about $46 Bn OVERSTATED.

    Half of the state's estimated $86 billion shortfall for transportation projects — part of its most sacred argument for toll roads — is either wrong, couldn't be verified or is a shot in the dark, says an audit report released today.

    The State Auditor's Office took a close look at the Texas Department of Transportation's $86 billion funding gap through 2030 and had this to say about $46 billion of it:

    • At least $8.6 billion was overstated because Austin transportation planners mistakenly added in $3.7 billion extra for freeway interchanges ... whoops ... and included $4.9 billion for road reconstruction and freight rail relocation that they shouldn't have.

    • Another $27.92 billion couldn't be verified because officials in Houston, El Paso, Lubbock, Corpus Christi and Hidalgo County didn't keep documents. Only San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth numbers checked out OK, with reported gaps of $8.4 billion and $21.8 billion.

    Another $9 billion was a wild guess — TxDOT looked at costs for planned projects in the state's other 17 urban areas and figured twice as much might need to be done.

    "The methodology the department used to calculate the amount of the funding gap provides a general assessment of the statewide need ... however, it may not be reliable for making policy or funding decisions," the report states.

    TxDOT says their next try will be better.

    "The State Auditor's Office has provided some good suggestions ... to draw a clearer picture of the state's mobility needs and we are incorporating their recommendations into our future assessments," TxDOT Director Michael Behrens said.

    Critics say there's no real proof that there's a transportation crisis.

    "This is exactly the kind of loose and careless attention to detail that should worry everyone about TxDOT's rush into public-private partnerships," said David and Linda Stall of CorridorWatch.org.

    There WAS a blurb at the end from some douche for Texas for Safe Reliable Transportation (remember them?) which I didn't include because they are too full of shit, especially for a blog of our quality.

    Yes, I totally wrote that. As retarded as I can be about fake interviews and PSA's, I would never think to put forward crap as outlandish as those people. Oh yeah, the TTC is totally the only we can save the state. Whatev.

    Come on, Lege! Pass the gas tax index and let's get things moving! A great start would be to override 39%'s weak ass veto when the bitch delivers it. Keep in mind, transportation funding is STILL weak and needs to be fixed. Why not make that step two?

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:35 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 30, 2007

    Tolls : You're not going to lose federal funding, 39%

    Well, Mikey asked one of his pals at the Federal Highway Admin to write a letter that would scare the shit out of the Lege and TXDoT. Basically, it said that the moratorium bills, as structured, might cause Texas to lose federal highway funds because they devolve project control to local and regional governments/agencies. The letter also congratulated Texas for leading the nation in public private partnerships, the euphemism most used by Republicans for 'selling off assets for pennies on the dollar'. The other, less popular phrase is 'corporate welfare'.

    The really sad part? The braintrust at TXDoT is selling off the assets on the cheap. Oh sure, they talk about the billions they are getting up front. However, compared to the tens of billions to be made, even a first year B school student can tell you that our state officials are being very stupid about their decision making. So much for the business acumen of the current crop of Republican appointees.

    The Republicans crow endlessly about how tolls are less regressive than a gas tax. However, what they don't tell you is that that's only true if there are real free alternatives. Since these deals restrict improvements (either to existing roads or building new freeways) and are going to be done all over the state, they'll catch everyone. Just like a gas tax. Shall we dive back into the math again? Oh, yes... lets...

    Let's say you drive on a toll road 10 miles per day, pretty reasonable for a large percentage of the population in Texas, and the tolls are set at 12 cents/mile (which is super low... they are actually far higher in Austin). Let's also stipulate that to do away with tolls altogether we'd need to raise the gas tax to 80 cents/gallon. Your commute with tolls will cost you $1.20 per day. With the gas tax, assuming you get 20 miles per gallon, you'd pay 40 cents per day. Even if you went to A&M, 40 cents is cheaper than $1.20.

    You'll also hear the Republicans go on and on about 'not raising taxes'. Go reread the last two paragraphs. If it's going to apply to everyone, it's a tax... even if it is paid to a private company with the blessing of Ric Williamson.

    Now, back to the letter from the Feds... in it, the functionary that Krusee got to write the letter says that Texas might lose funds since the projects are controlled at the local level and they may not comply with federal enviro standards. Which is crap because EVERYTHING that uses federal money has to comply with federal standards, environmental and otherwise. Trust me, this guy at the Transportation Dept. won't be around after January, 2009. Seriously, pal, you cut your own throat trying to help Krusee.

    The letter also blathers on about delays causing Texas to fall into air quality noncompliance which would jeopardize federal highway money. And 39% is all concerned about that. Which is funny because he sure as shit wasn't when TXU was trying to push through those ridiculous coal fired power plants. In truth, the environment isn't really 39%'s concern, it's HUGE Republican contributors like Zachry Construction that stand to make BILLIONS off the privatization of Texas roads. With each step the Lege takes, they see that money circling the drain and they need their bitch (39%, in case you weren't paying attention) to step up and save the day. Thus, the scary bullshit about losing money and polluting the air, all of which is utter nonsense...

    “I will review this bill carefully because we cannot have public policy in this state that shuts down road construction, kills jobs, harms air quality, prevents access to federal highway dollars, and creates an environment within local government that is ripe for political corruption.”

    Veto it, 39%. They'll override and in two years we'll back here again fixing the mess the Republicans made this time by keeping PPP's and tolling in place. The good thing is that this debate is showing those opposed to tolls who their real friends are. And they aren't fucking Republican.

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:16 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 25, 2007

    Transportation : Krusee sho do love him some gas tax and tolling MoPac

  • Remember a while back when Mikey Krusee (R - Politically Dead Man Walking) was all about the gas tax? Turns out not so much. His very own bill has been stuck in Ways and Means since February. Of course, Krusee's attitude is that constituents are bitching all the time and he frankly doesn't really need to listen to them. I'm sure the people of WillCo will be reversing him on that next year.
  • The author is listed as 'Statesman Staff' but it's pure Kelso...

    What a relief for the tourist. It's now easier to find Hutto than ever before because the Texas Department of Transportation on Friday unveiled a Hutto exit sign on Texas 130.

    "Hutto Next 2 Exits," says the green and white sign about a mile north of U.S. 79. Yes, Hutto has grown so big that it needs two exits: one for Upper Hutto and one for Lower Hutto, or Baja Hutto.

    There's no doubt that travelers should be alerted that Hutto is just ahead. "We have Home Depot and a Sonic and lots of nail salons," said Debbie Holland, Hutto's mayor pro tem. She points out that Hutto had just 680 people when she moved there in 1977 and that it has 17,000 now.

    About 25 miles northeast of Austin in Williamson County, Hutto suddenly finds itself dotted with Chili's, AutoZone, Jiffy Lube, Wachovia, Taco Bell, McDonald's, Quiznos, a pawn shop, a karate studio, Dollar General and all that other chain stuff you thought you could avoid if you drove 25 miles northeast of Austin. Ah, for the good old days, when you knew you were in Hutto when you saw Snuffy's Bar & Grill out the car window.

    In case you were wondering, people of WillCo, this is what Krusee has been working on this session

  • On the Moratorium front, EOW and Kuff have been keeping track of the bills and where they stand. At this point, it's almost as if the Lege is playing to run out the clock. In other words, they probably won't get a bill to Perry before the drop dead date. Perry has a set amount of time to do something with legislation sent to him. If the Lege gets the transportation bill to him in time, there will still be enough time before sine die to override the veto. However, that's beginning to appear unlikely due to feet dragging in the Senate.

    Texas needs roads. We need a rational funding mechanism for it that best utilizes public resources. It's time for y'all to get off your asses and do something.

  • There's more from EOW including a great article from the SAEN by Terri Hall that's as reasoned and balanced an argument AGAINST road privatization as I have seen.

    The Texas Department of Transportation promises toll rates of 12 cents to 15 cents a mile, but the reality has been 44 cents up to $1.50 per mile on similar projects that just opened in Austin. When TxDOT has admitted it costs 11 cents to collect the tolls, it can’t possibly cover the operation or maintenance of that road with 12-cent to 15-cent tolls, much less pay the private toll operator its guaranteed 12 percent profit.

    In fact, TxDOT’s mantra is that the private company will charge “market rate,” which essentially means tolls without limit since there will be few, if any, alternatives. Bottom line: Using CDA private toll contracts is the most expensive option for motorists. Yet the governor and his cronies claim they’re doing all this without raising taxes.

    […]

    Since an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure, let’s revisit the gas tax to prevent this shady widespread shift to private tolling and be done with it.

  • Lastly, are tolls coming to MoPac? According to the Statesman, that's exactly what it being planned one of the two north/south freeways in Austin. Honestly, this is a stop-gap measure to deal with traffic that's been forced onto MoPac because of chronic congestion on 35. Chronic congestion that could be dramatically alleviated with NO TOLLS ON 130. I'm not averse to managed lanes in principle if the money is used to fund expansion of alternatives AND if the money doesn't go to a private contractor. Lest you think me a 'all freeways, all the time' guy, by alternatives I'm including rail.

    The safety issues are my biggest concern.

    But as with so many questions about highway safety, any comparison to what might happen with MoPac's managed lanes is necessarily inexact. The state Transportation Department, to some degree because of experience with the Dallas HOV lanes, would build the Austin lanes differently.

    On those two Dallas highways, the only separation between the HOV lane and the regular lanes is a double stripe painted on the pavement. Signs tell drivers not to cross those solid double stripes, that movement from the HOV lane to the inside regular lane is supposed to occur only every mile or so, when there is an access point indicated by a dashed line.

    On MoPac, the managed lane would be segregated from the regular lanes by a series of closely spaced, flexible plastic pylons. At entry or exit points — and there would be only five, aside from the southern and northern ends — there would be a gap in the pylons of about 1,200 feet, about a quarter-mile, where people could make the lane change.

    The reality in Dallas, according to the 2004 report, is that many people have ignored those signs, weaving in and out of the managed lane in efforts to gain advantage or (in the case of people driving alone who are illegally in the HOV lane) to avoid being caught and ticketed. Most of the accidents, Cooner said, occurred because of that rampant lane changing.

    The fundamental problem is that cars in the HOV lanes at rush hour, by and large, are going 30 to 35 miles per hour faster than cars in the regular lanes, Cooner said. That speed differential makes lane changes more problematic than on a normal freeway, where everyone typically is traveling at the same speed.

    Of course, in the article even TXDoT acknowledges that something has to be done long term to alleviate traffic on MoPac. Daigh, the Austin District Engineer, thinks it's all about making it to Austin's version of Central Expressway. Bob Daigh, you're kinda dumb. If you'll pull the damn tolls off 130 you'll move a LARGE percentage of traffic of 35. That will allow the people clogging MoPac to use it instead. It's really very simple. Pulling 30% of the current traffic on 35 onto 130 will make Austin a much nicer place to live.

    How about a common sense compromise... Between the hours of 6:30-10:00 am and 3:30-7:30 pm you guys wipe away the tolls on 130. The rest of the time, you can toll them to your hearts content.

    Of course, you'd have to abrogate the contract y'all just signed with Cintra. Which is what you should do anyway.

  • Posted by mcblogger at 02:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 17, 2007

    Tolls : Laura and Clear Channel love them; Cornyn the enabler; Legislative cowardice

  • Dallas Progress has done some interesting work on the Trinity Toll Road in Dallas. This is the great (great!) toll road that will be built along with parks and a lake in the Trinity Floodplain. That's right, they are going to build a road in the damn floodplain. Nice idea, fuckwits. The cheerleader for this ridiculous plan? The much hated Laura Miller, queen supreme of bad ideas. The only things that would make tolls palatable to people are if the money STAYED COMPLETELY IN TEXAS (no public/private partnerships) and if the tolls went away when the bonds used to build the roads are paid. Laura shits on both ideas. I guess Miller has decided she doesn't want to run for higher office.

    On the issue of toll roads having their toll booths removed once the road costs are paid in full (like it used to be):

    "Those days are over....there's never going to happen that we're going to build toll lanes when a toll disappears (her bad grammar, not mine)."

    See Laura talk. See Laura stumble. See Laura become unelectable. It's a shame, really. Sure, Laura's a waste of space and roundly hated. However, like most electeds at the local and county level, she's bought into this 'no roads or toll roads' BS, instead of calling out the horrendous actions of Republicans in the Lege (like Krusee) who haven't done a damn thing for transportation funding.

  • Laura Miller's not the only one loving tolls roads... so is Clear Channel which has decided to run billboards around the state that are pro-TTC on behalf of Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation. Remember them? Yeah, I thought you would... industry shills trying to run a second rate PR campaign and failing miserably. Losers. No matter how y'all try to sell it, reality is reality and everyone knows tolls are the most expensive way of paying for infrastructure... especially if you privatize the roads.
  • Matt over at BOR has a great piece up on what enabled this whole toll road mess off, a memo written by John Corpsyn when we was AG.

    John Cornyn created the Trans-Texas Corridor. In a 7 page Attorney General's opinion, former Attorney General of Texas, John Cornyn created the rules that created the toll roads.

    In his March 13, 2001 decision, Cornyn bends and ignores rule after rule in our state constitution. Cornyn, bent the rules to allow federal funds to be used for state toll roads.

    TxDOT was allowed to use taxpayer funds to build toll roads with only one requirement-- eventually all money had to be paid back. There is no deadline. There is no payment plan. All the opinion says is, all money has to be paid back… eventually.

    Let me guess... it won't ever be repaid? What's worse, the financing the companies are lining up to build these roads is, in part, backed by taxpayers. If they default, we get stuck with the bill. Sounds like a good deal for the private companies, doesn't it? Or you could call it 'corporate welfare' which is way more accurate.

  • Finally, Eye on Williamson has an article posted regarding legislative cowardice in raising the gas tax which has put us in the spot we're in now.

    The concept of long-term leases, however, takes that approach to a whole ‘nother level. In Indiana, Texas and elsewhere, government is putting its captive market of toll-paying travelers in the hands of a private company, which is free to generate new revenue by jacking those tolls higher than elected officials would dare.

    That’s where the “free money” paid to state governments really comes from — higher tolls paid by their own citizens.

    The long-term leases offer a way for government to privatize a tax hike. Even worse, that higher tax will be paid solely by the users of those toll roads, while revenues from that project benefit the entire state.

    Don't forget, while you're reading all this, that here in Texas toll roads are going to be EVERYWHERE and catch EVERYONE. Given that, the gas tax is hands down cheaper, less regressive and a better use of taxpayer resources. The Democrats sure as hell get it and more than a few Republicans. So why aren't we talking about an increase in the gas tax? Trust me, raise it and any challenger that raises up, you can slap back down. It's simple. For you, it was an issue of asking people to pay an extra 1 cent per mile, vs. 25 cents per mile. Your audience will understand.

  • Have a goodun!

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 11, 2007

    Tolls : When Krusee loses, Texas wins

    Well, while we may not have been able to liveblog the floor action, the always excellent Eye on Williamson and Capitol Annex were and both have excellent recaps up. In the end, Kolkhorst's Amendment survived even the evil machinations of Mikey Krusee and was passed, 134 -5-2. Now it's on to the Senate where it will likely pass in a similar, if not identical, version which will then (more than likely) be vetoed by 39%.

    Kinda anti-climatic, no?

    We're not jazzed about the composition of the committee and the fact that 39% gets to name anyone to it. As far as we're concerned, 39% should be left out of the decision making process entirely as his decisions to date have been completely disastrous for Texans.

    Posted by mcblogger at 01:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 10, 2007

    Toll moratorium on the floor of the House...

    The House has taken up the toll moratorium... Faith over at Texas Kaos has the deets and contact information for our electeds. I'll have a recap later this evening or manana.

    Don't think for a minute we aren't paying attention just because we aren't liveblogging this...

    Posted by mcblogger at 02:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    April 06, 2007

    Tolls : The 130 Tollway is sold and 39% can't stop spouting stupid

    ...well, 'leased' at any rate. Which is a bit like saying that someone who's dead is just 'napping until Christ returns to the Earth'. Good to know that while the Lege diddles around not accomplishing much of anything to fix transportation in Texas, TXDoT is moving full steam ahead with their horrendously ill-conceived privatization scheme.

    Meanwhile, 39% and some lackey from the Bush Administration were wandering around talking about how badly Texas needs tollroads. What they failed to mention was that private tollroads are the worst possible solution to the problem of transportation finance (far more expensive for the taxpayer). Of course, it didn't really matter since no one pays attention to what 39% says. However, one would FOR ONCE like to see a reporter actually call him out regarding the fact that these private toll roads, advertised as an innovative way to finance roads, are in reality nothing more than CORPORATE WELFARE.

    So, Republicans HATE welfare when it helps the poor but they love it when it helps incredibly wealthy corporations and squeezes the hell out of taxpayers.

    “Our message today is that building needed infrastructure is essential to creating jobs and attracting economic development investments in Texas. And you can’t accomplish that with a two-year moratorium on needed road projects,” Perry said.

    As if ANYONE needs a gimp like 39% to tell them that roads = jobs and economic growth. We all know that, you blow dried shitstain. I mean really, is there anyone left in the state who doesn't realize we need to start making a massive investment in infrastructure?

    In the 1950's, when Eisenhower first got the Interstate Highway System approved, there was discussion about tolling it instead of financing it through taxes. That discussion mostly ended when the electeds realized tolls were too expensive. Only in today's environment of stupidity created by Republican leadership (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one) in Texas has this retarded idea found true believers.

    We're watching. We're pissed. The more we learn about things and the more you try to talk it up the more agitated people get. 39%'s last two years in office are going to be brutal with a Democratic House undoing everything he's worked so hard to achieve. Hell, if things keep going this way, Democrats might even take back the Senate. Think it won't happen? Replay 2006 in your head.

    Just wait. This is a good start, but the House version still needs to come out of Krusee's committee and then survive 39%'s veto.

    Posted by mcblogger at 10:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 29, 2007

    Toll Road Madness

    Via EOW...

    To Senator Carona and our Texas Lawmakers,

    You have a chance to actually stand up for all Texans and stop the surge of selling our roads to private companies and selling out drivers to be at the mercy of excessive price-gouging professionals. It seemed like politicians were actually listening to the many, many people who are outraged about being tolled to death by private companies and TxDOT. With a huge majority of leaders in the Senate and in the House already signed on to stop Toll Fever, I cannot for the life of me figure out why the brakes have been applied. We don’t want tollroads, no matter who builds them. We do not want to drive around with cameras pointed at our butts, then receive 10 bills from 10 different toll companies with 10 different fees/charges.

    It is very simple and the public gets it: TxDot needs money and tollroads/TTC are the quickest way to get resources for other projects. This upfront money will then be used for other projects around Texas. Threats of “delayed projects” have started making the papers. Have you seen the $1.00 charge for “invoice fee” at the bottom of a toll bill? What about the rumored $1.50 “camera fee”? What other hidden charges or increases can we expect from these For-Profit companies?

    I have three of the same form letters from Gov. Rick Perry saying that “to convert an existing tollroad into a tollroad the public has to vote on it”. WHAT VOTE? Is this letter referring back to vote back in 2001 (Amendment 15) in which the governor loves to say that “we voted for tollroads all across Texas” and the “conversion to toll vote”? Put it very clearly on the next state ballot and see what your answer will be!

    Don’t we have a $13 billion surplus? There are other forms of taxation or revenue that the state needs to look at first. Also, if we’re embracing public-private partnerships, why not let corporations “sponsor” our roadways instead of OWN them? Example: the ExxonMobil I35 Interstate. Let them pay millions to have their name/signs, while we still get to keep our state road system.

    It took decades for our Texas Highway system to be outdated, mismanaged, or ignored. Interstate 35 has been 2 lanes since the 1960’s! We’re not buying the threat of “delayed projects” as an excuse for TxDOT/politicians to get in bed with for-profit only companies. Private tollroads and the TTC are the biggest and most shameful Land-and-Money Grabs that Texas has ever seen! Why do you think so many people (Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and former apathetic voters) are furious and loudly speaking out? But, ……… are you listening?

    You have a choice:
    a) Side with Private Business, Special Interests Groups, Lobbyists
    b) Side with THE PEOPLE OF YOUR STATE

    We are watching very, very closely. What’s it going to be?

    Linda Lancaster

    WOW. What she said.

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:31 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 27, 2007

    When Reason just don't make no sense

    Few things will anger me more than disingenuous arguments in support of toll roads. Kuff pointed me to an op/ed piece in the HouChron by Geoffrey Segal, director of government reform at the Reason Foundation. These were the same fucko's who thought utility deregulation would be a smashing success. Even CATO doesn't say that any more.

    So, before we go into debunking his actual arguments let's all admit that the idiot has no credibility. It will be interesting to see how much money interested parties gave Reason last year. Trust me, that's the MO... there will more than likely be a donation from a construction company or financier that is depending on the corporate welfare of the 'public-private partnerships' for future profits. That's reality. Reason touts this as freeing the market from government control when in reality it is nothing more than funneling public funds to private corporations. I'm thinking not so much. In fact most people agree with it's a super bad idea. For an organization that cares so much about free enterprise one has to wonder why they are so interested in giving welfare to anyone.

    Of course, we should actually look at what Geoff wrote:

    It seems many of the state Texas legislators who want to delay toll roads until 2009, at the earliest, have forgotten why the governor, Legislature and Texas Transportation Commission agreed to allow state and local agencies to partner with the private sector in the first place: TxDOT The Texas Department of Transportation is short $86 billion it needs to meet its congestion reduction goals as the state Texas adds another 13 million residents over the next two decades.

    State lawmakers could raise the gas tax, which is supposed to pay for roads. But because of inflation and more fuel efficient vehicles, the 20 cents per gallon tax isn't even enough to maintain existing roads, let alone build needed new highways. Lawmakers haven't raised the gas tax since 1991 and show no signs of wanting to push the massive tax increase that would be needed to produce $86 billion.

    Remember the $86 bn estimate that TTI pooped all over? Kuff does. So do I. So why would the douche from Reason not remember that it had been debunked? Possibly because it makes for a less interesting op/ed and by 'less interesting' I mean 'thoroughly unconvincing'.

    EVERYONE realizes the gas tax is the better alternative to private toll roads. Except Krusee who's still fixated on how regressive gas taxes are and still pimping that straw man argument that tolls primarily effect those in the suburbs.

    As for the raising the gasoline tax, Krusee said he was okay with that. But he added that he was going to make sure his colleagues knew that it was one of the most “regressive taxes” on the planet. He said most of the toll roads on the drawing board will benefit people living in the suburbs, who for the most part are affluent Republicans. “When we do a fuel tax, people in the inner city are not only subsidizing people who live in the suburbs, but they’re also subsidizing NAFTA trucks carrying goods from Monterrey to Chicago.”

    We addressed that, Mikey. Guess you were too busy on a time machine to notice. The one thing even the normally progressive Texas Observer forgot to think about is that these roads are going to be built EVERYWHERE. We're all going to be driving on them. Given that it catches all segments of the population, doesn't it make more sense to spread the burden as cheaply as possible. One thing that never gets mentioned regarding the gas tax is that it, much like tolls, it's more expensive for those who use the roads the most.

    Either way we are going to be paying usage fees. Given that, just being smart would necessitate going with the option that gives you the most road for your buck, the gas tax. Of course, the Lege has never really been interested in doing the smart thing.

    Posted by mcblogger at 10:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 22, 2007

    Toll Road Nutty

    Every once in a while, my mother loses it in a really ugly way. It's usually regarding a stressful time like Christmas, Thanksgiving or Last Call. My sister and I refer to the event as 'a nutty'. We usually append it with the event name (e.g., Christmas nutty) and will occasionally reference really heinous ones (like the Thanksgiving, 2003 nutty or The Library nutty) by date of occurrence or location. What makes it so funny is that the nutty is normally of short duration and afterward she's OK. I guess you could call it cathartic. Barfly and I just refer to it as time to get the hell out of the way.

    Now I feel like taking a moment for my own little nutty over toll road bullshit. Which moron in Dallas city government decided to build a tollway IN THE TRINITY FLOODPLAIN? From what I've read so far on this stupid idea, the project was sold to voters in 1998 as a parkway combined with the Trinity River project. Now it's morphed into a toll road? Fortunately, Dallas Progress and others are calling bullshit loudly. Allow me to chime in: BUILDING ROADS IN A FLOOD PLAIN IS A DUMB IDEA.

    Next up, EOW has some great stuff up regarding the Lege and what's expected to happen in the battle royale between Krusee and Carona. Then they posted about Ben Wear's newest column (mad props to EOW for even reading Wear) in which he writes:

    For a number of reasons — campaign trail grumbling last year, disputes with Dallas and Houston toll road agencies, lack of deference to legislators by Texas transportation commissioners, turf battles over huge pots of money suddenly coming Texas’ way — the Legislature has been gripped by a sort of March madness over tollways, particularly those that would be in private hands for a half-century.What remains to be seen is what the madness will lead to by the end of the session May 28. As transportation chairman, Krusee can, in theory, block most legislation seeking to roll back tollway powers. And Perry could veto whatever makes it to his desk.

    But more than two-thirds of the Legislature has signed on to legislation that would put a two-year moratorium on concessions, contracts with private companies to build and run toll roads. Dozens of other bills limiting tollway powers have been filed. And powerful legislators, including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, are talking about using the power of the purse to curb the Transportation Department.

    Perry and Krusee may have no choice but to make concessions on concessions and on other prongs of their toll road agenda.

    Watch the budget,” Ogden said. “At the end of the day, TxDOT can’t spend a dime without our permission. So, watch the budget.”

    The reality is that Perry will probably veto any bill, even the compromise being sought by Krusee and Williamson both of whom are politically dead men walking. That last bit of information may come as a surprise, but it's reality. Given that, I'm thinking neither will be willing to do much of anything to protect Texas taxpayers from being taken advantage of by the very laws they helped shepherd through the Lege in 2003. Which is why, in 2008, Democrats will retake the Lege and soon after things will start to change. The bottom line is that all Texans want roads. What they do not want are extremely expensive toll taxes and corporate welfare which are the only things the Perry, CradDICK, Krusee and Williamson offer.

    How much money is being spent to fund the pro-TTC PR campaign going on? I know billboards aren't cheap. I also know that with each new op/ed and advertisement, opposition grows to toll roads across all Texans - Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

    If, however, by some miracle Krusee does let the bills through they appear to be 'veto proof'. Which completes the emasculation of Rick Perry which CradDICK started with such zeal in 2003.


    Posted by mcblogger at 02:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    March 14, 2007

    McCombs loves him some TTC, Ford Taurus

    So, Red McCombs, Ford Dealer extraordinaire, has penned a retarded little op/ed for the Schlockman (which is evidently in a race to the bottom with the Fort Worth Star Telegram) in which he's listed as a 'special contributor' instead of the far more appropriate 'used car salesman'.

    That's right! He's a CAR SALESMAN. Who the hell cares what the man who tries to sell you clearcoat thinks about transportation??!?!? He picked Ford's to sell... enough said about his intelligence. Red McComb's apparently a very passionate man. He's wild about tollroads. Red, now that I think about it, is kinda trash (sorry, it's the Ford thing... I hate Fords. They're just soooo lame). He's also a little bit senile (what is he, 90?)

    By utilizing toll roads and private investment along with traditional funding methods, Texas can get more roads built faster and without a significant tax increase.

    By using public-private partnerships or comprehensive development partnerships like the $5 billion Texas 121 project, the state would have the resources for additional road projects because of the billions private companies are willing to pay to build and manage user-financed toll roads.

    Red, no joke, how many times are we going to do this before you decide to pay attention? The public/private partnerships are just corporate welfare, nothing more. It's taking money out people's pockets and putting it onto the P&L of a foreign company. As for your declaration about a 'significant tax increase', if we make both tolls and gas taxes comparable to one another, working them on a per gallon basis, TOLLS ARE THE MORE EXPENSIVE TAX. That's important, Red... TOLLS ARE A TAX. Whether you are paying it to Cintra or the State of Texas, it's a tax.

    Here's a simple example... in the real world, where WE live, tolls are averaging $0.20/mile. My car gets around 20 miles per gallon so my toll tax equivalent is $4.00 PER GALLON on the toll roads around Austin Metro... at least on the ones that the slow ass people have managed to open. The increase in the gas tax needed to fund transportation? Well, if you listen to the TTI (which, evidently, Red doesn't do because he doesn't like people smarter than himself) you can do it pay as you go by raising the gas tax by $0.31. 31 CENTS vs. $4.00 per gallon.

    Gee, Red, which do you think is cheaper? Which is the better deal for consumers? Since the tolls roads are going to be everywhere, just a like a gas tax, we'll all get caught in it. Doesn't it make more sense to go with the cheaper alternative?

    As for privatization schemes, we went over this last week so I'll not belabor the point except to say that no for-profit company is altruistic... most of the time, it's against the interests of their shareholders. When you factor in the need for a private company to make a profit, you soak up ANY efficiency from moving management from the public to private sector.

    By using public-private partnerships or comprehensive development partnerships like the $5 billion Texas 121 project, the state would have the resources for additional road projects because of the billions private companies are willing to pay to build and manage user-financed toll roads.

    Oh, Red. you mention this just as we find out that TXDoT sold out on the cheap. These guys can't even privatize correctly.

    We've heard a lot about privatization over the last 26 years. Sometimes it works, usually it doesn't. It's also rarely cheaper for consumers and taxpayers. You can't get something for nothing which is exactly what toll roads (and those who, like Red McCombs, support them) promise. In the final analysis, the private sector can be just as sloppy and mismanaged as the public sector. Just look at Enron.

    This has made me wonder if Red McCombs has invested in Cintra? In Zachry? Come on, Red! Tell us, pal! Do you stand, in one way or another, to gain from the construction of toll roads?

    Eye on Williamson has more on McComb's ridiculous argument regarding anti-tollers wanting to do nothing. The reality is that we all know roads must be built. The problem is, we're the only ones not lying about how they should be financed.

    I guess that's because none of us stand to gain from tolls. We actually care more about our fellow Texans than we do about a Spanish company.

    Posted by mcblogger at 11:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 08, 2007

    That's good. THIS would be better

    I would like to congratulate the Senators who have signed on to the bill to halt the TTC. I've little doubt that it's mostly symbolic since Krusee will end up killing Kolkhorst's bill in the House. So, you need to know this will come back in 2008 and we'll all be waiting to see what happens.

    Somervell County Salon (which, by the way, has a ton of video up from the hearing and march last week) is channeling the Waxahachie Daily Light...

    On Monday, state Sen. Robert Nichols filed legislation that would immediately halt any further public-private partnerships or comprehensive development agreements from taking place, according to a press release from San Antonio Toll Party, an activist group in opposition of such measures.

    Note 'any further public-private partnerships or comprehensive development agreements from taking place'. What about those already signed? Are you just going to allow them to stand? You're the State of Texas. Abrogate the existing contracts. You guys are so scared of your own shadows that you don't even realize how much power you have. What the hell would Zachry do? Sue? Even if they win a settlement, just don't pay it. Hell, there are people who won money in lawsuits against the state in the 1970's that STILL HAVEN'T BEEN PAID. In the meantime, as the litigation wends it way through the courts, they certainly don't have to be awarded any contracts, do they?

    I understand that Zachry's been a big contributor to some of y'all, but you need to know exactly how much of liability they are going to be going forward. Contributions from them will become poisonous, just like those from Leininger. It goes for both Republicans and Democrats... it'll get used against you in a primary, then in the general should you not be taken out during the primary. It'll never go away...

    If I were running Zachry, I'd back off the TTC and tolls fast and change the name of the company. I don't think any of you understand just what a PR disaster this all is. You'll overcome it eventually but it's going to be tough and it'll take years.

    I almost feel sorry for y'all. It's going to get much worse before it gets better. God help you all when Krusee kills this in the House.


    Posted by mcblogger at 10:08 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 07, 2007

    Was the Op/Ed section of the Star-Telegram brown?

    With bullshit like this, it would have to be. The Star-Telegram published an editorial from someone who is, to put it bluntly, extremely disingenuous. This isn't the first time the First Lady of Fort Worth journalism has published a questionable op/ed piece by someone in the industry. I'm more surprised that they'd do it again after being called out the first time.

    I would think one bout of looking like an ass would have been enough for the Star-Telegram editors. Turns out, it's not.

    Let's look at this odious piece of trash...

    First, according to an editorial in Wednesday's USA Today, traffic congestion cost $63 billion in lost productivity and additional gas in 2003, not including the 18.4-cent federal gas tax or other state and local transportation taxes. In other words, relief of traffic congestion is good for drivers' psychological and financial health.

    Congestion is a bitch. Roads and public transportation are the solution. The method used to pay or them is largely irrelevant. This is approaching the millionth time I've heard toll roads conflated with easing congestion. It's also the millionth time pro-toll forces have looked like idiots. You'd think they would learn from the mistakes of the irredeemably stupid Ray Perryman.

    Second, as Star-Telegram reporter Gordon Dickson wrote last month, state transportation officials reject as absurd the claim of some toll critics that an 8-cent-per-gallon increase in the gas tax could finance regional transportation needs. The actual number, according to state officials paid to calculate these costs, is $1.40 per gallon, which would increase the price of gasoline to more than $3.70 per gallon today. How could this help the poor?

    Oh, yes... tolls are cheaper. This is an outright lie. For one thing, the tolls are going to run at least 12 cents per mile (as we've seen in Austin, sometimes they are MUCH more expensive). At 20 miles per gallon, that's a gas tax equivalent of $2.40 per gallon. Even if the State's ridiculous estimate were correct, a gas tax would STILL be CHEAPER than tolls, by at least $1.00 per gallon. That's reality, and I'd like to see Mr. Erler deny that.

    However, we all know that the state's estimate is way off and completely meaningless. Why? Because, unlike Mr. Erler, we actually did some research. Bottom line, tolls are ALWAYS going to be more expensive than a gas tax. Period. The State's numbers are 'engineered' to come to a preconceived conclusion. Instead of just blindly accepting them, Mr. Erler, why not actually investigate the assumptions used? Those assumptions include a PROFIT for a private contractor that is paid EVEN UNDER A GAS TAX MODEL. Why would we be paying for that if we shift gears and ditch the tolls and the CDA's?

    I'm going to stick to the TTI numbers. They are accurate and unbiased unlike those used by the State.

    So what about the public versus private issue? Consider last week's announcement that a private company has been selected to build and manage Texas 121, just north of Fort Worth and Dallas. That company will pay $2.1 billion upfront and another $716 million over 49 years, and it will spend an additional $2.26 billion for construction and maintenance over the 50-year span of the contract.

    This deal will, according to local officials, provide "several hundred million dollars" for non-toll roads in our region.

    As for the money 'up front' to be used for other projects, that's little more than an acknowledgment that people will have the same problem with tolls that they have with gas taxes (money generated in one spot goes to pay for a project in another). Of course, we could raise that money upfront by selling bonds backed with tax revenues, which is basically what the toll road companies are doing (only in their case, their bonds are backed with massive tolls).

    The most interesting thing about this is the money. We already know the state has promised a nice 12% ROE to developers. Annually. That means that these roads will have to pay more $609.1 mn annually, just as a return on invested capital. What's the debt service on $5.076bn? Around $400 mn annually? Combine the two and that means that North Texas drivers who use 121 will have to cough up roughly $1.09 BILLION annually. Of course they won't, so the entire project will end up devolving to Texas taxpayers anyway. Even if $609.1mn is also used to pay down debt, it's still too expensive. Maybe the toll companies aren't looking to make a profit... oh, hell, even Mr. Erler wouldn't buy that argument.

    The numbers, any way you slice and dice them, will always come out in favor of a gas tax. I suspect Mr. Erler knows this which is why he's so disingenuous in his op/ed piece. My only question is why the Star-Telegram published it without even bothering to include a counterpoint. It's obvious that Erler believes what he's saying. Unfortunately for him, he's confused belief with truth. As someone far smarter than I once said, "It's not what you know; It's what you know that just ain't so."

    Thankfully, as EOW points out, the vast majority of the Senate isn't listening to Erler or Dick Williamson any more.

    (mad props to EOW for finding Erler's piece in the Star-Telegram)



    Posted by mcblogger at 02:17 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    March 02, 2007

    At the TTC Rally

    Wow! Turnout's not as high as I anticipated, but its still a lot of people for a Friday afternoon. Lots of libertarian whackos. And a few of them smell like urine. The idiot from Ron Paul's office just said he'd set up an exploratory committee.

    Yay!

    Other than that, a LOT of ordinarily Republican folks who will be voting for at least one statewide Democratic candidate in 2010, not to mention more than a few Democratic candidates for the Lege in 2008 against sitting Republicans.

    Some of y'all are going to lose your seats if you continue to let Krusee and CradDICK run your shit.

    Posted by mcblogger at 03:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    At the TTC Rally

    Wow! Turnout's not as high as I anticipated, but its still a lot of people for a Friday afternoon. Lots of libertarian whackos. And a few of them smell like urine. The idiot from Ron Paul's office just said he'd set up an exploratory committee.

    Yay!

    Other than that, a LOT of ordinarily Republican folks who will be voting for at least one statewide Democratic candidate in 2010, not to mention more than a few Democratic candidates for the Lege in 2008 against sitting Republicans.

    Some of y'all are going to lose your seats if you continue to let Krusee and CradDICK run your shit.

    Posted by mcblogger at 03:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    TTC RALLY TODAY and More TTC billboards, this time in Fort Worth Metro

    Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAs we told you in December, some groups with a financial interest in the creation of the TTC are paying for billboards to sell it to the public. This one was spotted in Fort Worth. The ads are paid for by a toll road/road construction industry group we talked about back in August. Good to see they're still at it. Click the first link for my post debunking this stupid billboard.

    These people are really dishonest. Fortunately, they are also seeing MASSIVE public outrage about the TTC. It ain't gonna happen, y'all. Give it up!

    While you're trying to plan out your Friday, why not take the afternoon off and come on down to the Capitol? Check out the Don't Tag Texas Blog for more information on the march and rally at the Capitol TODAY. Yes, we'll be there and I promise that I will be sober until at least 3:00(though I can't speak for The Mayor or Sister Ruth)!

    Posted by mcblogger at 10:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    February 27, 2007

    TTC 35 is even more expensive than we thought....

    Kuff, Muckracker, EOW and Somervell County Salon all had posts up about the State Audit on just how much the Trans-Texas Corridor is REALLY going to cost. I apologize to our fabulous readers for not joining them, but they were doing such a good job and I was distracted. By candy. Seriously, Dots mixed with Mike and Ikes. I'm a fool for them and will do anything to enjoy their sickeningly sweet fruit-like flavor.

    You probably won't get it. But you will understand all about cost overruns in Ric Williamson's Texas Transportation Commission, not to mention all the fun TTC stuff we've been talking about like...

    1) No accountability of the private partner
    2) GUARANTEED profit to the private partner
    3) FAR MORE EXPENSIVE than we were told... as much as $100 BILLION. Reconstructing 35 would be far cheaper.
    4) Non-compete agreements! No improvements to 35
    5) The upfront money could disappear...

    And the list of problems and defects goes on and on. It's time the Lege killed this turkey and instructed TXDoT to abrogate the contracts and pay nothing more to Cintra-Zachry (go ahead, Zachry... sue. You'll go broke with no business in the state and you'll never get the settlement. There are people who've been waiting since the 1970's for money from the state). Oh, and let's remember everyone who fucked us over with this deal... people like 39%, Krusee, CradDICK and Todd Staples . Let's none of us forget them or TTC Chair Ric Williamson whose gross incompetence gave Cintra-Zachry the deal of the century, risk free thanks to Texas taxpayers.

    Take a bow, Ric! Your negotiating skills are on par with those of the great Neville Chamberlain. With your business acumen it's surprising you weren't picked up by the management teams at Enron or WorldCom.

    Posted by mcblogger at 01:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    February 22, 2007

    Carona's hearing

    In one week, Senator Carona will be hosting a public hearing on transportation. Eye on Williamson has more here, including some great information about why the TTC and 'innovative' public/private partnerships are a super bad idea.

    Posted by mcblogger at 08:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    February 19, 2007

    Tolls : Cintra fucks Indiana and TTC 69 fast tracked

  • The Somervell County Salon has a great post up about the fast tracking of the TTC 69, slated to run through East Texas.

  • The Cintra/Macqaurie consortium (made up of a Spanish company and an Australian company) that successfully bid for the Indiana Toll Road has awarded the first contract for improvements on the road... to Indra, a Spanish contractor. Just goes to show, you can't trust anyone. Macquarie is now buying newspapers in Texas and Cintra is working hard to make TTC 35 happen.
  • Posted by mcblogger at 02:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    February 16, 2007

    Strama, Watson and Tolls (Oh My!)

    Ben Wear is finally getting it and it's positively heart warming.

    So, what does it cost you to drive on Central Texas' emerging toll road system?

    Well, about 12 cents a mile. Unless it's 18 cents, or 40 cents, or 64 cents. Or, in one notable spot near Lakeline Mall, a cool $1.50 a mile.

    So there's no consistency in the system AND it's more expensive than advertised? Gee. Didn't see that one coming.

    Officials with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which is building and will operate 183-A, have been bracing for this sort of reaction.

    They have an even broader problem, however.

    The startup agency originally was going to build 11.6 miles of tollway, all the way from RM 620 to U.S. 183 north of Leander. But a traffic and revenue study done about three years ago indicated that, in the road's first decade, traffic north of RM 1431 would not justify the additional $100 million or so necessary to build express lanes all the way.

    So the agency decided instead to build about 4.5 miles of tollway on the south end and then free two-lane frontage roads for the seven northernmost miles. But to pay back money borrowed to build all this, the agency will charge $1.80 for that 4.5-mile tollway trip. That's 40 cents a mile.

    Of course, if you happen to live in Leander or points north, or have other business up that way, you'll be able to drive the whole 11.6 miles for that $1.80, stopping at a few stoplights in the free part. Cost: 15.5 cents a mile.

    "Admittedly, it does get confusing," said Mike Heiligenstein, executive director of the mobility authority since shortly after it was created in 2002. He compared the situation to a water system, in which early users of the system might have to pay for more of the startup costs of water mains but people in more outlying areas developed later get lower costs.

    "We tried to hit the middle ground and give everyone a little something," he said. "Not everything's always fair."

    No, Mike, it's not always fair but occasionally good things happen. Unless you're talking about toll roads. When it comes to them life is NEVER fair. Toll roads are bit like casinos, the house always wins. I say a bit because at least in a casino there is a chance, slim though it may be, that the gambler will win. With toll roads we never win. Especially the people who live off Wells Branch (they get the privilege of paying $0.64 PER MILE).

    All this is interesting as hell since Strama and Watson are pushing a kinder, gentler toll concept. In principle, I get where they are going with this and it's entirely reasonable. It's also completely wrong. Why? It's a toll plan. If we've learned anything from cost per mile breakdowns, it's that the gas tax is uniformly cheaper. Across the board. That's simple math.

    Don't get me wrong, I have a tremendous amount of respect for both Senator Watson and Rep. Strama (yes, Mark, the staff has come to terms with your cigarette tax increase...we understand it's needed to keep the kids at the cinema working behind the counter from being complete mongos). Their idea solves what they think are the biggest problems with tolls, a lack of accountability and a mechanism to eliminate tolls once debt has been paid. However, they've missed the fact that the vast majority of Texans, indeed of their constituents, don't want tolls. People know that if the tolling structure on 130 remains intact (for example), 35 will continue to be a mess through central Austin. While people who live in central Austin may not drive on these roads, they sure as hell recognize the benefit to them personally of an alternative for traffic that is passing through central Texas.

    That's the point they missed. No one wants the tolls. Period.

    Further, the argument has been made that tolls primarily affect the upper middle class in the burbs. The reality is that tolls always end up effecting those you don't intend. It would be great if we could just toll all those rich people in Georgetown and Cedar Park. The problem is, there aren't many of them there. Trust me, those folks are ordinary commuters, most of whom are living paycheck to paycheck. It's convenient to think of them as 'wealthy' in their McMansions. However, they aren't and as Mike Krusee found out during the last cycle, they don't like tolls. He'll get a much stronger taste of the public's hatred in 2008.

    What's the choice? Well, Senator Carona and Rep. Coleman seem to have the right idea. Outright moratorium, restructuring the TTC and changing the funding for them.

    Don't overthink this guys and quit trying to fix something that's already shattered! Sweep it aside and think outside the box.


    Posted by mcblogger at 01:52 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    Strama, Watson and Tolls (Oh My!)

    Ben Wear is finally getting it and it's positively heart warming.

    So, what does it cost you to drive on Central Texas' emerging toll road system?

    Well, about 12 cents a mile. Unless it's 18 cents, or 40 cents, or 64 cents. Or, in one notable spot near Lakeline Mall, a cool $1.50 a mile.

    So there's no consistency in the system AND it's more expensive than advertised? Gee. Didn't see that one coming.

    Officials with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which is building and will operate 183-A, have been bracing for this sort of reaction.

    They have an even broader problem, however.

    The startup agency originally was going to build 11.6 miles of tollway, all the way from RM 620 to U.S. 183 north of Leander. But a traffic and revenue study done about three years ago indicated that, in the road's first decade, traffic north of RM 1431 would not justify the additional $100 million or so necessary to build express lanes all the way.

    So the agency decided instead to build about 4.5 miles of tollway on the south end and then free two-lane frontage roads for the seven northernmost miles. But to pay back money borrowed to build all this, the agency will charge $1.80 for that 4.5-mile tollway trip. That's 40 cents a mile.

    Of course, if you happen to live in Leander or points north, or have other business up that way, you'll be able to drive the whole 11.6 miles for that $1.80, stopping at a few stoplights in the free part. Cost: 15.5 cents a mile.

    "Admittedly, it does get confusing," said Mike Heiligenstein, executive director of the mobility authority since shortly after it was created in 2002. He compared the situation to a water system, in which early users of the system might have to pay for more of the startup costs of water mains but people in more outlying areas developed later get lower costs.

    "We tried to hit the middle ground and give everyone a little something," he said. "Not everything's always fair."

    No, Mike, it's not always fair but occasionally good things happen. Unless you're talking about toll roads. When it comes to them life is NEVER fair. Toll roads are bit like casinos, the house always wins. I say a bit because at least in a casino there is a chance, slim though it may be, that the gambler will win. With toll roads we never win. Especially the people who live off Wells Branch (they get the privilege of paying $0.64 PER MILE).

    All this is interesting as hell since Strama and Watson are pushing a kinder, gentler toll concept. In principle, I get where they are going with this and it's entirely reasonable. It's also completely wrong. Why? It's a toll plan. If we've learned anything from cost per mile breakdowns, it's that the gas tax is uniformly cheaper. Across the board. That's simple math.

    Don't get me wrong, I have a tremendous amount of respect for both Senator Watson and Rep. Strama (yes, Mark, the staff has come to terms with your cigarette tax increase...we understand it's needed to keep the kids at the cinema working behind the counter from being complete mongos). Their idea solves what they think are the biggest problems with tolls, a lack of accountability and a mechanism to eliminate tolls once debt has been paid. However, they've missed the fact that the vast majority of Texans, indeed of their constituents, don't want tolls. People know that if the tolling structure on 130 remains intact (for example), 35 will continue to be a mess through central Austin. While people who live in central Austin may not drive on these roads, they sure as hell recognize the benefit to them personally of an alternative for traffic that is passing through central Texas.

    That's the point they missed. No one wants the tolls. Period.

    Further, the argument has been made that tolls primarily affect the upper middle class in the burbs. The reality is that tolls always end up effecting those you don't intend. It would be great if we could just toll all those rich people in Georgetown and Cedar Park. The problem is, there aren't many of them there. Trust me, those folks are ordinary commuters, most of whom are living paycheck to paycheck. It's convenient to think of them as 'wealthy' in their McMansions. However, they aren't and as Mike Krusee found out during the last cycle, they don't like tolls. He'll get a much stronger taste of the public's hatred in 2008.

    What's the choice? Well, Senator Carona and Rep. Coleman seem to have the right idea. Outright moratorium, restructuring the TTC and changing the funding for them.

    Don't overthink this guys and quit trying to fix something that's already shattered! Sweep it aside and think outside the box.


    Posted by mcblogger at 01:52 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    January 30, 2007

    Tolls : Watson v. Costello; TTC investor buying newspapers; TXDoT intimidation

  • I gotta say, watching Watson and Costello fire back and forth at one another is a bit like watching two idiots arguing over who's smarter. It doesn't really matter since they are both retarded. Truly, that's the case with Sal and Kirk, at least when it comes to transportation. Sal's been agitating on his blog and at the CAMPO meeting last week, getting people really stirred up at Watson over a bond issue when Kirk was Mayor of Austin.

    Kirk, for his part, is much more discreet and has a far larger megaphone (the AAS is large like that!), even if his writing is pedestrian (sorry, Kirk, this commentary sucks balls and not in a fun way). Don't get me wrong, I like Kirk and Sal for the most part. However, the bullshit needs to descend a few levels.

    For one thing, Sal, Kirk's not the real enemy. I don't remember what happened with that bond, but the issue is in the past. This is the present and we're dealing with the future. We need help in the Lege and we're starting to get it from people like Kirk. Your real focus should be on Krusee and Gattis. Every primary and every general until you beat them or they quit. Gattis may be a little tough, but Krusee'll be a piece of cake. Just make sure you back a Democrat in the race. Why? Because one is going to win in 2008. If you want to be part of it, better get in gear now.

    Kirk, tolls are pretty pointless and there really isn't a place for them in the future of Texas. That being said, the image of 18 lanes north AND south on MoPac is terrifying. The solution is improvements to MoPac and rail. It's got to be part of the mix and we all agree on that. Tolls however, no matter how they look on paper revenue wise, do not.

    Tolls are the most regressive transportation tax. Even those that will supposedly impact those demographic segments that can best afford them always end up hitting those that can least afford them. ALL TRANSPORTATION TAXES ARE REGRESSIVE. The gas tax just happens to be the least so. Tolls are always more expensive for consumers. Even when they eventually disappear, they are still a more expensive method of paying for a road than gas taxes. So why the hell should they ever be part of the transportation mix?

    Revenue. That's the only reason. That has to be taken off the table. Period. In that vein, here's a quote from Kirk's piece that really pissed me off.

    But reality requires action. We must stop talking about "free roads," as if there ever were such things. Any tool we use, any road we're on, costs money from some source. We can't simply oppose things or divert attention from problems with slogans or personal attacks. Our citizens are too smart to let half-truths, untruths, innuendo and conspiracy theories define our future. We don't have the time and shouldn't have the patience for unaccountable ideologues distorting our present or jeopardizing our future.

    We know it costs money. The very citizens who are pissed are the same ones to whom you're writing. They know roads aren't free and they certainly aren't clamoring for a repeal of the gas tax. They realize the state has grown and Central Texas has experienced an outsized helping of that growth. They know that we'll have to pay a little more to expand our infrastructure to accommodate that growth. They also know tolls are bad idea. Take them off the table. You see toll roads as a funding source and that's gotta change.

    This conversation is vital to our region's future. Think of it as the opposite of a traffic jam — if you don't get on this road, the rest of us can't get anywhere.

    We're on the road with you. But we're not paying tolls, Senator. TXDoT can want a permanent funding source but as the old saying goes, wishing ain't getting.

  • Australian toll road operator Macquarie is snapping up small, rural newspapers across Texas. There's nothing like ensuring good media coverage... by owning the media.
  • WOAI in SA has a story up on TXDoT's alleged intimidation of those who don't want tolls in SA Metro

    Adkisson, a Bexar County Commissioner, said in a letter to Governor Perry that Tex-DOT District Engineer David Casteel, who is himself a member of the MPO board, and Texas Transportation Commissioner Hope Andrade, who is not, sought to 'reprimand and punish' the two VIA board members who were among the six MPO members who voted against the toll road plan, Melissa Castro-Killen and Dr. Sidney G. Ordway. The plan was approved, 9-6, following five housrs of debate.

    Adkisson also charged that Perry vowed to work to defeat VIA's legislative priorities in the current session of the Texas Legislature.

    "TexDOT leadership has begun to take on a very different and mean spirited tone of late," Adkisson wrote. "(Tex-DOT Chairman) Ric Williamson and his group take any discussion that seems to move away from their core position as a threat."

    Gee, where have we heard this before?

  • Posted by mcblogger at 10:43 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

    January 24, 2007

    Tolls : Fucking around in San Antonio, CAMPO slaps down Phase II

  • According to South Texas Chisme, toll opposition is also heavy in SA, though it's not quite meeting with the success it's met with in Austin.
  • The Phase II vote was, as expected, delayed. The Statesman has a writeup where they miss a few things like

    The fact that though this is being termed a 'delay', it is, in fact, the end of this particular method of financing. I know Costello thinks we're getting played but these roads are so unpopular everyone is looking for blood. The CAMPO members know that the mob may be satisfied with just Krusee, Ogden and Gattis all of whom are going to be left to twist in the wind. I would throw Dukes in there as well, but honestly there's not much anger with her on that, though it is an issue and likely will intensify even for her during the primary next year.

    The fact that even at the very end, TXDoT DE Bob Daigh was still trying to add pressure to the decision making process. Bob, these are smart people. They know well that the 'clock is ticking' and they don't need your smartass mouth to remind them. You are, after all, the person responsible for the missing flyways all over Austin metro. If I were you, I'd answer with as little as possible when asked a question and keep out of the line of fire. By the way, Bob, we aren't done asking questions about the money that appears to be missing from the 45/1 tollway project. Seriously, if the connectors were figured into the cost and financed, but weren't built because of an environmental clearance oversight, then the money should still be there to build them. So why are you saying it's not? Bob?

    The Statesman really missed the mark on the number for replacing the tolls with a gas tax in the CAMPO area (Bad reporter! Very, very bad!). Let's go back over it again... The 17 cent number came from TXDoT and covers profits expected on the toll roads, as well a bond sale of $2 Bn sometime in the 2040's. Of course, my numbers in the original post are off as well. So, let's go with what the TTI rolled out, a little over 8 cents a gallon, increasing over time to keep pace with the inflation in construction costs. Needless to say, a gax tax is still cheaper.

    The most stunning thing about this is the bad faith in which TXDoT is acting. I know some it is based on political decisions (TXDoT is having to issue numbers based on certain ridiculous assumptions), but the reality is that CAMPO has got to do a better job of asking the right questions and demanding accurate numbers.

    Lastly, as a followup on the meeting itself, the crowd directed a lot of anger at Watson which is, in my opinion, misplaced. Sen. Watson appears to be coming around on this issue, while Krusee, Ogden and Gattis have shown no evidence of it. Just from a political perspective, all three are more vulnerable than Watson. To the anti-toll forces out there I would ask only that you take a moment to reflect on who the real enemies are and focus your efforts in 2008 and beyond on those who most deserve it and are most readily defeated, Gattis, Krusee and Ogden. The State of Texas would be far better off with none of them in public service.

    And with that, I'm done on this issue for a bit... until the next piece of bullshit comes flying out of Ben Wear's ass.


  • Posted by mcblogger at 02:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 22, 2007

    It's 6:30, do you know where our CAMPO board members are?

    The CAMPO Phase II meeting, which was to start at 6:00, has still not started. The conf room is packed, but a quorum isn't present because of a wreck on MOPAC. Apparently, our board members are not smart enough to do what I do almost daily... Take an alternate route when MOPAC is jammed up.

    Come on, y'all! Briscoe and Jabba Gattis managed to make it! We need you to be here so we can riot and sacrifice you all to the freeway gods!

    UPDATE: 6:40 Jennifer Kim, Krusee and 'Can I sell you a car?' Maxwell have arrived. Finally. Krusee and Maxwell are now chatting privately while watching the crowd that is, apparently, unified in opposition to tolls. The gutless Ogden, apparently has sent an alternate. Kirk just walked so I guess now we can begin.

    Krusee... Damn. He just looks like a mook. Granted, beating up on him is a bit like kicking a puppy. It's a shame for him I have no compunction about kicking puppies.

    UPDATE:7:11 - some guy just spoke and finished with 'remember Karen Sonleitner' and the crowd erupted. It's weird because most of these people don't look like your traditional activist nutters, they all look normal. Sal Costello is speaking now about Watson's time as Mayor of Austin regarding the prop 1 bond issue which was supposed to be for free roads.

    UPDATE 8:48 - Sal Costello asks the board to drop the six month waiting period before the vote on the Phase II plan and vote against it tonight. Pandomonium erupts including one jackass sitting down from me who kept yelling 'Can you hear us now, Watson'.

    Dukes has just made an amendment regarding the racial makeup of CAMPO which is kinda funny because honestly the current makeup of the board actually looks a lot like the racial makeup of Austin metro. This amendment was to the motion made by Maxwell to adopt item 5 which were the changes proposed by the CoC.

    Someone is speaking now asking them to move up item 10 which is Phase II.

    Just to clarify, the Gattis mentioned here is his stand in because his grandmother died.

    Posted by mcblogger at 06:31 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    It's 6:30, do you know where our CAMPO board members are?

    The CAMPO Phase II meeting, which was to start at 6:00, has still not started. The conf room is packed, but a quorum isn't present because of a wreck on MOPAC. Apparently, our board members are not smart enough to do what I do almost daily... Take an alternate route when MOPAC is jammed up.

    Come on, y'all! Briscoe and Jabba Gattis managed to make it! We need you to be here so we can riot and sacrifice you all to the freeway gods!

    UPDATE: 6:40 Jennifer Kim, Krusee and 'Can I sell you a car?' Maxwell have arrived. Finally. Krusee and Maxwell are now chatting privately while watching the crowd that is, apparently, unified in opposition to tolls. The gutless Ogden, apparently has sent an alternate. Kirk just walked so I guess now we can begin.

    Krusee... Damn. He just looks like a mook. Granted, beating up on him is a bit like kicking a puppy. It's a shame for him I have no compunction about kicking puppies.

    UPDATE:7:11 - some guy just spoke and finished with 'remember Karen Sonleitner' and the crowd erupted. It's weird because most of these people don't look like your traditional activist nutters, they all look normal. Sal Costello is speaking now about Watson's time as Mayor of Austin regarding the prop 1 bond issue which was supposed to be for free roads.

    UPDATE 8:48 - Sal Costello asks the board to drop the six month waiting period before the vote on the Phase II plan and vote against it tonight. Pandomonium erupts including one jackass sitting down from me who kept yelling 'Can you hear us now, Watson'.

    Dukes has just made an amendment regarding the racial makeup of CAMPO which is kinda funny because honestly the current makeup of the board actually looks a lot like the racial makeup of Austin metro. This amendment was to the motion made by Maxwell to adopt item 5 which were the changes proposed by the CoC.

    Someone is speaking now asking them to move up item 10 which is Phase II.

    Just to clarify, the Gattis mentioned here is his stand in because his grandmother died.

    Posted by mcblogger at 06:31 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    January 17, 2007

    CAMPO Meeting postponed...

    The CAMPO Phase II toll meeting will be postponed until Monday, 6:00 pm. The location remains unchanged. It's cold out and apparently they don't want us sliding into one another trying to find parking at J.J. Pickle.

    I guess the one thing the toll roads can't do is thaw themselves out. They may be time machines, but they don't have auto-defrost. For all the money we're paying for them you'd think Zachry would have been nice enough to throw that in.

    Guess that wasn't in the bid, much like a few needed flyways.

    Posted by mcblogger at 01:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    Tolls : Traffic dropping; come to the CAMPO meeting

    Per Eye on Williamson, it appears that traffic is dropping on the toll roads here in Central Texas...

    that’s a drop in 48 - 60% usage. If the roads don’t produce like the “consulting firms” said then it’s hello Denver and higher tolls to make up the difference. Remember the “easy tags” are still free. When everybody has to pay those numbers should go down even more.

    I would say it's surprising but it's sooo not. I can't say I'm disappointed since it realistically means I'll have TWO lanes to drive in!

    On the subject of overall policy and CAMPO, I spoke recently with someone who pointed out that gas taxes are regressive. So are toll taxes, they just happen to be more expensive. While I agree we need a more progressive tax system in Texas, and believe such is the will of the electorate, the majority in power right now does not have the political courage to do it. Because Republicans are mostly a gutless, say anything and do anything crowd. Which brings us to what is going tonight... the CAMPO meeting where this ridiculous policy will be discussed.

    Normally I would be at Keep Austin Blue @ Mother Egan's having drinks. However some lame jackass decided to cancel it because of the weather. If you're like me and have nothing better to do in the bitter cold, then you should by all means attend this event where you can bitch about the ridiculousness of toll roads and how unnecessary tolls are (yes, Krusee... roads are good, Tolls are dumb).

    CAMPO PUBLIC FEEDBACK PHASE II TOLL MEETING
    Wednesday, January 17th at 6PM
    10100 Burnet Road, Bldg. #137
    The Commons Building,
    UT Pickle Research Campus, Austin, Texas

    Oh, and just for kicks, click here for the Statesman's Super Cool Toll Charge Calculator.

    Posted by mcblogger at 12:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    January 16, 2007

    How much does UP pay in taxes?

    UP wants taxpayers to pay for new tracks. From the SAEN...

    UP spokesman Mark Davis said that while “one accident, one injury or one death” is one too many, “relocating tracks is of greater benefit to the public” than it is to the railroad, “so the public should bear most of the costs involved.”

    Puente noted that “the bottom line is that (UP) is willing to relocate tracks, but someone is going to have to pay for it, and that someone is most likely going to be the taxpayers.”

    The dangers posed by trains, which sometimes carry toxic or dangerous chemicals, is a complex issue that has no cheap or quick fix, officials involved in the process note.

    (hat tip to Dig Deeper Texas)

    You know, since I drive a lot on freeways I pay to keep up every time I stop for gas, I really don't have a problem with paying to relocate tracks... as long as UP is paying taxes. How about a special toll? If it's good enough for truckers and commuters, it's good enough for Union Pacific.

    One thing, though... these trains normally run to a facility in a city. If the tracks are shifted out of the city, how are goods going to get into the city? Trucks, obvs. So who is going to pay to expand those feeders roads?

    It better be UP...

    Posted by mcblogger at 12:58 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    January 03, 2007

    Tolls, TX DoT and stupid

    Beginning Friday, TXDoT will asses the tolls on 45/1. In anticipation, I thought it would be fun to take a look at how good their billing systems are. Apparently, they have been mailing bills for 25 cents (the bills, not counting paper, actually cots 30.8 cents in postage to send) and billing people who've never actually used the roads. Of course, all new systems have bugs and anything this ridiculously complex is sure to have some as well. Especially when you don't build toll booths on the fucking road and instead decide to automate the entire process.

    Lazy is what many would call it. I would be included in that many. These idiots never heard of an automated kiosk? I love the ones at theaters and... what are those machines that spit out money? ATM's?

    Billing issues are already plaguing the toll road systems while TXDoT is lobbying for higher toll limits, government backing for the bonds that private companies will sell to finance the roads and, of course, the ability to convert freeways into toll roads.

    Under the guise of such a flowerly reporting entitled "Forward Momentum: Recommendations to reduce congestion, enhance safety, expand economic opportunity, improve air quality, and enhance the value of Texas' transportation assets. A report to the 110th Congress, 1st Session" dated January 25 2007", TxDOT proposes that private equity become the primary resource for funding of highways. Note this is not only designated for new highways. The plan calls for "states to be able to buy back interstate segments by reimbursing the federal government its past contributions." Essentially, the state will be able to toll existing highways.

    Getting extremely obvious that TXDoT is really angling for a permanent funding source, not tied to the Lege to become a self-funding bureaucracy. Which should make exactly no one happy, but is apparently what the Republicans have always had in mind.

    I'm never entirely comfortable when a government entity doesn't have to go to elected officials and ask for money. I'm also not please with having to cover the profit of a private company which is more expensive than if TXDoT ran the roads themselves (some are run by TXDoT, some are not). What irritates most about this plan is that it's an endless toll. There will never be a time when the toll goes away because TXDoT wants the income, in perpetuity.

    AAA now says that 'the public' prefers tolls to gas taxes. Of course, no detail is provided and it's odd that this would come out of AAA since AAA has traditionally opposed toll roads. Given that, I'm calling bullshit. I want to see the crosstabs and I want to see the how the questions were structured. It's pretty clear from what we've seen in Texas that when people actually see the cost comparison, gas taxes are ALWAYS the better option that the public supports.

    Which is it, AAA?

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    December 19, 2006

    Wearing out my hole...

    Another day, another article from Ben "Aren't Toll Roads Neat-o" Wear. This time, it's all about the traffic jamming up on the flyway from 45 to NB 35. Yeah, it's pretty bad and not suprising that TXDoT and their crack contractors, Zachry Construction, evidently didn't anticipate the problem. Ben thinks it might go away when the tolls start. I doubt it because people ARE going to use the toll roads. So, it'll get worse... and have the perverse effect of making traffic on 35 even more intollerable.

    Then he goes on to talk about the opening of the northern terminus of 130. Yay. The southern part STILL isn't done but at least the connection to the 35 north of Georgetown is complete. At the opening Krusee opened his mouth and out spilled a world of stupid. To wit

    State Rep. Mike Krusee, the Williamson County Republican who chairs the House Transportation Committee and has pushed toll roads as a solution to our snarled highways, was among the handful of speakers. He talked about how the tollways that already opened, particularly the spacious Texas 45 North east-west artery, are so fast he has found himself allotting way more time to get places than turns out to be necessary.

    "I'm going to stop calling these things toll roads," Krusee said. "From now on, they're 'time machines.' "

    Dum-tee-dee-tum-titilly-ter. What a douche. They aren't a time machines, Mikey. Here's a newsflash for the not-so-bright Representative from WillCo... limited access highways (whether free or toll) allow people to drive faster. The method of payment hasn't a damn thing to do with it. Wait... I just realized Mikey was making a joke. A tedious, lame, make-people-in-the-room uncomfortable joke, but a joke nonetheless.

    Naishtat would never make a joke that bad. Even lame Todd Baxter wouldn't have made a joke that bad.

    Regardless, I drive on the damn thing and I've no problem admitting that it is nice to not hit every light along 1325. My problem was never with the road, it was the retarded way Big Government Krusee mandated the funding. But now he says he's all for a gas tax. Let's see him do it.

    (hat tip to EOW for taking the time to actually read Ben Wear)

    Posted by mcblogger at 01:06 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    December 12, 2006

    Hell totally freezes over

    Last week I posted this about the fact that tolls are not a necessity for expanding our transportation infrastructure in Texas. Now comes word from the SAEN (via EOW) that Krusee has announced he's filing a bill to ( I kinda phoned it in, didn't I?) index the gas tax to the cost of highway construction which is one of the suggestions that the the two TTI folks made.

    Good idea, Mike. Why the hell you didn't think of it in 2003 when you helped shoved through 3588 is a mystery. Now all you have to do is repeal 3588 and start over. Do that and you might just have a shot at holding your seat in 2008.

    Posted by mcblogger at 09:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    December 06, 2006

    Selling the TTC

    Billboards for the TTC are rising in Houston. Take a look:

    Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

    Christof Spieler discovered this in midtown Houston which is nowhere near the TTC. In fact, the benefits touted on the billboard really have more to do with roads in general, rather than the TTC in particular:

    * The “less traffic” they’re referring to isn’t morning commuters, since the TTC avoids urban areas. In other words, there may be less traffic on your way to Dallas, but not on your way to work.

    * The “faster emergency evacuations” help you only once you get as far as the TTC, which will be far inland northwest of Houston.

    * Construction jobs are a stupid justification for any government program, especially when the construction industry is booming.

    * Unlike to the small print on the billboard says, this in not a “public service announcement.” It’s an ad for a controversial program being pushed through by the governor. Somehow, I don’t think Clear Channel is posting this out of the goodness of their hearts.

    Yeah, this won't blow up in anyone's face. You know, the more perfume they try to dump on this pig the nastier it begins to smell.

    (Kudo's to Kuff)

    Posted by mcblogger at 05:18 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    An Aggie says something right?

    Burka is reporting that during a recent meeting of the Study Commission on Transportation Financing, a transportation expert from Texas A&M said that it's 'not necessary to finance transportation with tolls'.

    Crazy Aggie says WHAT? This is the second time this year I've heard an Aggie make sense. The other time? When Hank Gilbert was speaking.

    I was thinking you'd have to increase the tax by 10 cents a gallon, however, Mr. Aggie Professor says I'm wrong. So, I'm going to listen to him:

    Don't raise the gasoline tax at all. Instead, index it and put the incremental revenue in the mobility fund, where it can be used to pay off bonds. And here's the bombshell: "Under this scenario," Ellis said, " it wouldn't be necessary to toll as a means of financing, although that's certainly an option."

    The index David Ellis is referring to is one based on costs for highway construction which inflates at .5% to 1.5% per year. You'd have to combine this with a bond sale (like THAT would be a problem) but it would give us the revenue we need to rebuild the infrastructure in Texas, expand employment and grow our economy at a super fast rate.

    All that without some super inflated toll to support private contractors. So much for that excuse from Krusee that tolls were the only way to finance roads. Now, the only question is whether or not the Lege will force TXDoT to go along with the dumb Republican toll road plan, or will the newly elected Democrats and independent Republicans force CradDICK and Krusee to back down?


    Posted by mcblogger at 01:53 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    December 05, 2006

    Can y'all do anything right?

    I guess I'm not the only one who noticed just how much was screwed up on the tollways. Thanks to EOW, I now know that Ben Wear has been getting messages about the missing flyways at the intersection of the 45 Tollway/35. And the missing flyways at 290/35 South. And the missing flyways at 183/35. And the missing flyways at 35/290 in midtown.

    Damn, is it just me or does NO one at TXDoT know how to design and build a freeway interchange?

    Apparently, the excuse I said they would use is actually only being used for the public freeway interchanges. The excuse for the 45 Tollway/35 interchange is actually more retarded than any of the excuses I've ever heard:

    No, said Bob Daigh, the Austin district engineer, but rather there was a bureaucratic snafu on getting environmental clearance on the four that remain unbuilt.

    OK, so rather than acknowledge the mistake and fix it, you've decided to stick with this BS? WOW. That's pretty ballsy, Mr. Daigh. I gotta hand it to you. You really know how to handle PR on a pretty colossal screwup. So, if it was just an oversight why not go ahead, get the clearances and build the flyways? I mean, it sounds like it wasn't money but simply a planning misstep. That's what YOU said, Mr. Daigh.

    Turns out, Mr. Daigh's just bullshitting. Of course, the ever hapless Wear misses the point (here's a quarter, Ben. Go buy yourself a clue) and goes on to write this in his insipid little column.

    As for when any of these phantom bridges might get built — at a cost of about $10 million to $15 million apiece — Daigh said none of them is in any of the agency's short-term financial plans. Other priorities. Daigh has said in the past that excess toll revenue from some of the proposed Austin turnpikes that we've all been arguing about would help raise money for more bridges.

    So, even though the money for the construction of the Tollway flyovers was allocated, it's mysteriously dissapeered? WTF, Mr. Daigh? What would have happened had the plans been filed? Are you saying the Tollway was MORE expensive than advertised? Huh?

    As for the rest of it, that excess toll revenue will pay for the flyways at the freeway interchanges, that's just not good enough, Mr. Daigh.

    It would appear that Austin is NOT well served by the TXDoT District Engineer. I mean, if the man can't be bothered to oversee a project until it's done and done right, on schedule and on budget, then maybe it's time we get a new DE. That's something I'd like to see the city council and our Travis County Legislators make happen.

    Let's not even talk about the projects TXDoT just recently killed.

    You know, from everything we've seen, it should be obvious that there should be some major changes in personnel and business practices at TXDoT. Next item on the list should be banning Zachry Construction from all future projects. They built the 45 Tollway and, IMHO, some or most of the blame lies with them.

    Didn't get the clearances??!?! That's like a loan officer saying, the day you're closing on your house, "Oops! I Forgot to order your appraisal".

    (as a side note, EOW has a great post up about an editorial in the SAEN eviscerating toll roads and Somervell County Salon is talking about the impact of the TTC on tractor-trailers. Both are great related pieces.)


    Posted by mcblogger at 10:28 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack