From an NTTA press release:
Plano, Texas – June 1, 2011 The North Texas Tollway Authority wants to
remind drivers that a regularly scheduled toll rate increase takes effect
To deliver regional transportation projects to relieve congestion,
preserve a strong and financially viable system and maintain quality, safe
and reliable roadways, the NTTA will implement a regularly scheduled toll
rate increase of .8 cents (less than a cent per mile). The toll rate
policy provides for a 50 percent price difference between TollTag and
“The Board understands this rate increases comes during a challenging
economic time,” said NTTA Chairman Victor Vandergriff. “However, raising
rates is a planned and necessary step the NTTA needs to take in order to
maintain a viable financial system and to deliver the many mobility
projects that bring growth to the North Texas region.”
The action increases rates from 14.5 cents per mile to 15.3 cents per
mile. NTTA rates are compatible with the toll rate structure recommended
by the Regional Transportation Council.
This increase follows a schedule that requires toll rates be increased
every other July at a compounded annual rate of 2.75 percent. This
incremental change is required to meet the financial needs of the NTTA
while ensuring drivers see only small increases to tolls.
“ZipCash customers, who pay 50 percent more than TollTag? customers, are
encouraged to get a TollTag?. It will save them money, and they won’t have
to worry about paying invoices,” said NTTA Executive Director Allen
NTTA Chief Financial Officer Janice Davis said the rate increase will help
protect NTTA’s credit rating, ultimately ensuring NTTA’s access to low
cost borrowing. “The rating agencies want to see proof that NTTA’s Board
is committed to the maintenance of the Authority’s financial strength and
integrity,” Davis said.
The NTTA intends to continue to deliver on its mission to provide mobility
solutions including the Eastern and Western extensions of the President
George Bush Turnpike, complete the Sam Rayburn Tollway and support future
projects like Chisholm Trail Parkway.
The North Texas Tollway Authority, a political subdivision of the state of
Texas, is authorized to acquire, construct, maintain, repair and operate
turnpike projects in the north Texas region. The nine-member governing
board is comprised of Chairman Victor Vandergriff; Vice Chairman David
Denison; and Directors Kenneth Barr, Kent Cagle, Bob Day, Bill Moore,
Michael Nowels, Bob Shepard and Jane Willard.
The NTTA serves Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties and is
responsible for the NTTA System, consisting of the Dallas North Tollway,
President George Bush Turnpike, Sam Rayburn Tollway, Addison Airport Toll
Tunnel, Lewisville Lake Toll Bridge and the Mountain Creek Lake Bridge.
The NTTA is able to raise capital for construction projects through the
issuance of turnpike revenue bonds. NTTA toll projects are not a part of
the state highway system and receive no direct tax funding. Tolls are
collected to repay debt and to operate and maintain the roadways.
The Collin County Observer comments that tolls sure look like, smell like, and hurt just like taxes.
December 9, 2010
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
December 5, 2010
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
October 15, 2010
by RODGER JONES/The Dallas Morning News
- Project Overview
- Project Need and Purpose
- Route Study Process
- Development and Analysis of DRAFT
Technically Feasible Alignment
- Public Comments
- Commissioners’ Court Action
Draft Technically Feasible Alignment
Citizens from areas all around the lake have joined with others in Collin County to oppose this route’s approval:
- The $400 to $470 million cost makes this project 7 times more expensive, per mile, than other currently planned Collin County projects.
- The US Army Corps of Engineers own the lake. At this time, the Corps reject this and all proposed routes because they do not meet Federal criteria.
- TxDot’s 2035 Plan mandates cost effective planning, focusing on improvements to existing infrastructure and targeting congestion where it is the worst. This route fails to meet this criteria.
This route should not be placed on the Collin County Mobility Plan 2007 Update, because it distracts from reasonable, cost-effective options:
- Upgrade the currently proposed plans for improvements to Hwy 380, SH78 and other lake area roadways.
- Work within existing ROW as much as possible and target the traffic congestion where it is the greatest.
- Add main lanes, enhanced turn lanes, overpasses, underpasses, and better emergency access lanes.
- Improve intersections with innovative designs such as the Michigan Left Turn recently added in Plano at Preston and Legacy ($2.4 million)
These viable alternatives will increase traffic flow and capacity, lessen the burden on tax payers, and preserve the lake as an asset for all of Collin County.
Lavon Lake Bridge Route Study (FM 1378 to SH 78)
Monday, October 11, 2010, 1:00 p.m
Collin County Commissioners Court
Jack Hatchell Administration Building, 4th Floor
2300 Bloomdale Rd., McKinney, TX 75071.
The Fort Worth Star Telegram's "Honking Mad" blog has a good report on the newly elected chairman of the NTTA.
Victor Vandergriff will replace Plano's Paul Wageman who will retire at the end of September. Vandergriff is from Arlington and is the current Vice Chairman of the NTTA Board of Directors.
Paul Wageman led the Toll Road Authority for the last 10 years. Those ten years saw the contest with Cintras over construction and control of SH 121, a battle with Collin County over the route and control of the North Dallas Toll Road expansion, the all electronic toll booth, the creation of "managed lanes", and the construction of several new toll roads, including the George Bush Tollway.
Collin County's two NTTA board appointees, Wageman and Bill Moore spoke at Monday's Commissioners Court, introducing the new NTTA Executive Director, Allen Clemson who gave NTTA's annual update.
In his report, Clemson described a financial "pinch point" that will occur in 2013 as debt payments become almost as large as expected revenue. He stated that NTTA had developed a 5 year financial plan to mange the "pinch point". (I'll bet it's called 'raising tolls')
The commissioners must have winced as Clemson talked about the Authority's #1 legislative agenda item - granting regional toll road authorities primacy over local authorities, such as Collin County's own Toll Road Authority. The NTTA and Collin County have fought over who will build the next planned extension of the Dallas North Tollway.
When county commissioners traveled to Austin during the last legislative session, they were roundly outmaneuvered and certainly out gunned by Wageman and the NTTA. Only a last minute compromise kept the legislature from proposing that the NTTA could take over our own Outer Loop.
I know I winced when Clemson spoke of some of the other of NTTA's legislative goals. One was to "align" ethics legislation with local cities. I read this as code for weakening the restrictions for gifts and other restrictions.
Clemson also mentioned the legislative goal of "protecting" working papers and internal documents. That is code for exempting NTTA from many of the requirements of the Open Records Act.
Later in the meeting the Commissioners offered warm praise for Mr. Wageman and thanked him for his service to the county and NTTA.
Last month, the commissioners court named Jane Willard of Celina to replace Mr. Wageman on the NTTA board.
The tightening budget in Plano is not without its casualties, one of which was scheduled to be the Senior Rides program -- but an agreement between the city and DART will spare it for at least another two years.
Because DART service does not flow extensively through Plano, especially its northwest reaches, the agency has agreed to fund the program at $50,000 per year for the next two years, or until the northwest Plano park-and-ride station is operational.
The program has offered taxi vouchers and mile reimbursement as part of its services since its inaugural year in 2008.
Lee Stark, the transportation coordinator at the Geriatric Wellness Center of Collin County, said the change to two years -- board members requested to fund the program for an initial year from the proposed one-year agreement -- helps give the program stability.
“We’re not expecting there to be significant change in terms of what the client deals with,” he said. “It marries the two agencies a lot more in terms of looking directly at the issues of senior transportation.”
Todd Plesko, DART vice president of planning and development, said until the agency can bring more coverage to that area of Plano, funding the program is a good option.
However, Vice Chairwoman of the planning committee Pamela Gates said she does not want other member cities to believe the funding is a pilot program and available to all.
Because Plano is in a different situation than member cities, it is a one-time funding agreement, she said.
Stark said despite spending just over $50,000 in 2009 and estimating the cost of the program at more than $70,000 in 2010, administrative cuts should keep the program under the $50,000 budget.
The program originally was going to cut the mile reimbursement program as part of those cuts, but as of the planning committee meeting, that part of the program still was in the plans.
Stark said the Geriatric Wellness Center is going to absorb some costs, and marketing also is going to take a cut, because the program already is almost at capacity with about 90 clients.
He said when the funding is cut off in two years, he believes not only will Plano have a park-and-ride station in the northwest area of the city, but DART and Plano will have come up with a Mobility Management Plan, which DART is working on courtesy of a United We Ride grant.
According to a presentation by DART Innovative Services Project Manager Daniel Dickerson, eligible seniors 65 years old or older can purchase discounted taxi vouchers at $25 for a $100 voucher or have mileage reimbursed at 50 cents per mile.
Plano still will be charged with running the program with funding from DART...
Last week, the Collin County Commissioners Court held an evening meeting. The quarterly evening meetings are an experiment by the commissioners in opening up the county government to citizen interest and involvement.
Some of the evening meetings have been well attended, because the commissioners scheduled important public hearings or discussions for those nights.
Not so last week. The court's agenda was little more than routine consent items. In fact the court session lasted less than 10 minutes from invocation to adjournment - the shortest regular court meeting I remember seeing.
In a plus for the county's open government initiative, only one citizen showed up to watch the non-meeting. I understand that afterwards, Commissioner Jaynes bought the intrepid citizen a cup of coffee, hoping that would help make the trip to Bloomdale Rd. at least a little worthwhile.
This week, the court was back on its regular schedule of meeting at 9:30 AM when only retirees and the unemployed are not busy working. This week's agenda was chock full of items that would have really made the evening meeting interesting.
First came the theater.
During the public comments, a Mr. Hostetler and our well known Karl Voightsberger used the comments section to solicit the court's interest in buying what's known as "Life Settlement funds" to increase the yield on the county's retirement funds.
With Life Settlement Funds, investors pay sick, elderly people cash today in return for the money from their life insurance when they die. The sooner they die, the more the investor makes.
Ghoulish, yes... and I didn't miss the irony of funding retiree pay by betting that other old folks will die soon.
During the presentation of employee awards, District Clerk Hannah Kunkle presented a 15 year pin to her deputy Amy Mathis. The Observer's readers will remember that Ms. Mathis is under felony indictment for racketeering and theft by a public servant.
This author is astounded at the attitude Hannah Kunkle and the Commissioners Court. The indictment of Ms. Mathis, Patricia Crigger and 4 other deputy clerks has brought shame to our courthouse. All these indicted ladies are still supervising workers in the District Clerk's office -- acting as if nothing is wrong.
Instead of putting these ladies, who a Grand Jury has charged with the commission of multiple felonies and are out of jail on bonds out of sight, the county gives one of them an award. Wow!
If this is how we want to run our courthouse, perhaps the Texas Rangers need to put the Collin County courthouse on a monthly raid schedule.
Later in the meeting, by a vote of 4-1, the commissioners court approved the continuation of the Vote Center experiment for the November gubernatorial election. Commissioner Jaynes voted 'no' saying he had concerns that the Vote Center plan had not matured into the successful "big box" model used elsewhere.
Commissioners Jaynes and Shaheen asked Elections Administrator Sharon Rowe to consider opening an additional early voting location in Frisco and west Allen.
Jaynes also asked that the west McKinney early voting site be moved to a more convenient location.
Judge Self then gave his budget presentation.... the Observer will write more on this in the next day or so.
DMN - Transportation blog: Jane Willard to replace NTTA Chairman Paul Wageman as board's Collin County representativeAugust 9th, 2010
Transportation blog: Jane Willard to replace NTTA Chairman Paul Wageman as board's Collin County representative
Monday, August 9, 2010
By MICHAEL LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
"AIR POLLUTION WATCH - LEVEL ORANGE - FOR DALLAS-FORT WORTH"
"The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has issued a Level Orange Air Pollution Watch for the Dallas-Fort Worth area for Monday, August 2, 2010."
"Atmospheric conditions are expected to be favorable for producing high levels of ozone air pollution in the Dallas-Fort Worth area on Monday. Ozone levels could reach the Level Orange "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups" category."
"Elevated concentrations of ozone can act as a lung irritant. Individuals with chronic lung disease, such as asthma and emphysema, as well as the elderly and young children, are particularly sensitive to ozone and should attempt to avoid exposure. To avoid exposure, minimize exertion outdoors during the mid-day to early evening hours or stay indoors in an air-conditioned room during this time."
Editorial: Tollway agency works to restore confidence
Friday, July 23, 2010
The Dallas Morning News Editorial Board
The North Texas Tollway Authority made the right decision by ignoring high-dollar bait dangled its way to choose a Collin County route for a future stretch of the Dallas North Tollway.
Property owners near the new roadway will make a bundle after it's built, and the city of Celina wanted the super-heated development inside its boundaries. No problem with that. Celina made the novel pledge that NTTA could have the future bounty of the higher property taxes. No problem with creative thinking, except for where it might lead.
Had the NTTA jumped at the money, it might have opened the door to an era of transportation planning by municipal bidding war. Those kinds of cash inducements may be in our future someday as road money dries up, but the rules aren't in place nor the consequences fully thought out yet.
The bigger problem with the proposed Celina route was that it would have further insulted a one-time compact made between Collin and Denton counties to run the future road segment up their common border. The deal was reached in 2005, but Collin County reneged three years later in a snit about dividing toll revenue. Collin County formed its own, rival tollway authority and vowed not to let money get away.
The decisive 7-1 vote by NTTA to honor the county-line route is a statement about regionalism. Just as the region's major highways serve a wide swath of commuters and travelers, the benefits should be measured out fairly as well...
The Observer comments:
The Dallas Morning News' Trailblazers Blog has a post, "Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley was honored as County Leader of the Year by Penton's American City and County magazine. He was presented the distinction at the National Association of Counties annual conference in Reno, Nevada."
The post goes on to say that, "Whitley was praised for building consensus on transportation projects and other North Texas issues in a cover story for the magazine's July 2010 issue."
Trailblazers quotes from the magazine article, "Whitley's ability to bring together diverse groups to resolve issues is the hallmark of his leadership style, sorting out the issues, listening to all points of view, yet insisting, in the end, that a solution must be identified and rallied around".
I don't think that Collin County Judge Keith Self was in the running for an award for regionalism.
That's too bad.
The NTTA Board of Directors voted today to approve the alignment of the future Phase 4B and Phase 5 segments of the Dallas North Tollway on the original agreed route along the Denton/Collin County line. The decision was a defeat for Keith Self and the City of Celina,
NTTA approved the middle (yellow - red route) Click image for larger map.
Both Self and Celina had lobbied the NTTA Board and the Regional Transportation Council for the eastern alignment through Celina. In the end however only one NTTA board member, Bill Moore, a recent Collin County appointee, voted for the eastern alignment.
Most on the RTC and the NTTA see the vote as a victory for the region and for a regional approach to meeting the area's transportation needs. Self and the Collin County Commissioners Court are increasing being seen as provincial mavericks - unwilling to compromise for the sake of the entire region.
The tale started back in 2005 when Both Denton and Collin counties agreed to a county line alignment for the future tollway extension. In 2008, Collin County rescinded their agreement - partly in frustration over the allocation of the SH 121 revenue sharing scheme and partially to gain the anticipated tax base that would occur on both sides of the new toll road.
Collin County commissioners then formed the Collin County Toll Road Authority, partially in an attempt to take over the planning and construction of the future extension of the DNT.
The NTTA and its Chairman (Collin County's own Paul Wageman) strenuously objected to what they characterized as a hi-jacking of NTTA property.
The NTTA scared the heck out of the commissioners court when it became apparent that NTTA had powerful friends and influence in the Texas Legislature, especially in the Senate Transportation Committee. The Chairman of the Senate Committee warned Collin County's Keith Self that, "I don't think Collin County plays nice lately. I don't think they have a regional concern, but only for provincial Collin County"., "Bad things happen if you don't play nice". Faced with the legislative threat to remove all authority from the Collin County Toll Road Authority, the commissioners court backed down and conceded the DNT extension to the NTTA.
As recently as this March Senator Carona warned that, "Once again, Collin County elected officials are thumbing their noses at regionalism as they futilely attempt to seize control of the latest Dallas Tollway extension. It's a short-sighted move surely to incur the wrath of most North Texas leaders. Judge Self has been cautioned previously against this type of predatory behavior and appears eager for yet another bruising by his neighbors."
But a couple of weeks ago, Keith Self ratcheted up the rhetoric again with an email he posted on his blog. In his email, Self brought up the old complaints about the RTC's allocation of SH 121 tolls. Most experts in the region and members of the RTC saw Self's email as being loaded with half-truths and misrepresentations.
No one I talked to ever believed the NTTA board would approve the eastern alignment. Rather, the question today was whether the NTTA board would take revenge on Collin County and Self by moving the DNT extension completely out of Collin County.
Thankfully, the NTTA board did the right thing. They took the regional approach and approved the long standing agreed upon alignment along the county line.
Judge Self could learn from their example.
The Phase 4B and 5 extensions are many years away from being completed. Current guesses range from 10 to 20 years before construction will begin.
Meanwhile, the political landscape for transportation and especially the NTTA is about to change. Chairman Paul Wageman will retire at the end of the year, and the Collin County Commissioners will be appointing his replacement.
Also John Carona, last sessions' mercurial chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, will no longer be on the Committee. Press reports say that he was frustrated at the lack of will by the State Legislature to raise the money needed to address the mobility needs of the State.
The North Texas Tollway Authority rejected a bid by Collin County and Celina city leaders to move the northernmost future segments of the Dallas North Tollway to the east, and entirely within Collin County.
The board voted 7-1 this morning to formally endorse a route that will run the DNT along a path that will essentially track the county line between Collin and Denton counties. Chairman Paul Wageman, a Collin County appointee, did not vote, explaining that his law firm represents a property owner along another segment of the DNT. Board member Bill Moore of Collin County voted against.
That route had been endorsed by both counties in 2005, but Collin County changed its mind in 2008, in part because of frustration over how the Regional Transportation Council voted to split up the $3.2 billion advance payment the NTTA made to win the SH 121 toll contract. Collin County Judge Keith Self has said Collin County should have received larger portion of the payment.
The Collin County plan was novel in that it included a proposal by the tiny city of Celina, whose leaders promised that it would give NTTA every penny of property taxes it received as a result of the DNT -- an offer it said would be worth well over $220 million over the first 40 years after the road is built.
Celina city manager Jason Gray said The proposal could be a model for how cities across North Texas could use property taxes to help offset NTTA's costs. The real value of that promise however was questioned by some board members, who noted that the prospect of money decades into the future would mean little to lenders who would finance the nearly $1 billion the DNT is expected to cost.
No matter where the road is built, construction isn't expected to begin for at least a decade and perhaps in the words of one top NTTA official a generation.
Denton County Judge Mary Horn said the county line route represented a compromise that deserved to be supported. The county also noted it had secured agreements with property owners to donate 95 percent of the right of way needed for the county line route.
In addition, Denton County voters have already agreed to use $20 million to help NTTA build footage roads, and another $1.5 million for design -- dollars available now.
Horn: Toll route good
Road extension to follow line between counties
Thursday, July 22, 2010
By BJ Lewis / The Denton Record-Chronicle
Denton County leaders said Wednesday the region won when the North Texas Tollway Authority chose to extend the Dallas North Tollway along the Denton-Collin county line rather than entirely in Collin County.
“This is a good regional solution — good for Denton and Collin County, Pilot Point and Celina,” said Denton County Judge Mary Horn. “Perhaps at this time Collin County isn’t looking at it like that, but I hope they will. We have worked well in the past and hope we will in the future.”
Construction on the extension isn’t expected to begin for at least a decade.
Both counties had endorsed the route along the county line in 2005, but Collin County officials changed their minds in 2008, in part because of frustration over how the Regional Transportation Council voted to split up the $3.2 billion advance payment the tollway authority made to win the State Highway 121 toll contract.
Collin County Judge Keith Self has said Collin County should have received a larger portion of the payment.
The Collin County plan included a proposal by Celina, whose leaders promised that it would give the tollway authority every penny of property taxes it received as a result of the Dallas North Tollway — an offer it said would be worth more than $220 million over the first 40 years after the road is built.
Horn and some board members questioned the real value of that promise.
Denton County voters have agreed to use $20 million to help the tollway authority build frontage roads, and another $1.5 million for design — dollars available now.
“It’s very speculative, whereas Denton County, upon the advice of our transportation consultant, had the foresight to put $20 million in our bond election to do the frontage roads,” Horn said after the meeting. “A million and a half that we got for the design phase, … that’s money that is available today; that’s not speculative.”
Another issue was the flood plain in the northern part of both counties. Taking the eastern route would mean five more bridges, Horn said. The county line route would require only two.
Commissioner Hugh Coleman said the tollway authority made a good decision in selecting the county line route.
“The tolls are paid for on those roads by everyone in the region,” he said. “Having it along the county line benefits both counties.”
Coleman said his lingering concern is that a good portion of the toll road would run through special taxing districts that were set up for future development.
“In those districts, we need to solve the problem of providing police and fire [service],” he said. “We’re going to work with Pilot Point on a remedy.”
Coleman said the tollway authority took a well-reasoned approach that gave all parties an opportunity to speak.
“Overall, the best decision was to have it on the county line,” he said.
Michael Lindenberger of The Dallas Morning News contributed to this report.
Ever since I wrote an article disclosing that tens of thousands of Collin County arrest warrants were the result of the NTTA prosecuting toll dodgers, I have received dozens of letters from citizens who have written of their own stories of bungled accounts, high handed customer service, perfidy and worse at the hands of the North Texas Tollway Authority.
Responding to citizen criticism, the NTTA started an ombudsman program to "ensure consistency and fairness" in the NTTA collection process. I'm about to find out how well it works. I'm trying to be open minded, but the NTTA's website offers scant encouragement. It gives several examples of how the ombudsman helped customers "solve" their complaints - in every single NTTA example, the tollway authority was found to be 100% right, and the customer 100% wrong. Some ombudsman, eh?
I guess I'll find out.
Last week I received an invoice from NTTA. It was on pink paper, and was marked "past due". Now I was surprised to get this invoice as I have a TollTag, and I know it stays funded.
The bill was for 7 transactions totaling $12.12 dating from September of 2009 to April 3 of this year. It included a $2.50 late fee, and a threat that if not paid by May 27 that the late fee would increase to $187.12.
I went to the NTTA's website and did some investigation. While I couldn't research the oldest charges (they were no longer online), I could take a look at the latest. What I found was that while driving on the George Bush tollway, I was charged for non-payment during a trip where the tolltag registered charges both before and after these transactions. In other words, during a single trip, MOST of the toll gantries worked and one didn't.
On April 1, I passed a plaza at 17:47 (5:47 PM) - and was charged the cash rate and billed $1.86. However 8 minutes later, I passed another plaza and this time the tolltag clicked off $1.35
On April 2, I passed a plaza at 17:21 and the tolltag clicked off $1.24, but at 17:29, the tolltag didn't work, and I was billed another $1.86.
And On April 3, at 18:59 the tolltag worked, clicking off $.52, at 19:04 it clicked off another $1.08, and at 19:09 yet another $.34. Yet I received a bill for a $1.62 charge incurred (according to the NTTA) at 19:04! The supposedly fool proof system charged me twice for the same transaction. Either that, or I somehow managed to go through the Coit Rd. Plaza twice in the same minute.
So, on May 15, using the email tool on my tolltag account site, I wrote to customer service:
Plate # xxx-xxxx. I do not transmit my DL# by email. (You shouldn't ask for it as email is insecure.)
I have a working toll tag, but have received an invoice from you #9xxxxx on your acct #3xxxx.
It lists 7 charges from Sept 09 to Apr 10. I have researched online and can track the 4 of those charges made in 2010 (your system will not let me go back any further).
EVERY one of those charges were made during a trip where the toll tag correctly charged me as I passed the gantries. It seems that on each trip, one of your detectors was not working properly, and so you sent me a bill.
However, you are charging me at the higher ZipCash rate. And you have the temerity to demand a late fee -- all because YOUR system malfunctioned. Please re-bill me, or better yet, debit my account at the correct rate for a Toll Tag user.
You can contact me at this email address, or by phone at 214-xxx-xxxx.
I sent the email 5 days ago. So far I have not received a response from NTTA. Yet the D-Day for the $187.12 penalty is now only 7 days from now.
According to the NTTA website, in March, the NTTA Board approved a new customer service policy:
• Reducing the $25 administrative fee on the violation invoice by 67 percent to $8.33 per transaction if the invoice is paid before the invoice is sent to the collection agency
• Allowing all transactions on the NTTA System to be processed through the ZipCash process, providing motorists another opportunity to pay their tolls without any additional fines
• Creating an ombudsman program to ensure consistency and fairness in the NTTA collection process
• Redesigning invoices to communicate the benefit of prompt payment as well as consequences if the request for payment is ignored
• Streamlining the process used to gather forwarded addresses by communicating directly with the National Change of Address Database.
I have some questions for the new ombudsman --
1. If the new policy says the penalty (administrative fee) is now $8.33 per transaction, why are you threatening me with a $25 fee per transaction?
2. Why are you charging me a $12.12 late fee, when this is the first bill I've seen from you?
3. Why are you charging me the higher cash rate for transactions that should be charged at tolltag rates?
4. Why are you billing me at all? Why not simply debit my tolltag account and send me a receipt?
5. How do you explain how your fool-proof system manages to charge me twice for the same transaction - once through the tolltag, and once as a cash charge?
6. Why do you not respond to your emails?
I anxiously await their reply.
Planned Fort Worth-McKinney rail line to seek private partner
Thursday, May 13, 2010
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
The Regional Transportation Council took the first step Thursday toward a new model in North Texas for how commuter rail could be financed and built.
The 43-member council voted unanimously to give itself the lead role in finding private firms to partner with local transit agencies to build – and pay for – what could be a 62-mile long Cotton Belt commuter rail line from Fort Worth to McKinney?.
Such a public-private partnership for rail would be the first in Texas, and one of the very few in America.
RTC leaders said Thursday they want to fashion a unique kind of partnership that would involve private companies covering the upfront cost of building the $1 billion rail line and expenses related to maintenance and operations for its first decade or more.
In return, the transit agencies in Dallas and Fort Worth would probably need to agree to make annual payments to the firms large enough to cover the companies' debt service and expenses – plus a profit.
To do so, the RTC will probably need creative ways to find that revenue – which could be $100 million a year or more – because the transit agencies will not have any sales tax revenue to contribute.
Typically, it is sales-tax revenue to which firms look to guarantee their negotiated payments. But the chairman of Dallas Area Rapid Transit has said it will not pledge any of the sales taxes paid by its 13 member cities toward the Cotton Belt.
"We agree that a traditional public-private partnership may not work," RTC spokeswoman Amanda Wilson said. "We have been in that position for over a year. That is why we are not pursuing a traditional model, but an initiative on innovative finance."
One idea floated by transportation director Michael Morris has been to try to lure a plant to North Texas to manufacture a new kind of rail car under design by DART.
The eastern half of the Cotton Belt has long been on DART's wish list of projects, but the agency didn't expect to have any money to spend on it until 2028, and more recent financial problems probably mean it would be years beyond that.
In addition, the Fort Worth transit agency, The T, is developing a plan to build the western half of the line by 2013 using traditional tax dollars. But that plan is wholly dependent upon uncertain approval of a major federal grant that would pay for it.
Any deal negotiated by RTC will have to be approved by the transit agencies' boards of directors, and would not transfer ownership of the rail lines to a private firm.
On today's Commissioner's Court agenda are two items that will extend engineering contracts to allow for work on their next phase.
The first contract request will amend a previously awarded a $107,219 contract to Dannenbaum Engineering for preliminary right of way studies for FM 455 (east of US 75) in Anna. The county's engineer, Ruben Delgado submitted a request to amend the contract adding an additional $1,010,792 to fund completion of plan specifications and right of way mapping.
The second contract is with Berkhoff, Hendricks and Carter, LLP for construction of the widening and relocation of Parker Rd. (FM 2514) from Murphy Rd. (FM 2551) to just past County Club Rd. (FM 1378) in Parker. The original contract amount was $174,700. The amendment is for $403,200 and will include surveys, a public meeting, preparation of a right of way map and an environmental assessment.
This is the second time Mr. Delgado has submitted these requests. Last month Judge Self and Commissioner Shaheen questioned the contract amendment. Self believed that extending a contract by adding 1000% to its cost should cause the county to look at re-evaluating the vendors and possibly resubmitting both projects to the engineering vendor selection process.
After discussion, both items were tabled to allow the county's engineering staff to review the cost of the proposals with the vendors.
Both Self and Shaheen have been very critical of state laws that prohibit a county form seeking competitive bidding on engineering contracts. Because of the state regulations, the county must first choose an engineering firm and only then negotiate costs.
In resubmitting these contract amendments, Delgado noted that negotiations with Berkhoff, Hendricks and Carter have led to a reduction of only $8,600 -- out of over $1 million in cost. In the contract with Dannenbaum, Delgado's request is actually $60,000 larger than it was last month.
Given recent reductions seen in construction costs and current budget pressure, it will be interesting to see the court's reaction to these submissions.
For many election day watchers, one of the more interesting contests turned out to be the County Commissioners, Precinct 2 race.
Challenger and former Plano City Councilwoman Cheryl Williams out-polled 29 yr incumbent Jerry Hoagland by 9 percentage points. However, her 45.8% was not enough to avoid a run-off with Commissioner Hoagland.
The Collin County Observer visited with both Cheryl Williams and Jerry Hoagland this weekend. Both graciously allowed me into their home to record a series of interviews. I hope you find them interesting and helpful.
In the first segment, we talk about roads and mobility:
TxDOT has scheduled two public hearings in Collin County this week:
FM 455 in Anna
TxDOT in cooperation with Collin County and The City of Anna will host an open house and public hearing for the proposed improvements to Farm-to-Market (FM) 455. The hearing will be on Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at the City of Anna, City Hall Administration Building, City Council Chambers, 111 North Powell Parkway, Anna, Texas, 75409.
Prior to the public hearing, an open house will be from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. to allow for questions and review of project exhibits. TxDOT? strongly values the public’s involvement and invites all interested persons to attend the open house to discuss the social, economic, and environmental affects of the proposed improvements to FM 455.
The proposed project is needed to adequately address the expected increase in traffic along FM 455 within the City of Anna. The 6.5 mile improvement project extends from the U.S. Highway (US) 75 northbound frontage road to State Highway (SH) 121, in Collin County. The proposed plans widen FM 455 from a two-lane undivided roadway to a divided four-lane roadway with an ultimate six-lane configuration. This project’s improvements are designed to reduce congestion and improve mobility.
FM 546 in McKinney
TxDOT in cooperation with Collin County and and the City of McKinney will host an open house and public hearing for the proposed improvements to Farm-to-Market (FM) 546. The hearing will be held on Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at the McKinney City Hall - City Council Chambers, 222 N. Tennessee Street, McKinney, TX 75069.
Prior to the public hearing, an open house will be from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. to allow for questions and review of project exhibits. TxDOT? strongly values the public’s involvement and invites all interested persons to attend the open house to discuss the social, economic and environmental affects of the proposed improvements to FM 546.
The proposed project is needed to address uncontrolled access and conflicting left-turn movements on the roadway. The proposed improvement project extends from State Highway (SH) 5 to Airport Road in Collin County. The proposed project would reconstruct the existing six-lane roadway and bidirectional continuous left-turn lane to a four-lane roadway with dedicated left-turn lanes. This project’s improvements are designed to better control access and create safer conditions for motorists traveling along this roadway.
Dueling gets serious between 2 tollway authorities
March 23, 2010
Rodger Jones / Editorial Writer
The Dallas Morning News / Transportation Blog
We see at Bill Baumbach's Collin County Observer site that the competition is heating up between the North Texas Tollway Authority and the upstart Collin County Tollway Authority.
The NTTA already held hearings twice this month on the future extension of the Dallas North Tollway into northern Collin County. So yesterday, members of the county's commissioner's court -- who double as members of their own tollway authority -- voted unanimously to hold their own hearings on the future of the DNT.
County Judge Keith Self has been pushing this real hard from the beginning, drawing the anger of Sen. John Carona, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee. Carona has been trying to ensure a regional approach to planning and funding of major roadways, and Self has gotten himself in hot water before with the senator. This latest decision for the duplicate public meetings is no different. Carona sent me the following statement this afternoon:
I talked this over with Commissioner Joe Jaynes, who is key in this debate. He is also a member of the policy-making Regional Transportation Commission and has a good handle on North Texas' planning and financial challenges for large road projects.
Jaynes does not apologize for the vote by county commissioners, doubling as the upstart local toll authority. He said the NTTA is financially strapped from taking on so many different projects in recent years, most recently the SH 161 roadway and, probably, the Southwest Parkway-Chisolm Trail in Tarrant and Parker counties.
NTTA, he says, cannot offer a firm timetable for developing a new alignment for the DNT north of Celina or even for laying down main lanes where the alignment is already set between US 380 and Celina. Until the county gets some kind of assurances from the NTTA, commissioners have a responsibility to push the projects through their own toll authority.
He said since funding for major transportation projects sometimes appears suddenly -- think of the infusion of $250m in stimulus money and how it helped out the D/FW Connector -- the new tollway segments need to be as ready as possible.
"We need all the tools we can get," Jaynes said, echoing the thoughts of Dallas County Commissioner Maurine Dickey, who supports a separate Dallas County tolling agency.
Jaynes said he backs the concept of "primacy," meaning that NTTA should be the default, go-to tolling agency for the region.
"NTTA should have primacy -- but within reason," Jaynes said. "We should have guidelines in place" on timetables that make sense, he said.
Who should set those rules? "The state, or the region," Jaynes said.
As for the idea that the dueling, duplicative public meetings will be awfully and needlessly confusing to the public, Jaynes did not dispute that.
"We may hear that NTTA is on the right track," he said. But the real test is when and whether that agency will commit to spend the money for engineering and construction.
As for Sen. Carona's anger at the duplication, Jaynes said, "I don't know Sen. Carona that well, and I doubt he'd be able to pick me out of a crowd." He said Carona is acknowledged as a leader in transportation, "and I'd like to develop a good working relationship with him."
Update from Sherita Coffelt, spokeswoman for NTTA, on the Collin County toll authority's vote:
I asked about the notion that Collin County could push its planning entirely on a parallel track and disregard the NTTA's work. Coffelt said, "That's just not in the public interest. You'd be doing a disservice."
And about the complaint that the NTTA is not advancing the roadway quickly enough, she said, "We have been advancing the roadway, as evidenced by the fact that we have been holding public meetings."
And what about the complaint that the NTTA can't afford to do the work now? The road would not attract the traffic needed to finance construction at present, she said.
"The road is not feasible right now," she said. "The road doesn't get more feasible based on the agency that's building it."
And the time frame? "There's not a firm time frame. I've heard rough estimates between five and 10 years. ... We know the growth will be there in the future."
County Judge Keith Self
Commissioner Jerry Hoagland
Senator John Carona
The Collin County commissioners, meeting as the Collin County Toll Road Authority yesterday, voted 5-0 to hold a public hearing on alternative right of ways for Phase IV B of the Dallas North Tollway extension.
They dusted off a resolution passed in January, where they asserted a claim to the NTTA project, and used it to claim their right to assume authority over the IV B extension.
Keith Self told the commissioners:
Latest NTTA proposed routes
The commissioners took this action after looking at NTTA's proposed alignments. Of the three routes that NTTA presented at a public hearing last week, one was in Denton County, one was on the county line, and one was in Collin County.
At stake are hundreds of millions of dollars in future development that will border the toll road.
It was back in January of 2009 that the County Toll Road Authority met for the first time and approved the resolution taking over the NTTA's project to extend the Dallas North Tollway from FM 426 north of Celina to the Grayson County line.
The NTTA was not amused. Neither was the Senate Transportation Committee and its powerful chairman, Senator John Carona (R-Richardson).
Collin County commissioners soon found out that the NTTA had powerful friends.
Testifying before the commissioners court Paul Wageman, the chairman of the NTTA Board warned the court that the legislature could grant NTTA control over all tolled projects in the region, and that included the commissioner's cherished project -- the Outer Loop. In fact a bill was filed in the last session that would have done exactly that.
Wageman told the Senate Committee the same thing. In testimony before the committee, Wageman said:
Carona reacted by saying:
Carona summed up the situation well when he told Keith Self, "Bad things happen if you don't play nice".
The legislation was dropped after Senator Shapiro helped broker a deal. The county promised to give up its claim on the Dallas North Tollway, and the Senators allowed the county's Toll Road Authority to continue trying to develop its Outer Loop.
But yesterday, the county commissioners reneged on the deal.
Older 4 route plan
This is the second time the county has gone back on an agreement involving the tollway extension. They originally had a deal with Denton County where both counties agreed that the DNT extension would be along the county line. Collin County formally rescinded that compact six months before forming their own Toll Road Authority.
Both actions were taken after the commissioners court began to fear that the county could lose miles of the road to Denton. Along with those miles would be the miles of development that would follow any extension of the tollway. The commissioners want the whole extension in Collin County, eschewing even the county line alignment as half a loaf.
Will they get away with their hijacking?
It was only last week, when Senator Carona's blog contained the following in a discussion on a possible Dallas County Toll Authority:
(Note to the Collin County Commissioners -- That was a threat.)
The stage is now set for some high stakes gamesmanship, as the NTTA, Collin, Denton and the State haggle over the ownership and future path of the tollway extension.
Collin County is often accused of not being a team player. Their protectionism and publicly stated disdain for regional cooperation may have made the county some powerful foes, and made it all the harder for the county to get a fair shake in regional projects, such as the Dallas North Tollway.
The last time this battle was fought, the commissioners brought a knife to a gunfight. This challenge could be just the first shot in gaining negotiating room, but it could result in the county losing control of both the tollway and the Outer Loop.
At stake is the gain or loss of millions of dollars in future tax revenue.
Hundreds of Celina area residents let NTTA know preferred route for tollway extension
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Penny Rathbun / Celina Record
More than 400 Celina, Denton and Collin County residents kept NTTA officials busy at a meeting last week held to give information on the proposed routes for the extension of the Dallas North Tollway.
“As the mayor, I am thrilled that so many people responded and came out to the informational meeting,” Celina Mayor Jim Lewis said.
Of the three routes the North Texas Tollway Authority is proposing, he favors the route known as the Orange/Red Alignment.
“It's $60 million less for our route. It's just almost unrealistic to think they're going to spend an extra $60 million in my opinion. Why tear up another 20 acres of wetland if you don't have to? It just doesn't make sense,” Lewis said.
He added he was also glad to see council representatives from so many of Celina's neighbors. There were council people there from Anna, Melissa, McKinney and Pilot Point.
The NTTA is considering three different alignments. The Green Alignment veers west/northwest directly towards Pilot Point and meets up with U.S. Highway 377 just north of Pilot Point. The second alignment, Yellow and Red, veers west then due north up the Denton and Collin County line. The third Orange and Red alignment, goes straight north from the existing roadway.
The Green Alignment moves the majority of developable DNT frontage outside of Celina and Collin County. About $40 million to $50 million of annual tax revenue will go to Pilot Point and Denton County. Project development cost in 2010 dollars is about $890 million.
The Yellow/Red Alignment along the Denton/Collin County line will also divert tax dollars away from Celina. The estimated cost of developing the Yellow-Red alignment is $865 million.
The Orange/Red alignment would allow Celina and Collin County to provide a high level of services for a fairly low tax rate. It would be less expensive to build because it does not go through flood plain. The alignment along the county line will require several bridges to elevate the road above the flood plain. The Orange/Red alignment project development cost will be about $805 million.
“The Orange/Red route would bring prosperity to our town,” Celina resident Kandace Hancock said. It's only a mile off the square.”
The next step for the NTTA staff is to evaluate public meeting comments and finalize an alternative alignment analysis. The NTTA board then selects a locally preferred alternative. The staff will then develop a preliminary design schematic and environmental evaluation on the locally preferred route.
A tentative time line is for the board to approve a locally preferred route in July this year. Design development would take place from July through February 2011. Formal public hearings would be conducted in March of next year. The NTTA board would approve schematic design in June 2011.
Another alternative Lewis said is possible is that the NTTA board could decide not to choose a route or do anything else for awhile.
The NTTA is still taking public comments. They can be emailed to DNT45@ntta.org.
Comments can be written and sent to Corridor Manager, Re: DNT 4B/5A Project, P.O. Box 260729, Plano, Texas 75026.
For information on all three proposed routes for the Dallas North Tollway extension visit www.ntta.org.
Stakes high as cities debate proposed tollway routes
by STEVE STOLER / WFAA-TV
Posted on March 9, 2010 at 9:56 PM
Updated March 9 at 10:38 PM
PILOT POINT — The Dallas North Tollway is expanding far north.
Right now, there are three proposed routes, and the stakes are high. The chosen path will bring with it millions of dollars in tax revenue and economic development.
The Mayor of Celina, Jim Lewis, put it this way:
“The decision on where the Tollway will go is about money — who gets it and who pays it,” said Mayor Jim Lewis of Celina.
Three hundred people converged on the community room of a Pilot Point bank Tuesday to take a look for themselves.
“They have no direct route to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex areas, no matter where they work," she said. "They have a long, winding way to get there. This route would benefit them, save fuel and save time."
The Yellow/Red Alignment veers west and then heads due north up the Collin/Denton county line. Pilot Point leaders say this route would share the wealth and cost between both counties. They believe it can be built the fastest.
“It’s just a lot better route. It's a straighter route," said Pilot Point City Manager J.C. Hughes.
But Celina leaders want the Tollway to run through their town in Collin County on the Orange/Red Alignment. They claim it's the shortest route to Grayson County, which means less road to build and big savings.
“And what that means is that's $40 to $45 million less in tolls that will have to be charged to make up the funding," said Celina City Manager Jason Gray.
The cities are competing for big benefits. The Tollway extension is expected to generate $50 million in tax revenue every year.
The NTTA board is scheduled to approve a route in July.
The Observer comments:
You want to know why there is a Collin County Toll Road Authority?
Look at the DNT extension map, that's why.
The CCTRA was formed out of fears that this extension of the DNT would bypass much of Collin County. for years, there was an agreement between Collin and Denton counties that the future tollroad extension would be along the county line. This is the yellow route on the map.
Hearing that other routes were under consideration that would move the alignment into Denton County, the Collin County Commissioners panicked and after repudiating the agreement with Denton, formed the CCTRA and tried to take the right of way from NTTA.
Unfortunately for our commissioners, the North Texas Tollway Authority has lots of friends in the Texas Legislature. Collin County was forced to back off and promise not to interfere with the DNT extension in return for being allowed to pursue their work on financing the Outer Loop.
At one point, the NTTA floated the compromise idea of the "Y", basically creating two roads one east and one west. At the time, The Observer predicted that the "Y" option was not realistic.
We notice that it didn't even appear in the map used in yesterday's NTTA presentation. Instead there are 3 possible routes, one largely in Collin County and two in Denton County. The original negotiated route along the county line appears to no longer be on the table.
At stake is billions in future long-term economic development.
Because of its 'snatch and grab' attempt, Collin County finds itself at the disadvantage.
Neither NTTA nor Denton County has any moral imperative now to play fair. If they do, you can bet they'll make our commissioners squirm first.
It will be interesting to watch the commissioners court now that they have no choice but to seek a regional approach.
The North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) is holding a public meeting at 6:30 on Monday night (March 8) at the Allen City Hall to present and get comments on three items:
- Mobility 2035: Determining the Future of Transportation in the Region
NCTCOG is developing the next long-term transportation plan, Mobility 2035. It will be a comprehensive plan that includes projects and policies aimed at meeting transportation needs through the next 25 years.
- Status Report: List of Funded Projects and Economic Recovery
A comprehensive list of funded transportation projects through 2011 is maintained in the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). Projects with committed funds from federal, state and local sources are included in the TIP.
- Advancing Transportation Projects and Drafting Plans for Potential Funding Opportunities
Staff will summarize how $43 million awarded to North Texas on Feb. 17 from the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary Grant Program will benefit S.H. 161 and the downtown Dallas streetcar project.
NCTCOG is the regional planning authority for federal and state financed transportation projects. It is an association of just about all the local governments in the North Texas Region and is financed with your tax dollars.
Then on Wednesday, March 10, The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is partnering with the NCTCOG to hold a 'Town Hall' meeting at Plano's City Hall to give residents and local officials an opportunity to share their thoughts on local transportation issues and needs.
TxDOT, along with NCTCOG and other local transportation representatives, will be on hand to answer questions and provide information on projects and funding, including a brief perspective on regional infrastructure requirements for the future.
“It’s important to engage Texans in the discussion—to bring citizens to the table so they can contribute to shaping our future transportation system and participate in the statewide funding conversation,” said Amadeo Saenz, TxDOT executive director.
Citizens are encouraged to attend these meetings and provide feedback on regional transportation issues. The information received will be used to help Texas plan and develop an efficient transportation system—one that is sophisticated enough to meet the needs of future generations, he noted.
A webcast link will be available on the TxDOT home page. Viewers can participate in the town hall via the Internet and have an opportunity to submit questions during the meeting.
Election day is only one day away and the candidates are busy slinging barbs at each other as to who stood where, who gave to who's campaign and who spent money on campaign consultants.
Meanwhile real issues, involving real people are little debated or even discussed.
I haven't seen any substantial discussion of the Collin County Toll Road Authority and the county's Outer Loop.
It was in May of 2008, when the commissioners court met at Murphy City Hall in a meeting that was supposed to "take the court on the road", but which instead made two decisions that had great impact on the county. In executive session that night, the court approved a law suit against their Auditor. The suit eventually cost the citizens over $350,000.
But also that night, the commissioners voted to rescind an agreement made with Denton County and the NTTA on the alignment of the future expansion of the Dallas North Tollway. The commissioners wanted the road, and its subsequent commercial development, not on the county line, but completely in Collin County. They also began to make plans to create a county toll road authority to develop the extension of the Dallas North Tollway.
A few months later, the Collin County Toll Road Authority was born. It's mission was to secure financing for the DNT extension and to finance and build what Collin County called their "Outer Loop".
The Outer Loop is a segment of a regional "Loop 9" originally conceived as the DFW bypass along the Trans Texas Corridor. This huge loop road will, when and if built, completely encircle Dallas and Fort Worth. The Collin County portion begin at the DNT on the Denton county line and would run north of McKinney before turning south to end at the Rockwall County line.
The Collin County Commissioners, facing rapid growth in their own county, were clearly frustrated with the slow pace of development of the regional loop. They decided to go it alone at a cost of $4 billion. They had no idea how to pay for such a huge project, but they hoped that the county's rapid growth would attract a public-private partnership that would finance and operate the Outer Loop for toll revenue.
They didn't count on the recession, the killing of the Trans Texas Corridor, or the fact that no one, not even the Spanish giant Cintra, was going to write a check for $4 billion to build a super highway to connect Melissa to Royce City.
Their insistence on forming their own toll authority, their attempt to hijack the DNT extension, and their perceived reluctance to work in a regional manner also frustrated those local partners whose cooperation was needed to make the road economically possible. At a State Senate hearing, Dallas' Republican Senator John Carona told Keith Self, "I don't think Collin County plays nice lately. "I don't think they have a regional concern, but only for provincial Collin County."
Denton County Judge Mary Horn scolded the commissioners with, "I think you should honor your county's agreements." Denton Commissioner Andy Eads told the press that, "I was very disappointed. Everyone represents their own jurisdiction, but we also have to wear the hat of regionalism."
The NTTA, reacting to the takeover of the DNT extension garnered support in the legislature for a bill that would have required the county to get the NTTA's permission to build any toll road in Collin County. The chairman of the NTTA board, a Collin County appointee, told the commissioners, "We're not going to make a political decision. We're going to make the right decision for the agency."
Frantic, last minute backtracking by the county allowed for a compromise where Collin County gave up any claim to the DNT, and the bill was dropped.
The commissioners, in going it alone, likely slowed any opportunity for regional cooperation with Denton and Rockwall Counties. Cooperation with both counties is critical. To make the Loop economically viable, it needs to connect more than small towns here - it needs to go west in Denton County to I-35 and South through Rockwall to I-30.
However, even though no financing of the construction of the Outer Loop is in place (nor likely to be anytime soon), the commissioners court believes that it is important to acquire the needed land for the Loop's right of way. Their reasoning is that over time, the land will become more expensive, and as vacant land fills it will be harder to plot a path across the county.
The county has the cash. $7 million was set aside for the road back in the 2007 budget. So the land acquisition plan, especially on the northern leg of the loop, has gone forward - with or without the acquiescence of local land owners.
For the last year, the county has been using its power of Eminent Domain to force the purchase of at least 7 different properties without the consent of the sellers.
In today's court session, the commissioners will vote to "lend" (against future toll revenue) the Collin County Toll Road Authority $6 million to pay for these condemned properties.
For a road that may never be built, at least not in our lifetime.
Update March 1, 2010:
The Commissioners Court agreed in today's meeting to lend their Toll Road Authority the money. The only discussion was on a suggestion by Jerry Hoagland that the county charge the CCTRA interest on the funds.
Then, meeting as the Collin County Toll Road Authority, the commissioners voted without discussion to spend the money to close the condemnation sales.
I was interested to see that the Chairman of the Texas Senate Committee on Transportation issued a not-so-veiled threat today to the CCTRA. On his blog, Senator John Carona's spokesman wrote, "The compromise language between the Collin County Toll Authority and the North Texas Tollway Authority was ultimately removed from legislation. As a result, Senator Carona is observing how the relationship progresses over the interim, and depending on that outcome, may proceed with appropriate legislation in the 82nd session."
He's telling Self and company to "play nice".
Expanding the reach of rail transit in North Texas will take progress big and small on multiple fronts. Here are a couple of areas where things are quietly heading the right way:
In Austin – House Speaker Joe Straus officially invited ideas on new ways of paying for transportation projects. The speaker announced special committees last week to study needs and report to him on, among other things, "using alternative funding options at the state and local levels."
That was the right move. A bill to permit local-option elections on transportation funding crashed and burned spectacularly in the House last year. Straus' leadership team now must sort through possibilities for solving the inarguable problem of urban traffic congestion.
Traffic planners maintain that expanded rail transit is a must, and this newspaper agrees. Last year's local-option bill would have given voters a say on paying for new transit projects as well as badly needed urban roadways.
Lawmakers in both parties are also making a strong case for raising the motor-fuels tax for the first time since 1991, but any such revenue could go only to roads, not rail, under current law.
That's where the special House committees come in. The speaker's proclamation last week also used the words "innovative approaches," and it couldn't have been said better. Innovation in solving traffic congestion is what transportation leaders in North Texas have been pushing for. It's good to see Straus expressing interest in more of that.
In North Texas – A coalition of cities and transportation agencies has stepped up efforts to develop the long-proposed east-west Cotton Belt rail link to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. It would connect northern suburbs and North Dallas to the airport and run through downtown Fort Worth. DART owns the Cotton Belt right of way but doesn't have the money to put the project together.
Again, innovation is called for. The North Central Texas Council of Governments is finishing a report on ways the six cities on the east side of the airport can team up with property owners and DART to start the new line.
For example, developers might be interested in sharing construction costs if passenger stations were located on their land. The University of Texas at Dallas might want to hire a developer to build a station and amenities on campus.
One audacious idea under discussion is encouraging a manufacturer to locate along the Cotton Belt and produce the next generation of diesel rail cars, which are in demand nationwide for new transit lines.
Ultimately, voter-approved money may be needed to put this project over the top. But since nothing is guaranteed out of Austin, North Texas leaders are smart to look for creative ways to achieve the goal of a seamless regional rail network.
DART considers letting more cities aboard at lower cost
Sunday, January 24, 2010
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
Dallas Area Rapid Transit is considering ways to bring new cities aboard without requiring them to pay a full cent of sales tax, which has been a core membership requirement since the agency's founding more than a quarter-century ago.
That full-penny requirement, which in recent years has meant more than $200 million a year in sales tax contributions from Dallas alone, has been the biggest obstacle to the agency's growth. One fast-growing suburb after another has chosen to stay out of DART rather than surrender all of its discretionary sales tax revenue to pay for bus and rail service.
DART president Gary Thomas said preliminary discussions have begun among his board members and leaders in cities that border the agency's 13 member cities.
"When we started DART in 1983, it didn't make sense for some of these outlying cities to be part of a regional system," Thomas said. "The revenues in those cities were not sufficient, and neither was the likely ridership. But here as we find ourselves with a lot of first-ring suburbs as part of the agency ... and we have gone way beyond that."
He and DART board members said they would like to persuade some new cities to join, though they said it will take a patient strategy.
The first efforts probably will be to persuade cities to simply contract for specified services – probably limited bus service, Thomas said, adding that doing so would require changes to DART rules.
"Right now, our board policy says I can only contract for commuter [rail] service," he said. "But some communities have approached us about contracting for bus service, so we have begun those conversations at the board to talk about a policy change.
"In other words, if a city wants to have us run three routes in the morning and three in the evening, then we'd send those buses – probably bringing the passengers to downtown Dallas or another central location – and send the city a bill, and they would send us a check."
That's a far cry from ushering in new cities as full members of DART, but, Thomas said, it's an important first step. All the cities that border DART cities have obligated their sales tax revenue for other purposes, and it will take several years for most of them to be in a position to even consider dedicating any of that money to DART.
"These cities would begin to carve out room in their budgets" so that a discussion about becoming a member – whether at a full penny or, if DART changes its rules, at a reduced rate – would be a less drastic step, Thomas said.
Finding new members – even if in a reduced capacity – would help DART in two big ways.
First, the new members would provide badly needed growth for an agency that hasn't expanded its revenue base since shortly after its founding.
The last city to join DART, by a local referendum in 1985, was Buckingham, a city later annexed by Richardson. There have been no attempts by any of its neighbors to join since then. Meanwhile, only two cities have dropped out – Coppell and Flower Mound, both in 1989.
Second, new members, even junior ones, could help ease frustration among some member cities confronted with sagging sales tax receipts.
One founding member, Plano, has already asked DART to prepare a summary of what would be required should it decide to quit, Thomas and officials in Plano said.
"We are working on that now," Thomas said, adding that staff is determining how many years Plano would have to dedicate sales taxes to DART following a withdrawal. "It wouldn't be for just a year or two. If a city were to have a [successful] pullout election, the service would stop the next day, but the financial obligations for that city may not stop that day."
The soonest Plano could hold such an election would be 2014, though officials there said no serious discussion of calling an election has begun.
Still, Thomas said DART takes any such request seriously. "It doesn't come up often, but occasionally it has ... They begin to say, 'Gosh, is there a better way to spend our money?' "
Not surprisingly, for Thomas the answer is no.
But he said complaints from Plano, which has two busy light rail stations plus extensive bus routes, reflect growing pressures among older suburbs as they weather an economic downturn while their neighbors use their sales taxes to promote economic development.
"Certainly in these tough economic times, cities are looking for ways to look for relief in their financial system," he said.
He said DART has begun studying ways to increase service to Plano, with a special focus on how to ramp up services for elderly citizens.
Meanwhile, Mayor Phil Dyer of Plano said there has been no serious talk of withdrawing from DART, despite occasional criticism. But he said it's easy to lament the flow of more than $55 million in annual sales taxes out of the city.
"If we had this election again, and had the option of using the penny for economic development, I am not sure how it would come out this time, either here in Plano or in any of the DART cities," Dyer said.
Rick Stopher, mayor pro tem in Irving, said his city is thrilled to finally be able to welcome rail service to town as the Orange Line opens in phases beginning next year.
"We're had our difficulties with DART, but right now we're like a kid with a shiny new toy; we can't wait for it to get here," he said. "But we have these conversations all the time, questions about whether DART has been a good investment."
Mileage Meters? Texans Could Get Taxed By the Mile
By KEN KALTHOFF / NBCDFW Channel 5
Updated 11:19 PM CST, Fri, Jan 15, 2010
A tax on the miles you drive could be a way to pay for Texas roads in the future.
Texas transportation planners are studying the idea of a “mileage meter” to help raise money.
Cars built after 1999 have a computer port that can access many types of data about the vehicle.
Progressive Insurance already offers a device that connects to that port for pay as you go rates.
“Mileage does have a lot to do with it,” said Mike Leonard, a Progressive insurance agent in Carrollton. “The less the miles, the less exposure Progressive has. So therefore, they’re willing to give you a discount on your rates.”
The Texas Department of Transportation is investigating whether such a device might also be used to tax drivers for how much they use roads.
“I’m not ready to embrace that technology, but it is a technology we may have to look at,” said State Sen. John Carona, of Dallas, a Republican.
Carona said Texas has an estimated $100 billion worth of unfunded transportation needs.
“The money simply does not exist, and if people are being honest with constituents, they come out and just tell them that," he said. "We don’t have the money in Austin, and there isn’t the ability locally to raise this money to be able to solve these problems.”
Carona said a 20-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax approved 19 years ago no longer covers Texas transportation requirements. The state senator said he believes Texas has resorted to too many toll roads, which he claims cost citizens more in the long run.
“It’s not a good public policy," he said. "I would argue continued advancement toward more toll roads is bad for Texas.”
Another pay-as-you-go plan might require drivers to electronically record their mileage at the gas pump, which is already required by for some private company cars.
Carona said raising the gas tax by 10 cents per gallon could pay for all the unfunded transportation needs, but Carona has found that option has found that option extremely unpopular among state lawmakers.
One way or another, all of the options require citizens to pay more to solve Texas transportation needs.
“We are substantially behind the times in dealing with this,” Carona said. “We’re going to face substantially greater congestion and air quality issues.”
According to this editorial from The Dallas Morning News, the quality of Texas highways sunk from 8th to 17th in the nation.
In DFW toll lane miles will grow from 520 to over 3,300 miles by 2030. Many of these lanes will charge tolls in excess of $1/mile.
There are no major highway projects planned for the Collin county area that are not dependent on the collection of tolls for financing. Most of these new roads will be built and managed by private enterprise, not government. These new roads will require that they make investors a decent profit - if they don't, tolls will rise.
Collin County will be seeing its share of these managed lanes and toll roads. Frisco is already almost completely locked in by toll roads, and if the Central Expressway expansion is tolled (as is likely), all of our larger cities will be largely inaccessible without the paying of tolls.
If nothing is done, our citizens will live in continual traffic gridlock, and our air quality will worsen. Our continued growth will stall if we do not have the necessary transportation infrastructure to sustain that growth. We simply will not be able to attract major corporations, if their employees can not get to work.
Yet, we've heard very little from our County Commissioner candidates and incumbents on their plans to prevent Collin County from, in effect, becoming a "Gated Community" with a $20 price of admission in tolls for a daily commute.
It would be easy to simply place the blame on the state and federal governments. But here, in one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, just blaming someone else does nothing to solve our problems.
The Collin County Observer will be pleased to publish, unedited, any statement from a commissioners' court candidate or incumbent on planning and/or financing the needed expansion of our transportation systems.
DMN - NTTA leaders fear Dallas area's push for toll roads is moving too fast, CCO ,December 28, 2009
Mass transit sinking in Collin County?, CCO, October 11, 2009
DMN - North Texas Tollway Authority OKs rate hike, CCO, July 17, 2009
As if we need reminders that traffic around here is a drag.
The Texas highway system has slipped several notches in new state rankings from the free-market Reason Foundation. Rated for performance and efficiency, Texas has fallen from eighth in the nation to 17th.
The reason: urban congestion. Texas' metro highways now rank as the 11th most congested in the nation, according to the Reason analysis.
That's bad for business, bad for the air, bad for the quality of life.
At least the bad news helps remind state leaders of their negligence in protecting urban economies from the corrosive effects of impossible traffic.
Too little state money has been flowing to metro areas to complete and improve regional highway grids, and top leaders are generally bankrupt of bold, definitive ideas to reverse the trend.
That leaves North Texas with few options to building a massive system of tolled and partially tolled highways.
Just how massive may come as a shock to drivers whose monthly TollTag? charges rival their utility bills:
•Today, North Texas has 520 miles of tolled lanes.
•In 2030, the region is expected to have 3,379 miles of tolled lanes.
Those include hybrid projects like the massive LBJ rebuild, which will provide free lanes as well as toll lanes for drivers willing to pay for guaranteed speed. That's a useful traffic-management tool, even if people with toll fatigue won't see it that way.
It's hard to get state lawmakers to admit it, but the widening web of tollways is preordained by their refusal to boost the main source of state road revenue: the motor fuels tax.
That tax was last raised, to 20 cents a gallon, in 1991. Since then, inflation has eroded the buying power to about 13 cents.
The Senate transportation chairman, Sen. John Carona of Dallas, has the guts to call for an increase of 10 cents a gallon. But few others have been interested in discussing that obvious step, preferring to focus on new borrowing programs.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is reviving talk of financing projects by borrowing against additional sales taxes that would be generated along a new roadway. He also wants to analyze whether money now dedicated to rural roads should be shifted to fighting urban congestion.
Both ideas deserve careful consideration by lawmakers, but we doubt they would bring enough money to avert a predicted cutoff of new state highway projects come 2012.
Neither do we see funding initiatives among transportation ideas announced yesterday by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in her run for governor. She said she is skeptical about the need for new money and wants to concentrate on an audit of TxDOT?. Gov. Rick Perry has made it clear that he thinks roadways are underfunded, but he has stopped short of calling for specific new sources of money.
If state leaders are unwilling to own the problem and point the way to a solution, they may someday have to deal with a threat that Carona pointed out in the Reason study: Mississippi is gaining on us.
My only comment is "duh!"
NTTA vice chairman Victor Vandergriff
NTTA leaders fear Dallas area's push for toll roads is moving too fast
Sunday, December 27, 2009
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
As the Dallas area rushes forward in pursuit of more toll roads, warnings that it may be doing so at its own peril have been emanating from an unexpected corner: the top leaders of the North Texas Tollway Authority.
Even as the NTTA enters the final weeks of negotiations that all sides expect will conclude by Feb. 28 with a multibillion-dollar deal to build two new giant toll projects in Dallas and Tarrant counties, the agency's two top board members have been warning that the region may be moving too fast on toll roads.
"People are going to realize that every new road in the metroplex is going to be a toll road," NTTA vice chairman Victor Vandergriff said at a recent meeting of the NTTA board.
He was only exaggerating a little.
The Regional Transportation Council approves a 25-year plan for area transportation projects every five years – and the current plan has included a map with precious few free roads. Roads paid for with taxes have emerged as something of a luxury, one that the RTC no longer sees as affordable, given the rising needs and insufficient funds from Austin and Washington.
A new plan is in the works now, and officials say it could shift away from tolls.
But for now, tolls are fast becoming the dominant way local officials hope to move Dallas area residents from one place to another.
The NTTA already manages three major toll roads – the Sam Rayburn Tollway, the Bush Turnpike, and its oldest and still most lucrative, the Dallas North Tollway – and is collecting tolls on the first stages of a fourth, State Highway 161 in Dallas County.
Over the next six weeks or so, NTTA is expected to reach an agreement with the state Department of Transportation to complete Highway 161 and build the Southwest Parkway and Chisholm Trail toll roads in Tarrant County. A major expansion of the Bush Turnpike is under way now, and officials in Dallas continue to hope that NTTA will build the Trinity Parkway near downtown. State officials have said they want to add new tolled lanes to Interstate 35 between Dallas to Denton, as a means to pay for the expansion of that highway.
In addition, two major private toll roads, the region's first, are expected to begin construction during the next 18 months. The Spanish toll road developer Cintra has teamed with other investors to rebuild LBJ Freeway in Dallas and Interstate 820 and State Highway 183 in Tarrant County, and will add what will probably be the costliest toll lanes in Texas on each.
Both toll projects are expected to be completed by 2016 or sooner.
"Even our free roads will soon have a toll component," Vandergriff said.
Both Vandergriff and NTTA chairman Paul Wageman, who has also voiced reservations about the extent of tolling in Dallas, say toll roads are essential as Texas tries to keep traffic moving in the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the U.S.
But they worry that adding too many tolls, too quickly, could erode the one thing that makes them such a valuable tool in the first place: the willingness of drivers to pay their tolls.
"I do have concerns ... that the public will only tolerate a certain amount of tolling," Wageman told reporters at a news briefing in Arlington earlier this month. "We understand that to get the roads built, there is going to be a tolling component [to help pay for them]. But we are concerned because ultimately we must have public receptivity to tolling. We do not want to be in a position where that receptivity goes away, as that ultimately affects the business we are in."
Toll roads remain a daily trade-off for hundreds of thousands of NTTA customers, who pay to save valuable time getting to work or the airport or to a meeting after school.
But will they remain popular, in the face of rising rates and as they spread to every corner of the region?
Vandergriff and Wageman voiced their worries separately this month as negotiations over Southwest Parkway and Highway 161 accelerated and brought into focus the debt required to build those roads, on top of the $7 billion NTTA already owes.
All that debt will be paid for by tolls – and if the tolls don't produce enough revenue to satisfy bondholders, the rates would probably have to jump, just as they did earlier this year when NTTA increased rates by about 23 percent.
But raising rates will only work if enough drivers are willing to pay the higher rates to offset those who abandon the toll roads.
Since their introduction in Collin County in early 2006, electronic red-light cameras have generated not only money for cities and the state, but also their fair share of controversy.
Statistics compiled by the Texas Department of Transportation, and analyzed by The Texas Tribune, show that in 2008, Collin County cities raked in over $4 million in revenue from over 80,000 citations written after drivers were caught by these cameras. O
Over $1 million was generated by 2 cameras alone - The county's most profitable camera, at Coit and Spring Creek in Plano raked in over $600,000, while another at Custer and SH 121 generated over %585,000 in fine revenue.
According to a story on NBCDW.com, the area's top performing camera is in Duncanville. The camera, at Danieldale Rd and US 67 generated over $1 million in one year.
Plano, McKinney and Richardson all deploy red light cameras. Frisco, which installed 2 o the cameras in 2006, pulled them out of service in May of 2009.
|Chart courtesy of The Texas Tribune|
"While some [Texas] cities have lost money on the cameras in recent years, they've been lucrative for many others, generating, by a conservative estimate, as much as $60 million in fines. The cities share their profits — fines, less expenses — with the state, and spend the rest on traffic safety," notes The Texas Tribune.
A 2008 report by TxDOT states that the cameras do a good job of reducing traffic accidents. According to the report, "there were 586 annualized collisions across all intersections. In contrast, 413 annualized crashes were reported during the same time period following installation which resulted in an average decrease of 30%."
"In regards to red light violation crashes, there were 265 annualized right angle collisions prior to the installation of the camera system. By way of comparison, an annualized total of 151 post-installation collisions occurred for a crash reduction change of 114 events. This 114 difference represents a 43% annualized decrease in right angle collisions at the treatment intersection locations."
Some have complained that the cameras actually increase the number of rear end collisions when drivers brake suddenly to avoid being nabbed by the cameras. The TxDOT report notes that, "There were 106 annualized rear end crashes that occurred at intersections prior to the installation of the camera systems. Post-installation, there were 111 annualized rear end collisions that occurred. Although the number of overall rear end crashes increased slightly by 5% or approximately 5 crashes, 66% of the intersections decreased or maintained the same frequency of rear end crash events."
Listed below are the red light cameras active in Collin County. On the right hand column of this blog is an interactive map showing the locations of all the cameras. Clicking on any one camera will bring up detailed information on citations, traffic, revenue and accidents.
RED LIGHT CAMERA
|Plano - Coit Rd and W Spring Creek
|Plano - Custer Rd and SH 121||
|Plano - W Plano Pkwy and Dallas Pkwy Southbound Service Rd||
|Plano - Legacy Dr and Dallas Pkwy Southbound Service Rd||
|Plano - W Park Blvd and Ventura Dr||
|Plano - Legacy Dr and Dallas Pkwy Northbound Service Rd||
|Plano - Preston Rd and W Plano Pkwy||
|Plano - Jupiter Rd and E Plano Pkwy||
|Plano - Preston Rd and W Spring Creek Pkwy||
|Plano - 15th St and Independence Pkwy||
|Plano - W Spring Creek Pkwy and Custer Rd||
|Plano - Coit Rd and Park Blvd||
|Richardson - Jupiter and SH 190||
|Plano - W Parker Rd and Dallas Pkwy Southbound Service Rd||
|Plano - SH 121 and Dallas Pkwy||
|McKinney - Virginia and Stonebridge||
In 2007, Texas voters authorized the State to issue up to $5 billion in general revenue bonds for transportation and highways. Last week, TxDOT approved $2 billion of these bond funds for non-tolled highway projects.
Central Texas was the big winner, with nearly $1 billion pledged to expand I-35 from 4 lanes to 6. The North Texas region came out the big loser.
What did Collin County get? For one thing, no new roads, but more than almost any other North Texas County.
The total funding for Collin County is $18.2 million, while Dallas is slated to receive only about $3.77 million for new lanes on I-30 downtown and for repairing I-20 near LBJ freeway.
Denton County will get $11.2 million, Grayson - $3.9 million, Hunt - $20.1 million, Rockwall - $2.6 million. Tarrant County received a paltry $215,000.
The projects whose funding was approved in Collin County are:
- $6.1 million for repairs to FM 543, north of McKinney to Weston
- $3.6 million to rebuild two portions of FM 545, near Melissa
- $4.0 million to rebuild a part of FM 546 near the Collin County Airport in McKinney
- $4.5 million for repairs to SH 6 from SH 78 to the Hunt County Line
The funding for the North Texas region, including Collin County is significantly, and ridiculously below our needs.
One explanation? Our elected state representatives are not doing their job. In a posting on the Dallas Morning News Transportation Blog, Michael Lindenberger reports that one legislator form Mesquite wrote a letter, "to Transportation Commission chairwoman Deirdre Delisi, urging her to table the item [the allocation of bond funds], [it] was signed by just seven other House members from the region. An aide told me last night that all members of the delegation had been asked to sign it, but many had not done so." If our legislative delegations can't at least try to secure the funds we need, the only new roads this region will see built will be tolled.
That's how it has been and how it is likely to remain without some serious political pressure from a unified North Texas legislative delegation.
After nearly seven years of planning, a $60 million renovation at the Collin County Regional Airport is about to take off.
Set to finish by 2013, the project entails a variety of improvements to the 79-year-old airport, including putting down a new runway that will be 7,000 feet long and 150 feet wide. The current one is 7,000 feet long by 100 feet wide.
“The existing runway will become our parallel taxiway,” said Ken Wiegand, executive director of the McKinney Airport Development Corp., which operates, markets and develops the airport.
In addition, the current control tower, a 33-foot temporary facility that was moved there from Alliance Airport in the late ’90s, will be replaced by a 90-foot tower that will give controllers direct line-of-sight views of the entire replacement runway.
“We’re setting the airport for the future that we know is coming,” Wiegand said. “We know demand is going to increase here ... We’re building the infrastructure we need now, and have planned for, to accommodate increased traffic.”
With the Wright Amendment that limits flight distances from Dallas Love Field set to end in 2014, general aviation traffic “will look for new places to operate,” Wiegand added. “We also believe that some of the business aircraft owners at Addison Airport will look for a less-congested, more cost-effective airport.”
However, traffic at Collin County Regional has dropped in the last couple of years, a trend that’s true across area airports because of the economy, Wiegand said.
Total traffic, as measured by the combination of takeoffs and landings, fell from 106,039 in 2007 to 101,743 in 2008 and 93,570 in ’09, he said. But Wiegand maintains a better number to examine is the falling percentage of flight training out of Collin County Regional, which means that business aviation is growing. Training flights as a percentage of combined takeoffs and landings fell from 78% in fiscal ’02 to about 64% in the last fiscal year.
Collin County Regional has fans outside of McKinney.
“It’s kind of like our premiere airport for (the Dallas-Fort Worth) metro region,” said Karon Wiedemann, director of grant management at the Texas Department of Transportation.
Wiedemann, whose duties include heading up TxDOT grantmaking to airports statewide, said Collin County Regional sits in “a high-growth area. There’s a lot of development in the area ... Land is still available, with (room) to allow for expansion. It’s a really good business airport.”
Where the money comes from
The work at Collin County Regional, which is located in McKinney, will be paid for through federal, state and city sources, along with funding from the McKinney Economic Development Corp.
For the new $57 million runway, for instance, the Federal Aviation Administration is paying $33 million, the state will kick in $11 million and the McKinney Economic Development Corp. has allocated $7 million. The city will pay $5 million.
Wiegand hopes to start construction on the runway in January or February of 2010.
The control tower, meanwhile, will cost $3 million. Some $1.5 million is coming from the FAA, while the city also is paying $1.5 million. Construction will begin as soon as federal funds are appropriated by Congress, Wiegand said. “We expect that to be within the next 120 days.”
Before the airport can put out bids on the construction work for the runway project, however, it must first acquire about 45 acres of land south and east of it for safety buffers and for the relocation of F.M. 546 that runs south of the airport. Wiegand declined to reveal precisely where these land parcels are, but said he hoped to have all the required land purchased by Jan. 1.
A tertiary goal is to prepare the airport for commercial traffic. “Our initial focus is to be the premiere general aviation airport in the Metroplex. Our secondary goal is to prepare for commercial services,” Wiegan said.
Wiegand points out that the airport has spent a little over $3 million to build three taxi lanes that meet commercial standards.
In addition, the new runway will be wider and thicker than the current one to support larger commercial aircraft, up to the size of a Boeing 767, on a regular basis. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to attract a (Boeing 767),” Wiegand said. “We don’t have any current prospects” to have aircraft of that size flying in and out, he added.
The airport’s renovations are part of a broader attempt to overhaul facilities dating back to 2004. Including work done, renovations will total $72 million, Wiegand said.
Last year Frisco ended its sole bus route.
CCART is not a government agency, it's run by a charity, the Collin County Committee on Aging (CCCOA). Most of the funding for CCART comes from federal, state and local governments, but it does not have access to its own tax revenue source. The CCCOA also runs the Collin County Meals on Wheels and other programs for senior citizens and their caregivers.
KTEN, Channel 10 in Denison reports that last week the Texoma Area Public Transportation Service (TAPS) received a $1 million dollar grant from TxDOT in the form of 9 used buses. Where did the buses come from? CCART.
The nine buses were surplus vehicles donated by TxDOT because they've sat unused by CCART for several months.
TAPS director Gary Underwood is quoted as saying, "[TxDOT] got together and knew we needed the vehicles and they knew we were expanding so rapidly and so quickly, there's such a demand in the Grayson County area for service so we went and got the vehicles and are putting them to good use".
TAPS hired more than 30 new employees last month and is still looking to add more.
Meanwhile Collin County, which appears to have no need for public transportation, is watching its ability to provide mass transit sink.
What's the difference in the will of the elected leaders of these three counties to provide a network of public transit? Huge.
Except for in Plano, which is a long time member of DART, Collin County's political and business leaders don't seem to have the political will nor the vision to provide their citizens with a mass transit solution.
Our short sightedness will, not may, but will impact the future growth prospects, the air, and the quality of life in our county.
As Pogo was fond of saying, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."
He helped bring DART to Plano
From a DART press release:
The City of Plano and Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) will officially dedicate the Jack Hatchell Transit Center on Monday, October 12, at 10 a.m.
The facility at 4040 West 15th St., Plano, which opened in January 1989 as the West Plano Transit Center, will be renamed by Plano and DART dignitaries at a ceremony honoring the memory of the highly respected Collin County Commissioner and transportation leader who died last year after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Hatchell, who was instrumental in the success of Plano's election to join DART, was a public servant for more than 30 years and served on the Plano City Council from 1975 to 1985.
Taking part in the dedication will be City of Plano Mayor Phil Dyer, DART President and Executive Director Gary Thomas, DART Board of Directors Chairman Randall Chrisman and former Collin County Commissioner Phyllis Cole.
The Jack Hatchell Transit Center features eight bus drop-off and pick-up areas and 822 parking spaces at its location just west of Coit Road. Thousands of customers utilize DART from West Plano every week and are served with bus routes to such major locations as downtown Dallas, Medical Center of Plano and the Telecom Corridor.
Collin County wants to build a bridge across Lake Lavon.
And that's steamed up a lot of residents. Yesterday over 300 local citizens overflowed the Wylie City Council chambers to let officials know they wanted nothing to do with a toll bridge and 6 lane road that is planned to connect Parker Rd in Lucas with SH 78 north of the City of Lavon.
HNTB, a large engineering firm, was selected by the commissioners court to do a study to determine the 'preferred right of way' for the bridge project. As part of that study, HNTB held a public hearing to get citizen input on the proposed bridge routes. Instead, they got a blast from property owners who wanted no bridge, and especially, no toll bridge.
County officials were quick to point out that any plans to build the bridge were decades away, and commissioner Joe Jaynes told the crowd that since there was no money budgeted for a bridge, it was a near certainty that it would have to be built as a toll road. Jaynes and Commissioner Jerry Hoagland told the crowd that the county had to plan for future growth. County Judge Keith Self, who moderated the meeting told the crowd that he was opposed to the bridge because he didn't think it would generate enough toll revenue to pay for itself.
Most of those who spoke expressed a desire to maintain a rural way of life on the Branch Peninsula and eastern shores of Lavon. They asked that the county improve existing roads, such as highway 78 and US 380 to handle the expected increased traffic rather than build a bridge.
Several citizens criticized the county for spending over $374,000 for a right of way study designed to plan a route for the new road and bridge that might never be built. One speaker asked that the commissioners quit spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to "draw colored lines on a map". In 2007, citizens approved transportation bonds that included the money to fund the bridge ROW study.
The Observer has been following the county's progress towards constructing a controversial bridge over Lake Lavon that will connect Lucas to the eastern shore of the lake and will, if built, provide a route via an expanded Parker Road from Plano to the eastern Outer Loop.
As is also true with the entire Outer Loop project, county officials have no idea how to pay for the bridge - they assume it will have to be a toll road, probably constructed and operated by a private company in what's known as a Public Private Partnership (PPP). Meanwhile however, the county is speculating with $376,000 in bond and reserve funds to finance the engineering studies needed before the bridge and connecting roads can be built.
Opposition to the bridge is already being organized, with a group called "Save Lake Lavon" organizing homeowners and sailing enthusiasts who want to preserve the rural feel of the area. Also, the anti toll group TURF (Texans United for Reform and Freedom) have stated their opposition to the toll bridge in an email sent out last week.
All sides of the debate will have a chance to be heard this Wednesday, when the county and its engineering firm (HNTB) hold a public hearing in Wylie on the proposed "preferred right of way" (preferred route) for the bridge and connecting roads.
The County Toll Bridge Public Hearing is scheduled to be held on Wednesday, October 7 at 6:30 P.M. at the Wylie Municipal Building, 2000 Highway 78 North in Wylie.
The Dallas Morning News published an article by Ed Housewright yesterday on opposition to the toll bridge:
Residents protest proposed bridge over Lavon Lake
Monday, October 5, 2009
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
Joe Simmons traded the congestion of Plano for the tranquility of Lavon Lake a year ago.
Joe Simmons worries that a proposed six-lane bridge across the southern end of Lavon Lake would destroy his serene lifestyle.
He moved his family to a home on 3 acres with a lake view. He drives down a secluded road to reach his hilltop property in eastern Collin County.
"I love it," Simmons said. "It's nice and quiet. The air is fresh, and there's lots of wildlife."
He fears that a proposed six-lane bridge across the southern end of Lavon Lake would destroy his serenity.
Simmons and many other lake residents plan to attend a public hearing Wednesday night in Wylie to protest the project. They say it's too expensive, isn't necessary to relieve congestion and would bring unwanted development to the lake.
"One of the plans comes right through my front yard," said Jerry Jones, who has lived on the lake for 21 years. "I'm going to fight it tooth and nail as long as I can."
County officials stress that the bridge isn't warranted now and may never be built. If it is, construction might not begin for 20 years or more, they say.
For now, officials want to select an alignment in case the county's growth necessitates a bridge. Several proposed routes will be presented at the hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Wylie Municipal Complex.
"I think everybody thinks we're going to come out next week and start construction," said County Commissioner Joe Jaynes, whose district includes the lake. "That's just not the case."
Not enough people
The portion of Collin County east of Lavon Lake is largely unincorporated. It doesn't have enough people to justify a major connector across the lake, said Commissioner Jerry Hoagland, who also represents part of the lake area.
Eventually, however, the county's population is expected to more than double to about 2 million people.
"Then it would likely be a viable project," Hoagland said.
The project would actually consist of two bridges. One would start on the lake's west side in Lucas and connect to the peninsula in the center. A second bridge would extend to the eastern shore near the town of Lavon.
Irma Batres has lived on the lake's east side for 12 years. She calls her modest home a "handyman's special," but she doesn't want to lose it to make room for the bridge.
"It's beautiful out here," Batres said. "It's a little piece of heaven. You can see hawks and cranes."
The homes around the lake vary greatly. A new brick house may sit next to a dilapidated frame one.
County Engineer Ruben Delgado said officials have no timetable to acquire right of way for the bridges and thoroughfare. Even if commissioners choose a preferred route after this week's hearing, no design work is planned in the foreseeable future, Delgado said.
"It could stay a line on the map forever," he said.
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has announced that it will hold a public hearing Wednesday, September 30 at 4 p.m., at the Maribelle Davis Library, 7501 Independence Pkwy, Suite B, Plano, Texas.
According to TxDOT's press release, the hearing will be to, "gather comments from interested persons regarding the proposed transfer to the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) of a portion of State Highway 121 from Hillcrest Road to Watters Road in Collin County."
The press release then goes on to state that, "Following the public hearing this portion of SH 121 mainlanes will become part of the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) system and will become an extension of the recently renamed Sam Rayburn Tollway; however, the service roads will retain the SH 121 designation. The new seven mile segment of roadway is scheduled to open today."
TxDOT really wants to hear you opinion of what they have already decided to do! A citizen has got to ask, "What's the point?". All decisions have already been made, the grand opening of the new road is already planned the signs are printed. What does TxDOT want? A pat on the back for a new toll road?
Cities, School Boards, the county, the NCTCOG and all sorts of agencies hold public meetings to "gain public input" on proposed projects and bond issues. I know, I've attended many.
I have frequently heard the organizers of these public hearings bemoan the fact that so few citizens bother to show up and speak their mind.
Most of theses hearings are organized and conducted by hired staff or contracted engineering firms. Rarely are the real decision makers present to listen and engage the citizens. Fancy slide shows and easels are displayed, not to present choices, but to convince attendees that the government or agency is working for the good of the community.
So all too often the public leaves with the impression that they attended a propaganda event, not a fact finding hearing.
Most taxpayers I have talked to tell me that they couldn't be bothered to attend a public hearing unless it was to try to stop the government from running a freeway across their front lawn the next morning.
These folks simply believe that their input doesn't matter - that the public hearing is just a show put on after all the decisions have been made.
Sadly for our Democracy, TxDOT has just proven them right.
A couple of weeks ago, County Judge Keith Self, with support from Commissioner Matt Shaheen, proposed that the county cap its popular rural gravel road paving program at 50 miles.
Self and Shaheen argued that stopping the paving would save asphalt inventories for next year, which they believe will be a much leaner budget year.
It was a goofy idea.
Monday, the court considered the idea of capping the paving program. Or to put it more accurately, on Monday, the court did everything it could to NOT consider capping the popular paving program.
The 10 Year Asphalt Program is in its 5th year. When the program started, the county contained about 480 miles of dirt and gravel roads. So far, over 262 miles of old dirt and gravel roads have been widened and replaced with safer, cleaner and more durable asphalt paving.
After a brief, (and he was urged by Self to remain 'brief'.) presentation by Public Works Director Jon Kleinheksel on the results so far of the 10 year paving program, and the savings realized by the reduced maintenance needed for paved, rather than gravel roads, Commissioner Ward spoke of the health and safety issues that result from old gravel roadways.
Judge Self was anxious to not have a debate, and he never called for a motion or a vote to cap the program. Instead, he moved on to the next agenda item as quickly as he could.
Since the 2010 budget maintains funding for the current rate of paving and inventories, the 10 year rural road paving program remains as it was before the County Judge's theatrics. This year, the Public Works Department is on track to asphalt 70 miles of rural, gravel roads.
Self's plan was goofy, and it never stood a chance of gaining a majority vote of the court.
Almost since the first day after his election, County Judge Keith Self has tried to chart a new, more libertarian, populist course for the county commissioners court.
While the Collin County Observer has been generally critical of many of Judge Self's ideas, we have supported several of his initiatives, especially those relating to government transparency. From putting the county's checkbook online to broadcasting and recording county meetings, the Transparency Project has met its goal of making county government more accessible and accountable.
Self's efforts to rein in the cost of engineering contracts has also been supported by this blog. While we believe that it is not in the public interest to always go with the lowest bidder for road and bridge design, there has been too much of an 'insider' aspect to selecting engineering firms for large projects.
The scrutiny that resulted has reduced the cost of engineering service contracts to Collin County taxpayers.
However, far and away the most important issues facing the citizens of this county have to do with the growth of the county and the need for roads and more efficient transportation infrastructure. And on these issues, our County Judge is, well... nuttier than a Corsicana fruitcake
Collin County is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation. Our highways are all too frequently gridlocked - limiting growth potential, costing taxpayers uncounted millions in lost productivity and adding tons of exhaust to our already filthy air.
Yet one of Self's first public stances after taking office was to oppose the 2007 County Bond Program.
Among local elected officials, he stood alone. All 4 commissioners campaigned in favor of the bonds, which were overwhelmingly approved (2 - 1) by the voters.
Self wanted the county to use "pass through financing" from TxDOT to finance large construction projects, leaving the cities to pay for their own smaller secondary road improvements. His plan was a bad idea then and was soon proven to be a very, very bad idea, when not long after the election, the state killed the whole "pass through" program.
The Dallas Morning News, in an editorial after the election wrote, "Rookie Collin County Judge Keith Self was selling nonsense with his campaign to defeat a ballot proposition for road building. Voters, to their credit, weren't buying."
Earlier this year, he took his libertarian anti-transportation message to Austin where he was roundly castigated by several Texas Senators, including some from his own party for misrepresenting the Local Option Transportation Tax bill. Fellow Republican Senator John Carona of Richardson told Self that, "it seems to me that you do a disservice to the community by sending out the missives you've sent out before you even knew or understood what the bill said.... It is especially tragic that in a progressive part of the state like Collin County that this [Self] would represent the future leadership of the county."
Once again, the Dallas Morning News editorialized on Self's performance, calling it the "Keith Self side show", the News wrote, "Collin County Judge Keith Self has opposed bond elections to build roads, accused regional leaders of socialism and made fighting a bill that would give people the right to vote on rail expansion his top legislative priority. This week, he took his mischaracterizations of a rail expansion plan directly to the source, testifying before a Senate panel."
Last week, Judge Self stunned commissioners and court watchers with 2 presentations - both carrying the message to STOP road planning and construction.
In the first presentation, which was at the County Toll Road Authority portion of the meeting, Judge Self, speaking of the proposed Outer Loop, told the court that they should not be in a hurry to proceed with a $563,000 engineering study for Segment 3 because, as he said, "there is no hurry". Commissioners Jaynes, Ward and Hoagland disagreed. Jaynes pointed out that delay would cost the taxpayers $90,000/day in increased costs on the entire $4 billion Outer Loop program.
After an hour long discussion of engineering contract costs, property values and traffic projections, the court over-ruled Self's objections, voting to approve the contract 3 - 2. Commissioner Matt Shaheen voted along with Keith Self not to approve.
Despite Keith Self's objections, the county will continue to try to expedite the construction of the Outer Loop.
Later, in a heated discussion over projects to be assigned to the county's new citizen's Efficiency Committee, Keith Self, again supported by Matt Shaheen, floated the idea to stop this year's rural road asphalting program at 50 miles.
In 2004, the county committed to paving all 763 miles of county-maintained dirt roads within 10 years. The year to year goal has been to asphalt at least 50 miles per year - and every year, the county has exceeded its goal. This year, the public works department is on track to complete 70 miles.
Judge Self wants the county to stop paving at 50 miles and to warehouse the inventory of asphalt aggregate for next year. His reasoning is that the county would save money next year, because it would not have to purchase as much road making aggregate next year, when budget crunches could be harder.
Once again, Judge Self wanted to stop road construction, saying "We want to be husbanding our assets for next year".
Jaynes retorted, "If stopped doing anything, we wouldn't spend anything!"
Shaheen went on to explain that the county had "excess" inventories of aggregate totaling about $1.5 to $2 million. If construction were to stop, these inventories would be carried over to next year, saving the need to purchase as much in FY 2010.
Jerry Hoagland pointed asked that if there were excess inventories, "why wouldn't we use it up now?".
Joe Jaynes reacted to Self's idea with shock and indignation exclaiming that, "To say that you're at 50 [miles] and you have to stop is just government control at its worst. We have 300 days of reserves. The sky is not falling. It's going to be tougher next year, quite probably in appraised value but its not like we're some county in West Texas. And to tell these guys to cap it at 50 [miles], when we can go further is just like some of this short-sightedness we are seeing in some of these other things. We're worried about today, and not looking at the future."
"Now is the time to be doing this", said Jaynes, "not stopping."
Later in the week, Jaynes sent an email to his supporters:
Battle lines are being drawn.
Hoagland and Jaynes believe strongly that the future development of the county requires continued investment in the transportation infrastructure. So far Ward has voted with Jaynes and Hoagland.
Self, with some support from Matt Shaheen, has tried to slow or stop virtually every mobility project in the works.
As a leader of a county that desperately needs tens of billions of dollars for transportation investment, he seems nuttier than a Corsicana fruitcake.
Since the Victorian era, one measure of civilization has been, "do the trains run on time". In fact, the term, "the trains run on time" has long been a euphemism for competent leadership.
There is a certain sense of orderliness, of competence, that is gained from the confidence people have that what their society does, it does well. Therefore, governments that are capable of running efficient transportation infrastructure gain the respect of their citizens. Societies that can not seem to at least get the trains to run on schedule are derided as incompetent in all they do.
This last week, the Dallas region saw the opening of the first 3 mile leg of DART's new Green Line. The Green Line is expected to cost about $2 Billion and eventually run from the Carrollton area to Pleasant Grove.
There's one problem, though. After spending a decade on planning and $2 billion on building, DART can't figure out how to get its new trains downtown on time. According to the Dallas Morning News' Michael Lindenberger, the new Green Line trains have created a huge bottleneck downtown with the existing Red and Blue Line trains, causing DART engineers to constantly stop trains while waiting for the tracks in front to clear. A solution to the SNAFU seems beyond them.
The result - the whole Red, Green, and Blue schedules are no good any more - simply put, the trains do NOT run on time. They are late every day.
We suburbanites and exurbanites know that Collin County desperately needs a larger mass transit system.
We understand that we don't have the land to build bigger and bigger roads forever. We know that traffic tie-ups are costing billions, and will get worse. We know that automobiles are destroying the air we breathe. We know rail is expensive, yet necessary. But we can not escape the simple reality that -
Two billion dollars later, the trains don't run on time.
The Collin County Observer reported that the Collin County Commissioners Court named Bill Moore as one of their two appointees on the NTTA Board of Directors. Mr. Moore will replace Gary Base, who is leaving to serve a two year term in the federal government's Mutual Savings Association Advisory Commission.
Mr. Moore is active in the Plano Sunrise Rotary Club and is the Republican Party's precinct chair in Plano's precinct 138.
According to a document given to the Observer by county officials:
Today, I received an email from the North Central Texas Council of Governments asking my opinion on how they were doing communicating the decision making process on transportation and air quality.
They got my opinion. For what its worth, I replied:
"Every public meeting I've attended seemed designed to justify COG activities - not to listen to public input.
The public should be heard by the decision makers - not staff. At least one board member or Senior COG official should be in attendance at every public meeting.
The RTC and other committees should take record votes on all items dealing with money. The votes should then be published in the minutes.
....and how about some real transparency? Your budgets, audits and checkbooks should be online. Grant awards should be listed online.
You need to remember that you are funded with tax dollars. Your actions must always be open and transparent."
COG's email ended with:
I hope our readers will consider this as a forwarded request to tell the NCTCOG what you think of the agency's communications and openness.
You can access the survey directly at www.nctcog.org/outreach
On Monday, representatives from the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) provided the Collin County commissioners with a regional update on the Outer Loop.
Sometimes it seems that local officials, in their desire to get their Outer Loop constructed, forget that "our" Outer Loop is just a small part of a planned much larger highway (Loop 9) girding the entire DFW Metroplex.
Collin County officials see the Outer Loop as a vitally needed thoroughfare that is essential to the future growth and mobility in the county. Impatient with the progress of the region in getting construction underway, the commissioners formed the Collin County Toll Road Authority to plan and construct the piece of Loop 9 that is in Collin County. The commissioners have already begun acquiring the land and commissioning the engineering studies needed.
In going it alone, the commissioners could be taking big risks. One risk is, "Can the county finance a $4 billion dollar road?". Another is that there is no guarantee that NCTCOG will be willing to co-ordinate the rest of the loop with what might be seen as Collin County's own private toll road.
Both issues were addressed by Jeffery Neal, an engineer with NCTCOG.
Neal spent several minutes reviewing the status of NCTCOG's planning. His briefing made one thing obvious - whereas the county commissioners already know where they want the road (and they have gone so far as to buy and acquire the needed land), NCTCOG is not so sure. NCTCOG is still in the corridor evaluation phase and have not made any final ROW decisions yet, with the exception of a small length of road south east of Dallas.
A glance at the above planning map makes it clear that the regions engineers are considering several alternate routes through Collin County. Neal told the court that NCTCOG was even evaluating the idea of using US 380 as a northern leg of the loop.
However, Neal did tell the court that they should continue along the path they were on. He did not elaborate how the COG and county would reconcile any differences (if there are any) in the final plan NCTCOG will release in December.
Neal also told the commissioners court that COG, through the RTC would release $5 million of SH 121 toll (RTR) dollars to Collin County to help pay for the required environmental assessments needed. The county will have to pay approximately $1.25 million in matching funds for the environmental impact studies.
Neal and the commissioners then engaged in a discussion of how and under what rules the environmental studies would be done. The timeline just for the environmental work if don under local rules is about 18 months.
Neal also told the court that the RTC would release $12 million in RTR funds for the anticipated $15 million in acquisition costs to Phase 1 of the county's Outer Loop project. Phase 1 runs from US 75 to SH 121 just north of Mellisa. The county will probably seek a "Public Private Partnership" with a private company (or possibly NTTA) to construct the main lanes and operate Phase 1 as a toll road. The county would construct the non-tolled service roads, but most likely these would not be built until well after the toll lanes were open and getting revenue.
On Monday, Paul Wageman, the Chairman of the Board of NTTA and a Collin County appointee, along with fellow Collin County appointee Gary Base and Executive Director Allen Clemson gave their annual State of NTTA presentation to the Collin County Commissioners Court.
Clemson told the court that of the 1.7 million toll tags in use, about 600 thousand were used by Collin county residents. According to Clemson about 75% of toll road drivers were using toll tags. 20% were using the billing systems called "Zip Cash".
Clemson and Base briefed the court on the new rate hikes due to go into effect in September. Creatively describing the rate hike as a, "responsible and innovative tolling solution", the NTTA executives explained that rates would increase from 11 cents to 14 1/2 cents. They also told the court that henceforth tolls system-wide would increase by 2 1/2% every other year on odd numbered years.
Discussing tolls, Base told the court that there has been a drop off of toll customers due to the increased gasoline prices and unemployment. However he said that while the 'elasticity' of toll rates would cause a further drop off with the increased rates, but that lowering rates would not increase the number of drivers enough to increase revenue.
Describing one "Zip Cash" customer whose $8 tolls turned into $60+ worth of penalties and fees, Base told the court that, "they were looking into that to see if we can improve that as well, but usually those people are non-responders, they ignore the letters they get and everything like that. We hope to improve the educational level of them."
Toll revenue did not meet budgeted expectations in 2008. The 2008 budget expected $284.3 million, but only $261.7 million was collected.
Creative spin was the order of the day as NTTA explained away one issue after another with glib generalities.
On the recent Dallas Morning News charges that NTTA has done a poor job of awarding contracts to minority contractors, all the NTTA had to say was that they were committed to business diversity.
Mentioning the recent flood of wrong way crash fatalities on the DNT, Clemson told the court that NTTA, "had gone above and beyond the call of duty to respond to this." He also told the court that NTTA had made many prior changes to address the issue and that they have appointed a task force to study and make recommendations. The task force final report is due in September.
Meanwhile in order to improve safety, the NTTA will raise the speed limits to 70 mph on most of their toll roads except inner portions of the DNT.
Updating the status of the Sam Rayburn tollway, Clemson stated that phase 3 would open later this fall and that the phase 4 going past US 75 would open in 2011. The US 75 interchange is due to be completed in 2012.
Later in the meeting, the commissioners appointed Bill Moore to replace outgoing NTTA director Gary Base.
The Regional Transportation Council agreed Thursday to pay Spanish firm Cintra $3.6 million to cover costs the Spanish firm incurred before losing its bid for the Texas 121 toll road project, despite objections from some Denton County officials.
The road is now known as Sam Rayburn Tollway, and connects cities north and east of Grapevine such as Coppell, Carrollton and Plano.
Cintra, a publicly held firm known worldwide for building toll roads with private investment dollars, was conditionally awarded the toll project in Denton and Collin counties by the Texas Transportation Commission in February 2007. But under pressure from Dallas-area leaders, the state commission terminated that award in August 2007, allowing the Plano-based tollway authority to take the project.
During the seven months it held the project, Cintra incurred costs related to the federal TIFIA loan program, a stipend for unsuccessful work and other, unidentified post-bid costs, North Central Texas Council of Governments transportation director Michael Morris said.
Denton County Commissioner Andy Eads spoke against the payment, noting that Denton County wanted Cintra to keep the project. "For Denton County to now be looked at to remedy this is, in our opinion, inappropriate," Eads said.
Even so, the 40-member RTC approved the $3.6 million payment on a unanimous voice vote.
The money will come out of toll revenues generated on the tollway in these counties: Denton County, $1,961,063; Collin County $1,446,086; and Dallas County $253,065.
If the RTC voted unanimously, as the article states, then Collin County's representatives on the RTC must have agreed to send our toll money to this Spanish company.
It doesn't seem right to use tax or toll revenue to pay the expenses of a losing bidder. The last Texas Legislature authorized this kind of payment. Previously such a transfer of public funds was illegal.
Your representatives on the RTC are:
Joe Jaynes, Collin County Commissioner, Pct 2
Paul Wagemen, NTTA Chairman (from Plano)
Lee Dunlap, Plano Deputy Mayor Pro Tem
Brian Loughmiller, McKinney Mayor
Maher Maso, Frisco Mayor
One on my chief complaints with the RTC is that they do not take record votes. I suspect that if each member had to attach his name to a proposal, they might be more careful what they vote 'yes' to.
NTTA poised to raise speed limits to 70 on toll roads
Friday, August 7, 2009
Michael Lindenberger / Dallas Morning New Transportation Blog
The executive director of NTTA told transportation insiders today that his board is likely to approve a staff proposal to raise speed limits on NTTA roads to 70 miles per hour.
The issue has been discussed for months, but an operations committee of the directors will hear a formal proposal Monday morning at 11:30. Clemson spoke at a meeting of the Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition.
It will be interesting to see the effect of higher speed limits on Collin County revenue. At least one county JP court (Mike Yarbrough, Precinct 4) funnels a lot of toll road speeding ticket fines to the county's coffers.
The North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) is charged with the operation of tollroads throughout Collin, Denton, Dallas and Tarrant Counties. According to its web site, NTTA is ",a political subdivision of the State of Texas under Chapter 366 of the Transportation Code, is empowered to acquire, construct, maintain, repair and operate turnpike projects; to raise capital for construction projects through the issuance of Turnpike Revenue Bonds; and to collect tolls to operate, maintain and pay debt service on those projects."
Governance of the NTTA is through a nine person Board of Directors. Each of the 4 member counties appoints a Director to staggered 2 year terms. The Governor also appoints one Director, who must reside in a county adjacent to the region. Many argue that since NTTA collects taxes (tolls) and can compel the payment of fines and fees, its Board should be elected, but in fact the legislation creating the NTTA prohibits elected officials from serving on its Board of Directors.
Mr. Wageman, who is serving his second term as President of the Board, is a partner in the law firm of Winstead PC. He was first appointed to NTTA's Board in 2000; his 5th term expires in 2010.
Gary Base is the President/CEO of ViewPoint Bank, and was a former trustee of the Plano ISD. His term also expires in 2010.
Last week's Commissioners Court Agenda included an item on NTTA for discussion in executive Session (secret meeting), "To deliberates the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline or dismissal of a public officer or employee. NTTA Board." The executive session was postponed until next weeks meeting, but the Collin County Observer has learned that the subject of the meeting will be to discuss the appointment of a replacement for Mr. Base, who according to knowledgeable sources, wants to retire from the NTTA Board.
The Collin County Commissioners Court and the NTTA Board of Directors have had a tumultuous 2009. The court, unhappy with rumored plans that would have moved a portion of the future Dallas North Tollway extension into Denton County, reneged on an agreement with NTTA. The Commissioners then formed the Collin County Tollway Authority and attempted to take over the DNT extension, moving it well into Collin County.
The NTTA Board fought back. Using their connections in the Legislature, the NTTA wielded considerable muscle in sponsoring legislation that would have killed Collin County's ability not only to usurp the DNT, but also to build the Outer Loop or other toll projects. Appearing in a Senate committee, Wageman charged that, "Judge Self and the commissioners have had on their agendas, at least twice over the last few months, essentially court orders to issue contracts on elements [DNT] of our system that are either owned entirely by the NTTA or under contractual arrangements."
The Collin County appointees to the NTTA Board were actively supporting the board's regional outlook - not the county's.
Collin County and especially Judge Keith Self came under withering criticism from members of the legislature. At one point, Senator Carona told Self, "I don't think Collin County plays nice lately. I don't think they have a regional concern, but only for provincial Collin County".
While the county did retain its ability to construct their portion of the Outer Loop, the commissioners are very concerned that the next legislature could severely restrict their authority to build or operate tollroads. The commissioners need the NTTA on their side, if they are to be allowed to maintain their own county toll authority co-existent with the much more powerful NTTA.
Mr. Base's retirement gives the commissioners their first opportunity since the dispute to directly affect the makeup of NTTA's Board. They will get their second chance next summer, when Paul Wageman's term expires.
Given the animosity that has existed between NTTA and the county, it seems that the commissioners would seize the opportunity to further their goals of developing an independent county toll authority by appointing directors who share the court's parochial inability to focus on the good of the region as a whole. That would be a mistake.
The transportation needs of Collin County absolutely require regional solutions. We are not an island.
UPDATE August 9, 2009
On Friday, The Dallas Morning News' Michael Lindenberger confirmed that Gary Base would be stepping down from the NTTA board.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
By MICHAEL LINDENBERGER and KEVIN KRAUSE / The Dallas Morning News
The North Texas Tollway Authority has done a poor job in awarding contracts to minority or women-owned businesses, a report by a consultant examining the firms paid between 2002 and 2007 reveals.
The report, presented to an NTTA committee Monday morning, shows that in those five years 97 percent of all contracts awarded went to firms owned by white males. Those 22,347 contracts totaled just under $1 billion.
A lot of NTTA's work goes to giant firms, where the available pool of minority contractors are limited. But the report shows that NTTA's work went to non-minority firms, even when the jobs were smaller.
Of the $20.2 million worth of construction contracts that were worth $500,000 or less each, only 1.9 percent of that money went to African-American firms. About 5.6 percent of the funds went to firms owned by Hispanics...
Meanwhile, the report represents something of a black eye for NTTA, which has long dealt with an image that it is run for and by upper income elites in Collin County, where its headquarters are. But the agency has changed significantly in the past two years -- spending much more money, for instance, and expanding its board to include nine members, rather than five. NTTA's board has one African American member, Alan Sims.
The Consultant's report
Is it a surprise that NTTA, saddled with huge multi-billion dollar debts after purchasing the concession for SH 121 needs to raise money?
Could it be that NTTA would want to raise funds by imposing large, onerous, and seemingly arbitrary fines and fees on Texas drivers? Could these large fees (up to $25 for every toll gantry passed) create a voter backlash?
Now some board members at NTTA are coming to their senses and realizing that by 'sticking it' to local drivers, they are sowing the wind. They are not afraid of the local citizens - after all the NTTA Board of Directors is not elected, but they are afraid of the Texas Legislature.
Could it be that enough pissed off voters might persuade their legislators to serve up a whirlwind of regulations, a whirlwind sown by the excesses of NTTA?
In an article written on July 1, Lindenberger explained the arithmetic of the NTTA's fees:
The 'fees' are civil penalties, but failure to pay them is a criminal offense, as over twelve thousand local drivers have found out after Collin County JP courts issued warrants for their arrest.
Let the whirlwind begin.
Come September, everyone in North Texas will pay more to drive, not just the toll road users whose rates are about to rise sharply.
Thursday's decision by the North Texas Tollway Authority to raise tolls across its system beginning Sept. 1 will mean that TollTag users will pay, on average, 14.5 cents per mile. Current toll charges typically average about 11 cents per mile.
The extra pennies can add up. For customers with a TollTag, a commute from Frisco to downtown Dallas on the Dallas North Tollway will now cost $43 a week, instead of $31.50.
For those without a TollTag, the bill jumps from $43.70 to $65.90.
Those higher bills will drive some toll road users off its roads, NTTA officials said Thursday – a sentiment reflected loudly in dozens of comments made to The Dallas Morning News' Web site. That means traffic on North Texas' already clogged free roads is going to get more congested. Everyone will pay more, in terms of gas and time, to get from one place to another.
NTTA board members voted 8-1 to support the toll increase, which staff had insisted was necessary to satisfy agreements NTTA struck with creditors who have lent the agency about $6 billion.
"This organization lives off of borrowed money," said board member Gary Base of Collin County, who leads the finance committee and supported the increase. "This is not money that we have. And we as a board have fiduciary responsibility to these debt holders."
Board member Bob Day, a Dallas County appointee, voted no. Day tried to persuade his colleagues to phase the increase in over two years, but staff warned that doing so would cost the agency about $14 million in revenue. The board rejected Day's proposal 7-2.
And it guaranteed that rates will continue to rise, approving a measure that would trigger automatic 6 percent rate increases every two years – without the need for another board vote.
Board member Ken Barr, former mayor of Fort Worth, said more frequent, smaller rate increases will be easier to accept in the future.
"One of the reasons we are faced with this large increase today is that increases haven't come often enough in the past," Barr said.
NTTA has raised rates only five times previously, and before Thursday's vote, its policy was to change rates every five years.
Chairman Paul Wageman, a Collin County appointee, said the agency has been asked to build billions of dollars worth of toll roads, in part because lawmakers have refused to raise gasoline taxes to build additional free roads.
"For too long NTTA has hid its light under the bushel and not appropriately charged for the services it provides," Wageman said.
Before Thursday's decision, however, NTTA had already raised tolls recently. In addition, rates on the Sam Rayburn Tollway had already been set higher than rates on its other roads.
What's the rush?
So why the sudden rush to raise rates again, and by so much?
NTTA officials at first billed the increase as a necessary response to keep lenders happy. NTTA owes some $6 billion, and its bond covenants require its revenues be at least 1.5 times the agency's soaring debt payments. Without a rate increase, NTTA's revenues would fall below that level soon.
That's because traffic has not lived up to projections on its newest road, Rayburn Tollway (State Highway 121), and because traffic elsewhere is also lagging expectations. In addition, NTTA is having trouble collecting tolls owed on its all-electronic toll roads, and fewer customers are signing up for TollTags than NTTA had hoped.
This was an entirely predictable outcome of overpaying for the SH 121 concession.
TXDOT and the local RTC were greedy, wanting billions in "upfront money" that forced NTTA to borrow heavily to obtain local control over our local road.
The NTTA paid over $3.2 billion to complete and operate a road that at the time the decision was made to go with a CDA, the construction was estimated to cost only $325 million to complete.
Drivers will pay over $5 billion in tolls before NTTAs contract expires. That's $5 billion in tolls for a road that cost $325 million.
Note you will be paying over $4.5 billion in excess taxes just for one road - and the contract with TXDOT allows NTTA to raise tolls from the current 11 cents/mile to over 25 cents per mile.
But the bond holders will be happy!
The lesson here is that CDAs are poor public policy. Only the financiers make money when highways are pawned for huge cash down payments.
Tolls will continue to climb until the citizens demand that traditional bonds or more conventional "pay as you go" toll financing is used to construct new roads.
Congress is working on reauthorizing the "Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users" (SAFETEA-LU) which is the Federal Government's primary road and surface transportation legislation - in other words it's the big road and bridge bill.
As part of the congressional committee process, congressmen are able to request funding for local "high priority" projects. (Otherwise known as earmarks)
In this congressional session, the City of McKinney appears to be the big winner of earmark requests. All Collin County projects requested by our area congressmen were in the McKinney area. The six McKinney earmarks totaled over $146 million.
Of the $147,577,077 Congressman Sam Johnson identified as transportation "high priority projects" or earmarks, all but $29,396,736 is earmarked for McKinney area highways. Johnson earmarked five projects, one in Dallas and the four in McKinney.
US75 (Central Expressway) McKinney
Amount Requested: $$77,076,480
Plan, design, engineer and conduct environmental review for the construction of an eight-lane divided urban freeway with HOV lanes and frontage roads along US 75 from SH 121 to US 380. Proposed recipient of funding: TxDOT
Amount Requested: $14,383,861
Widening of US 380 to a six-lane divided roadway from east of Custer Road to east of Lake Forest Drive. Proposed recipient of funding: TxDOT
Amount Requested: $22,720,000
Widening of State Highway 5 from US 380 to FM 543. The road will be widened from two to four lanes. Proposed recipient of funding: City of McKinney
Amount Requested: $4,000,000
Improvements on State Highway 5 between FM 546 and US 380. Project components may include the construction of a median, improved traffic signals, sidewalks, crosswalks and street design. Proposed recipient of funding: City of McKinney
Congressman Ralph Hall's 4th Congressional District wends its way from eastern Collin County all the way to Texarkana. Hall has requested a total of $140,017,610 for his six "high priority" mobility projects. Only one of the six are in Collin County, and you guessed it, it's in McKinney.
FM2478 (Custer Road) McKinney
Amount Requested: $27,040,000
This project involves the widening of FM 5478 (Custer Road) in McKinney from US380 to FM1461. The road will be widened from existing two-lane rural road to a four-lane with a median which will reduce collisions and improve safety for vehicles and pedestrians. The population of McKinney and surrounding areas has been increasing in recent years. Traffic volume on FM2478 was 5,340 vehicles per day in 2008, it is estimated that in 2013 the number will increase to 8,700 per day.
While the commissioners frequently bemoan the fact that citizen attendance at these special evening sessions are sparse, three items on the agenda will likely cause a number of taxpayers to attend.
Last month, the commissioners, acting as the Health Care Trust Fund Trustees placed an item on their agenda that would add more grant restrictions to the nonprofit indigent clinics. The restrictions would require the clinics to only be paid to serve those whose incomes fall below 100% of the federal poverty line (approx. $20,020/yr for a family of 4).
After the Collin County Observer and many citizens objected to the proposed new rules, in part because there was no chance for citizen input, the commissioners voted to postpone consideration until this evening's meeting.
The county presently doles out a total of about $200,000/yr to 9 nonprofit organizations that operate clinics or health care services for the poor in the county. For the last 2 years, the grant funding has been reduced from the $300,000 high granted in 2007.
The county is required by law and the Texas Constitution to be the "provider of last resort" for the indigent, and to meet those requirements, the county operates a "County Indigent Health Care Program (CIHCP) The restrictions for entry into CIHCP are stringent, requiring a 19 page application and verification of all income, assets and insurability. In fact the restrictions are so severe that in 2008, only 207 Collin County applicants were approved for CIHCP.
Collin County also funds a program that allows uninsured citizens whose incomes are below 100% of FPL to get primary care at any PrimaCare clinic for a $20 copay. For fiscal 2009, the county has budgeted $300,000 for the PrimaCare program. In fiscal 2008, the county paid for over 2,300 low income patient visits to PrimaCare.
The third county indigent health care program is the grants (now called "fee for service") to the nonprofit clinics. In 2009, the county paid these clinics from $25 to $50 for each qualified patient seen. For the first half of FY 2009, the county has paid the 9 clinics about $72,000 in the Fee for Service program. These clinics see hundreds of patients every week.
Prior to 2007, the county simply awarded a specific dollar amount grant to the nonprofits based on their needs and request. In 2007 however, the county changed from a grant to a fee basis. The county requires each clinic to report the name, address, last 4 digits of the Social Security number and a diagnosis code for each patient for whom the clinic is asking for county funding.
Most nonprofits strenuously objected to the 2007 changes, citing increased workload and patient confidentiality. Two of the clinics subsequently refused county funding because of patient confidentiality concerns.
Presently, the nonprofit clinics set their own admission and fee schedules. Most require that patients seeking low cost care only be uninsured, and not eligible for public health care assistance. The 2010 county proposal would force the clinics to change their admission criteria and to document income.
Supporters of the clinics note that the nonprofits provide the most economical health care service available to uninsured residents. While the county pays $210 to PrimaCare? for each patient visit, it only gives the nonprofit clinics between $35 and $50 for each visit.
In 2005, the Commissioners Court appointed a 25 member citizen task force to study the need for indigent health care programs. That committee met for over 18 months and issued its report in 2006. One key recommendation by the task force was to increase the grants program to nonprofits to between $500,000 and $800,000. The task force noted that while the CIHCP attempted to serve the hard core indigent, the clinics were serving the 'working poor' - those who because of the rising cost of insurance were not able to afford health care, even though they worked.
Also on the court's agenda for tonight is a request by Catholic Charities to open a "Homeless Prevention" office in Collin County. The office would attempt to help those recently unemployed, underemployed and families who were in imminent danger of becoming homeless. The Catholic Charity operation would be run at no cost to the county or taxpayers as it is funded by the United Way and federal and state grants. The program would provide over $1 million in benefits to the 9 county region.
State funding through the Texas Department of Housing requires that the local counties served give formal approval to allow the opening of the local office. Twice now, the commissioners' court has declined to approve the Catholic Charities request. Instead the court has asked for more information.
Some on the court have, in the past, expressed reservations on allowing federal, state or charitable funds to be spent on the poor in the county fearing that as The Dallas Morning News reported in 2005 on Commissioner Hoagland's concern, "he worries the grants will cause more homeless people to move to Plano. He said many problems in Dallas and other cities can be attributed to the homeless population." The DMN also reported that "he said the goal of trying to end homelessness is too large. He said the homeless have always been around and always will be."
In 2005 the issue was using federal dollars to fund apartments and a case manager for up to 8 mentally ill patients who would otherwise be homeless and unsupervised.
I hope that attitude is not what is holding up the Catholic Charities request.
The third item on tonight's agenda is to consider moving the alignment of the south-eastern leg of the Outer Loop. The part of the loop in question is between SH 6 and the Rockwall county line. The county staff sand consultants are recommending that a section be moved to avoid impacting the High Meadow Estates project in Josephine. The proposed realignment will reduce the number of residential properties that would be lost to the new road.
Both the proposal and the current alignment will adversely impact a number of homes.
KRLD radio reports -
Inmates To Help Clear Storm Mess on Collin County Roads
It'll take quite a while to pick up Collin County's big mess, with debris and tree limbs strewn widely north of McKinney?. Public Works director John Jon Kleinheksel says it might take weeks to put things right again because nearly four dozen country roads have damage, some of it minimal and some of it severe. The biggest impact is on rural county roads in a swath from Celina, through Weston and over to Anna. At the worst of the storm, 18 Collin County roads were closed because of debris or flooding. Some of the clean-up work may be done by county jail inmates allowed on work crews to earn credit for early release.
The Texas Legislature adjourned sine die tonight without passing sunset legislation for several major Texas agencies, including TxDOT.
Buried in the TxDOT sunset bill was a provision cobbled from another failed bill that would have prohibited new contracts for red light cameras. Since the sunset bill (HB300) did not survive, the Governor will almost certainly have to call the legislature into special session.
A few Collin County cities presently use these red light cameras. Frisco opted to let their contract run without renewal. Had HB300 passed, the cameras in Frisco would have shut down.
Plano however choose to renew its contract. Plano's new contract with its vendor runs through 2012.
Critics of the red light cameras charge that their main purpose is to raise money for cash strapped cities while defenders cite statistics showing lower collision rates at intersections with the cameras.
Efforts to prohibit red light cameras have been unsuccessful in previous legislative sessions. In an effort to avoid abuse, the legislature in 2007, enacted new, more stringent rules for cameras, capped fines and split net revenues between the state and cities.
Regardless of the arguments, unless a special session adds a ban on these cameras, they will be legal at least until the next legislative session in 2011.
DART, The T want to partner with private companies to fund Cotton Belt Rail Line
Friday, May 22, 2009
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER/ The Dallas Morning News
DART and Fort Worth’s The T want to partner with private companies to build a 68-mile passenger rail line that would stretch from Fort Worth to the airport to Addison to Plano and onto Richardson, with service beginning as soon as 2013.
The unusual partnership with private firms would speed up the long-planned project known as the Cotton Belt Rail Line. DART has planned to build portions of the Cotton Belt for years, but its current financial plans allocate no money to do so until 2027. Agency officials said Friday that private firms’ involvement could speed construction by 15 years or more, and that some services on the new line could open within four years.
“This is new territory for us and for a lot of people,” Lyons said. “So we wanted to send this request out to see who is interested.”
Public-private partnerships have become more common in Texas in recent years, as Gov. Rick Perry has pushed their involvement as a way to fast-track the building of toll roads throughout the state. Private companies are set to rebuild LBJ Freeway and the Southwest Parkway in Fort Worth, for instance.
But that approach has only rarely been used for other types of major transportation infrastructure — and all but non-existent among American transit agencies. A proposal to privatize Midway Airport in Chicago fizzled earlier this year, and their use in passenger rail lines has been extremely rare within the United States.
Still, DART has been studying the approach for more than a year, and is using a watered-down version of public-private partnership to hasten the completion of the Orange Line to Irving. That approach, called a design-build agreement, allows a private company to bid on both the design and construction phases of a contract at once, with the result that the project can be completed more quickly but with less oversight by the public entity.
But what the agencies have in mind for the Cotton Belt is far more aggressive, and would involve private firms investing in, and operating at least for a time, rail lines in a way that remains extraordinarily rare in this country. That’s partly because unlike toll roads, rail lines aren’t profitable without enormous public subsidies.
In general, DART is hoping that a private form will agree to build and operate the rail line between now and 2027, when DART and The T would have their own money to take over both capital and operations cost. One idea for how to compensate the private companies — in addition to given them fare revenue — is to share with them some of the property tax revenue generated by the new development expected along the line.
An open-house on the project has been scheduled for June 12 at 9 a.m. at DART’s Union Station in Dallas.
The three segments of the rail line include:
• Segment 1: This line extends from the airport to downtown Carrollton, moving east from Carrollton to connect with DART's Red Line Bush Turnpike Station. It would connect with the DART Green Line and perhaps the proposed Denton rail line. This line would serve DART member cities Farmers Branch, Addison, Dallas, Richardson and Plano, according to DART.
• Segment 2: This begins at Sycamore School Road southwest of Fort Worth, and would continue along the Fort Worth & Western Railroad corridor toward downtown Fort Worth, DART said. It would connect with the TRE commuter rail line service at the T&P Station.
• Segment 3: This would extend north from downtown Fort Worth’s ITC Station, and include stations in Haltom City, North Richland Hills, Colleyville, Grapevine and the D/FW International Airport.
HOV-related deaths rise to 6; TxDOT dismissed warnings
Thursday, May 7, 2009
By DAVID SCHECHTER / WFAA-TV
NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES
DALLAS - An expanding News 8 investigation has uncovered more HOV-related deaths.
In little than over two years, crashes on Interstate 635 killed three motorists. That makes a total of six dead when added to the three fatalities News 8 uncovered on Central Expressway.
The Texas Department of Transportation was fully warned about dangerous roadway designs but did little or nothing to make them safer.
Franco Miramontes wishes they had.
A year-and-a-half ago, the 24-year-old was legally riding his motorcycle in the HOV lane on I-635. According to police reports, he was doing about 70 mph when a driver in the main lanes crossed over and nearly killed him. Miramontes is now a quadriplegic.
"They need to do something about the HOV lanes," said Rosemary Miramontes, Franco's mother.
Three years before Miramontes' crash, TxDOT's top managers received an HOV safety report, and the information inside was damning. It showed the HOV lanes on I-635 and I-35 were jeopardizing driver safety. What might have been a call to action for Texas Department of Transportation was instead disregarded.
The report was commissioned by TxDOT and conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute. It compared eight years of crash data on the two interstates.
Before adding an HOV lane, there was an average of 263 crashes a year where someone was injured on I-635. After the lane was built that number rose to 396 crashes a year. That’s a crash-rate increase of 41 percent.
On the I-35 Corridor, there was an average of 85 injury crashes a year before the HOV lane. After the lane was added, that number rose to 169 a year. That’s a 56 percent increase.
So, what did the top man at TxDOT's local office do in the face of an obvious threat to public safety? Virtually nothing was done.
"When you got that information did you go back to try make some changes to improve safety?” reporter David Schechter asked District Engineer Bill Hale.
"We looked to see what needed to be done," said Bill Hale, the district engineer, when asked about what was done when that information was received. "We watched it. But, the locations that we saw that had problems, I guess we haven't had a lot of changes on the thing."
He said TxDOT did ask DART police to write more tickets to drivers who break the law.
However, some of the report's findings were even worse. Before the HOV lane was added, the lane now closest to the HOV lane on I-35 had an average of 17 injury crashes a year. After the lane was added that number went up to 43. That’s a 153 percent increase in injury crashes.
On the I-635 Corridor, an average of 52 injury crashes happened a year in that lane before the HOV was added. After the HOV, that number rose to 150, which is a crash-rate increase of 188 percent.
"You look at each year how it goes," Hale said. "You keep monitoring that to see if they're going down. And they're not staying steady; they've gone down as people got used to it."
News 8 reviewed hundreds of crash reports and found on in 2007 on I-635 there were at least three motorists who died in HOV-related crashes. One crash was a double fatality. Driver error played a role in those crashes, but design may have as well.
In many locations, TxDOT squeezed in HOV lanes by shrinking the shoulders down from an optimal 14 feet down to two feet. That leaves very little room for a driver to evade a crash. Now, add real world conditions. If traffic is clear on the HOV lane, the main lanes are moving slow. When a fast vehicle hits a slow one, it's like hitting a brick wall. That's what happened to Miramontes.
When TxDOT commissioned the safety study it was considering a new HOV project on Central Expressway. The report made "absolute minimum" recommendations that would make Central Expressway safer than I-35 and I-635.
But, as News 8 has previously reported, TxDOT disregarded those recommendations. Now, major crashes on Central are up 30 percent and three motorists have died.
It been impossible for me to post anything this week. We've had family in from out of town, and my evenings have been full.
I would have wrote more on these if I had the time:
Collin County vs. Collin County Auditor.
Our readers will remember that after losing both suits against their auditor, the county commissioners filed a notice of appeal with the Texas 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas. They were due to file their brief last month, but instead asked for an extension that expired on April 15. On the 13th, the commissioners asked for an additional extension - until April 29.
In their first extension request, the commissioners explained that they needed the extension because they were actively involved in mediation with the auditor, and that any agreement would have to be voted on in an open meeting.
It's probably safe to assume that the untimely death of Homer Reynolds, the auditor's lead attorney, has slowed any negotiations.
I note that the agenda for Monday afternoon's Commissioners Court workshop includes an executive session (secret meeting) to discuss the case. I doubt that the court will be able to take any action at a workshop, but I suspect that if there is to be a settlement it will be decided at the scheduled April 27th meeting of the commissioners court.
The Local Option Transportation District bill:
After Keith Self's dismal performance at the Texas Senate hearing on SB 855 last month, the Senate Transportation Committee passed Senator Carona's bill that would allow voters in several Texas suburban counties to call an election to vote on creating a mass transportation district that could levy taxes.
Almost all of the counties in suburban areas in the state have been very supportive of the bill which was passed by the entire Senate on April 14 on a 29-9 roll call vote.
The House version of the bill is styled as HB 9. The House Transportation Committee has scheduled a public hearing on HB 9 for this Tuesday, April 21. Unlike the Senate Transportation & Homeland Security Committee which Senator Florence Shapiro is a member, there are no Collin County representatives are on the House Transportation Committee.
Most agree that passage of the bill in the House will be much more difficult than in the Senate. However, it is expected to pass.
I do not know if Judge Self is planning on attending Tuesday's committee hearing. The Commissioners Court is scheduled to discuss HB 9 and other legislative priorities at Monday's workshop.
The Collin County Observer offered its analysis on the Lake Lavon bridge issue back on March 17.
Today, The Dallas Morning News' local reporter, Ed Housewright adds to the discussion.
Todd and Kay Nordby hope to build a retirement home on Lavon Lake and enjoy a serene view of the water.
They don't want to look at a hulking six-lane bridge.
Yet the Nordbys fear momentum is building for a bridge to span the lake's southern tip and ease east-west travel. They began a Web site last month that warns of the bridge's impact.
"Our mission: preserve the peace and tranquility of Lake Lavon, its parks, equestrian trails, camp grounds, fishing, swimming, boating, picnic and recreational areas," the Web site says.
Collin County commissioners recently approved a $367,000 engineering contract to determine the bridge alignment. It's likely to skirt the Nordbys' property on the peninsula of the lake, located about 30 miles northeast of Dallas.
However, commissioners assure property owners that bridge construction probably wouldn't begin for more than 15 years.
"Any type of bridge is years and years and years away," said Commissioner Joe Jaynes, whose district includes the lake's western shore.
Officials say they need to identify an alignment and begin acquiring right of way because of the county's breakneck growth. Currently, the only east-west bridge across the entire lake is U.S. Highway 380, about seven miles north.
"This is a planning effort," said Commissioner Jerry Hoagland, whose district includes the eastern shore. "I don't think there's a need for a bridge today, very candidly, but I do think we'll need one when the eastern part of Collin County gets built out."
The project, estimated to cost at least $150 million, would consist of two bridges.
One would begin on the lake's western shore in Lucas and connect to the narrow peninsula extending south from Princeton. The second bridge would stretch from the peninsula to the lake's eastern shore, ending north of Lavon.
The entire distance of both bridges and the peninsula roadway is about eight miles.
The Nordbys dispute the need for another east-west connector, even years from now. They point out the county's eastern side is far less populated than the west, which includes Allen, Frisco, McKinney and Plano.
"Most people like the remoteness and undeveloped nature," Kay Nordby said.
The Save Lake Lavon Web site, savelakelavon.com, already has attracted heavy traffic, Todd Nordby said.
"In a short time, with very little PR, we have begun receiving offers of volunteer support and requests for information from citizens on Lake Lavon and surrounding communities," he said.
But not all lake residents oppose the bridge. Carla McCroan, who lives near Nevada on the east side, first proposed a bridge almost a decade ago because of growing traffic. She was serving on the Collin County Planning Board at the time.
"I've heard a lot of people say it [a bridge] would be a great thing," McCroan said.
The county plans to schedule public hearings within the next year on the proposed route for the bridges and peninsula roadway.
This morning at about 7:30, a motorcyclist reportedly tried to illegally enter the southbound Central Expressway HOV at Campbell Rd. in Richardson.
He was struck from behind by a gold Infiniti traveling in the HOV lane. As was to be expected, the Infiniti won the fight for the lane.
The motorcyclist survived, and was transported to the hospital. I have no word on his condition.
This is the second motorcycle vs. automobile accident in 2 weeks on Central. Both were caused by motorcycles trying to enter the HOV lane by steering between the barrier sticks.
Both caused major injuries.
And both caused major backups that included yours truly in the ensuing jam up.
It is amazing the both bikers survived. I'm afraid that more will have to die before enforcement becomes a reality and before the HOV lanes are redesigned.
Thank you Richardson City Council and all the local politicians who demanded a narrow 2 way HOV lane.
Critics say Collin County not being a team player; officials cite rapid growth for tough decisions
April 5, 2009
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
If Dallas County could be likened to a senior citizen living on a fixed income, then Collin County might be the energetic teen with a fast car and a trust fund.
It's envied by other North Texas counties and is well-known as one of the most affluent, fastest-growing counties in the nation.
Collin County Judge Keith Self
Denton County Judge Mary Horn
State Sen. John Carona (R-Richardson)
In recent months, however, some say Collin County is earning a new reputation, and not an enviable one.
"I don't think Collin County plays nice lately," said state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas. "I don't think they have a regional concern, but only for provincial Collin County."
The comments, made during a recent Senate hearing in Austin, are striking a chord with some who accuse the county of acting in its own interest at the expense of others. County officials have sparred with regional leaders as of late, mostly on transportation and health care issues.
Collin County officials reject the criticism, saying they're willing to help forge solutions to common problems. But they also make no apologies for putting Collin County first, citing rapid growth.
Since 2000, the county's population has swelled by almost 50 percent, and officials say that's forcing them to make tough decisions.
"We've changed more in the last five years than we had in the previous 20," Commissioner Joe Jaynes said.
If there is grumbling about Collin County from its neighbors, it occurs quietly, and on a local level. But Carona's high-profile statements on March 18, directed at County Judge Keith Self, brought negative sentiments out in the open.
Self attended the Senate Transportation Committee hearing to speak against a bill that could establish new taxes to expand regional rail service.
More than 40 area cities and five counties passed resolutions in support of the measure, but Collin County did not.
Self said the county believed the bill would burden constituents with unnecessary taxes for rail service that would benefit few. (Collin County Commissioner Jerry Hoagland later spoke in favor of the bill.)
"This is not the time to raise taxes," Self said.
Carona railed against Self at the public hearing, saying he was not providing constructive input.
"You do a disservice to your community by sending missives out [to anti-tax groups] before you even understood what the bill was about," Carona said.
"It's really tragic that this is sign of the future leadership of the community."
The county's opposition to the rail bill is only the latest action on transportation to upset elected officials.
For instance, county commissioners recently backed out of a written agreement with Denton County to support a Dallas North Tollway extension along their joint border. They now want an alignment entirely in Collin County to receive taxes from development along the corridor.
That decision irked Denton County Judge Mary Horn, who said the county was reneging on a promise it made years ago.
"I think you should honor your county's agreements," she said.
In addition, the county angered the North Texas Tollway Authority by creating its own toll road agency. Commissioners have defended themselves by saying the need for a proposed 53-mile highway called the Outer Loop is so great that they can't wait on NTTA to build it.
County officials also continue to generate friction with Dallas County over Parkland Memorial Hospital, a sticking point in the past.
Collin County commissioners snubbed Dallas County's request to support a bill that would create a new hospital tax in suburban counties to help pay for using the Dallas hospital.
"I don't think our residents would ever support something like that," said Hoagland, the Collin commissioner. "Why should they? We don't have that many people going down there."
Collin County commissioners have irked officials in surrounding counties in the past year:
March 30 – Collin County Commissioner Kathy Ward testifies against a bill that could tax suburban counties for using Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.
March 18 – State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, publicly chastises Collin County Judge Keith Self for not having a "regional concern."
September 2008 – Collin commissioners create a county toll road authority, separate from North Texas Tollway Authority.
May 2008 – Collin commissioners rescind a 2005 agreement with Denton County to support a Dallas North Tollway extension along a joint border.
Last Sunday afternoon, my wife and I were traveling northbound on Central Expressway in Plano. We were heading to Allen, when I noticed that all traffic in front of us had stopped.
We were lucky that we were just at an off ramp. We escaped the gridlock, and went to lunch. Well over an hour and a half later, traffic was still stopped. I was told by one reader of this blog that he was stuck in the backup for over an hour.
When I asked the Plano Police Department what happened, a spokesperson sent me this remarkable picture.
A motorcycle had tried to enter the HOV lane and was struck from behind by a car. In the picture, you can see the double white line of the HOV lane. The car rode up on the bike, which never fell over. I was told that the motorcyclist ended up under the car. Miraculously, he survived.
I did not ask for the names of the drivers or injured nor their present condition.
HB515 was introduced by Reps. Allen Vaught and Carol Kent, both Dallas Democrats. The bill would allow citizens to file a petition forcing an election to merge the Dallas County Hospital District (Parkland) with a contiguous county. Elections would have to be held in both the petitioning county and in Dallas County, and voters in both would have to approve it for the merger to take place.
The Collin County Commissioners Court vehemently opposes the bill. Merging with Parkland is one of their worst fears.
Dallas County Judge Jim Foster and Parkland President Dr. Ron Anderson both testified that the merger was to the benefit of all counties, and might be needed so that Parkland could remain a level 1 Trauma center. If Parkland were to give up their level one status, the closest level one center would be in Houston. It was pointed out that when a traffic accident in Collin or Rockwall Counties results in a horrific trauma, the patient is almost always airlifted to Parkland - whether or not the victim is insured. Loss of access to Parkland would inevitably cost the lives of some suburban residents.
Dr. Anderson and members of the committee pointed out that Parkland not only served the poor and indigent, but also insured Dallas and suburban residents with the region's premier trauma center, burn unit and 24 hour psychiatric center.
Parkland's indigent care covers uninsured citizens who earn up to 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL). Judge Foster testified that last year, Parkland absorbed over $20 million in unpaid bills from suburban residents. Collin county covers up to 100$ of FPL, but also subjects applicants to an asset test that disqualifies more poor folks than the income level does. Other counties have more stringent income qualifications.
At one point during his testimony, Dr. Anderson quoted the Ellis County Judge as telling him, "Why buy the cow, if I can get the milk for free."
While County Judge Keith Self attended the hearing, he wisely (after the drubbing he got the last time he appeared before the County Affairs committee) did not testify. Commissioner Kathy Ward and the County's Health director, Candy Blair spoke on behalf of the commissioners court.
Commissioner Ward was closely questioned by several members of the committee, especially Chairman Garnet Coleman and Rep. Valinda Bolton. The Chair, in particular was inclined to lecturing on the history of health care benefits and legislation in Texas. Commissioner Ward, however remained poised and gracious, and the committee reciprocated. Her reception was in stark contrast to the last two legislative appearances by our county officials.
Ward testified that the county was willing to explore new ideas in indigent care, but that they were opposed to HB515 because the election would be too expensive and because it wasn't clear how much of Parkland's debt Collin County residents would have to assume.
Ward also stated that Collin County paid its bills. She noted that last year, the county paid Parkland on 143 invoices for 'qualified' Collin County indigents. What she did not list was the number of bills that went unpaid, because the county would not grant benefits because of income or asset tests.
Ward noted that an election would cost the county over $400,000. She rightly stated that HB515 would allow only 50 voters to file a petition to force an election. Ward pointed out that Collin County had any number of political activists who could go to any 7-11 and get 50 signatures before lunch.
Ward's $400,000 figure would be correct if the referendum was the only item on a county-wide ballot. However, HB515 does not mandate a special election. Nothing in the bill would prevent the commissioners from scheduling the election at the next regular election date. Combining the referendum with normally scheduled elections would drastically reduce the cost.
Ward also objected to a provision in the bill which would grant Dallas County commissioners the right to appoint the Hospital district's representatives from the annexed county. She stated that there was no way Collin County Commissioners would agree to that. She is right on target with that - in order to be fair to all sides, that provision of the bill needs to be reworked.
As to the debt issue, it is addressed in the bill, "If the district has outstanding debts or taxes, the voters in the election to approve the annexation must also determine if the annexed territory will assume its proportion of the debts or taxes if added to the district."
Candy Blair told the committee that according to Parkland's own statements during its last bond election, 90% of patients from suburban counties were insured and their bills were paid at a much higher percentage than patients from Dallas County.
With both HB515 and the Local Option Transportation Bill (SB855) asking local voters to take control over their own destinies by using the ballot box to decide if they want to support mass transit or improved health care. The 81st legislature is blazing a new trail in proposing innovative approaches to some of the most difficult political problems we face in suburban Collin County.
The legislature is not dictating new taxes, instead it asks the voters, "Is a mass transit system worth paying higher taxes?" and "Is improving health care access worth paying a hospital district tax?"
The county would do well to negotiate with the legislature to remove the more objectionable provisions of these bills - and then let the voters decide.
The hearing on HB515 begins at time stamp 4:26:25.
Kathy Ward's testimony begins at time stamp 4:55:33.
Collin County commissioners divided on bill that provides funds to extend rail service
Sunday, March 29, 2009
by Ed Housewright / The Dallas Morning News
Rail service carries a hefty price tag.
Consider this: A single mile of light rail can cost $70 million, according to industry estimates.
By contrast, a single lane-mile of highway costs about $2.5 million.
Collin County commissioners are engaged in a rancorous, politically charged debate over rail service. They're split on a widely supported bill that could provide funding to extend rail lines to Allen, McKinney, Frisco and throughout the region.
Opponents, such as Collin County Judge Keith Self and Commissioner Matt Shaheen, cite the enormous expense of rail service compared with building roads. They say rail wouldn't carry enough riders to justify the sky-high cost.
For instance, extending rail from Plano to McKinney would cost almost $600 million, according to the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
"We need to make rail work," Shaheen said. "The problem is, the economics of rail now are just terrible."
Shaheen, Self and other opponents of the bill say rail service, if undertaken, should be funded by private investment and existing taxes. The new bill would allow cities the option of imposing new taxes or fees to extend rail.
Collin County Commissioner Jerry Hoagland, a bill supporter, said the booming county can't wait to start expanding rail service. Its population is expected to grow by more than 50 percent over the next two decades.
"I don't like to pay taxes any more than anybody else," Hoagland said. "But we've got to do something if we're ever going to enhance our transit."
Commissioner Joe Jaynes also supports the bill.
"I'm not crazy about the plan," he said. "But I'm also not going to tell people you can't have the right to vote on this."
Currently, rail service barely reaches Collin County. The DART line stops at Parker Road in Plano, leaving a huge expanse of northern and eastern Collin County unserved.
A study conducted by the council of governments calls for adding 251 miles of rail service in Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Johnson, Rockwall and Tarrant counties. The expansion, projected to cost $9.5 billion, would be completed in about 20 years.
Besides the rail line from Plano to McKinney, the study also recommends a $679 million leg from Carrollton to Frisco and a $492 million extension from Garland to Wylie.
In the council of governments' plan, some areas would be served by light rail and some by commuter rail. DART, for instance, uses primarily light rail. It's more expensive and is powered by electricity. Commuter rail uses diesel power.
More than 40 cities and five counties in the region have passed resolutions supporting the rail funding bill.
The Dallas Morning News Transportation Blog today published an unsigned "talking points" memo from TxDOT designed to counter media and public criticism of its handling the Central Expressway HOV lanes.
In its memo, TxDOT insists that there are no design flaws in the HOV.
They do, however, state that the original design was for a reversible lane with concrete barriers. (After complaints from local politicians in Richardson and Collin County and after two studies, TxDOT relented.) The transportation department confirms that another study is ongoing.
The memo lists three traffic fatalities that have occurred on Central since the HOV lanes were opened, two of them were caused by drivers illegally jumping the lane barriers.
What got to me was the statement TxDOT makes about future plans, "While interim efforts within current funding, right-of-way and other constraints will continue, long-term planning for optimal facilities is ongoing. 635/The New LBJ project is under development and will provide a case study on separated managed lanes. Current advanced planning is underway to address I-35E with plans to implement similar managed lane design similar to The New LBJ. As noted earlier, long-term planning for the US 75 corridor is beginning and will continue. Performance of managed lanes on The New LBJ project is the template for the future."
Managed lanes, such as what's planned for I-635 are toll lanes, very expensive toll lanes. I call them Lexus Lanes.
So TxDOT's solution to the HOV complaints is to toll more?
Good Lord, when will it end!
When Ed Housewright of the Dallas Morning News published his story, "Collin, Denton officials debate path of future Dallas North Tollway extension" on the conflict between Collin and Denton Counties over the DNT extension, my first reaction was, "Good Lord, it's about time someone at the DMN noticed!". After all, it was back last spring when the Collin County commissioners rescinded their agreement with Denton County and began taking the first steps to creating the Collin County Toll Road Authority.
Now after Senator Carona filed a bill to force Collin County to submit to NTTA and after Keith Self got a tongue lashing from Senators Carona and Watson over the County's high handed actions, NOW the Dallas News catches on.
So it would appear that now NTTA wants to float an idea that is a win-win for both counties.
Why not have two Dallas North Tollways?, says NTTA. We'll take one up northwest through Denton County to I-35 and the other northeast through Collin County to US-75. Of course, they say, this "Y" is phase 4 of the DNT extension, and is at least 10 years away from beginning construction, so we have a lot of time to work out the details with you.
The only problem is what is Collin County to do with the Outer Loop? Last month, the county commissioners approved spending over $3 million to begin engineering on Phase 3 of their portion of this new toll road.
Phase 3 of the Outer Loop connects the Dallas North Tollway to US-75 only 3 miles south of the proposed "Y". Does the region need 2 tollways between Proper and Celina that make a connection to I35 and US-75? I doubt it.
Should Collin County wait 10 years to find out? Or should they gamble with 3 million dollars?
Delaying the engineering, will delay the project and make it much more expensive. But building the "Y" puts the entire regional Outer Loop in jeopardy with two toll roads competing for the same traffic.
Is it more likely that NTTA is playing a game with our intrepid commissioners?
One glance at a map tells the story. The "Y" is a direct threat to the regional Outer Loop. (I've sketched in the green "Y" and orange Outer Loop. The Dallas North Tollway phase 4 extension is the red dashed line.)
There is no reason to have two toll roads only three miles apart that make the same connections. There just isn't enough traffic to Oklahoma to justify both.
NTTA's Chairman, Paul Wageman told the commissioners a few weeks ago that the Outer Loop is not a Collin County exclusive. It is a regional highway covering 6 counties and possibly connecting to the Trans Texas Corridor. It is much bigger than Collin County - no matter how important it is to our county, it has regional and statewide significance.
This trial balloon "Y" proposal seems designed to reinforce that lesson on the country boys in McKinney.
Collin, Denton officials debate path of future Dallas North Tollway extension
Monday, March 23, 2009
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
A simple line on a map could translate into billions of dollars for either Collin County or Denton County.
That line represents a proposed extension of the Dallas North Tollway, and the adjacent counties are squabbling over the alignment because of the economic bonanza it could bring as homes and businesses spring up around it.
Collin and Denton county officials had agreed the 7-mile stretch should be on the counties' common border to let each share in the riches.
But now Collin County commissioners insist on an alignment entirely within their county.
"This thing is like pure gold as far as the tax base is concerned," Collin County Commissioner Jerry Hoagland said. "Office, retail and so forth will spring up when it hits the ground."
Denton County officials accuse Collin commissioners of reneging on a written resolution in 2005 to share the extension right of way.
"I was very disappointed," Denton County Commissioner Andy Eads said. "Everyone represents their own jurisdiction, but we also have to wear the hat of regionalism."
The North Texas Tollway Authority alone will decide the path of the expansion, from FM428 in northern Collin County to its border with Grayson County.
Despite the agreement between Collin and Denton counties, the agency has never committed to build the extension along their boundary, said Paul Wageman, NTTA board chairman.
An alignment decision is more than a year away, he said. Construction probably wouldn't be complete for more than a decade.
"We're not going to make a political decision," said Wageman, a Collin County appointee to the board. "We're going to make the right decision for the agency."
The tollway authority recently proposed an extension alternative that could please both counties.
Instead of a single roadway northward, the agency is considering a branch that would veer northwest across Denton County and another northeast into Collin County.
"It's the best of both worlds," Collin County Commissioner Joe Jaynes said.
If the NTTA board decided on the so-called Y alignment, the Collin County branch probably would be built first because it's growing faster than Denton County, Wageman said.
Each leg would connect with another major thoroughfare.
The Collin County extension would run into U.S. 75, while the Denton County arm would meet Interstate 35, Wageman said.
"It gets both counties what they ultimately want, which is greater access into the metroplex and all the development that goes along those roadways," he said.
Dave Denison, a Denton County appointee to the NTTA board, said he's willing to consider the split extensions.
"It's got some interesting possibilities," he said. "But it probably hasn't been studied enough yet to really draw a conclusion."
However, he said he still likes the alignment that would straddle the boundary of Collin and Denton counties. Mr. Denison said he's angry that Collin County commissioners voted last year to rescind the 2005 agreement.
"The alignment was fair for both counties," he said. "Nobody likes to have a partner renege on them."
Collin County commissioners also riled NTTA board members recently by creating a separate county toll road authority.
The new body hasn't taken any action yet. But commissioners want the option to operate county toll roads and keep the fares.
Now, Collin County partners with Denton, Dallas and Tarrant counties in the North Texas Tollway Authority.
Fares collected on the Dallas North Tollway, Bush Turnpike and other roads are used for improvements throughout the four counties.
But the NTTA has so many projects under way it won't be able to build toll roads fast enough in booming Collin County, officials say.
"We can't wait for the NTTA," Hoagland said. "We've got to take matters into our own hands."
Wageman, however, said Collin County should focus its energies on supporting the NTTA and its regional approach.
"They are a one-quarter owner of our agency," he said. "We have a tremendous investment in Collin County."
Collin County can act like a petulant sibling in transportation matters. This, even though North Texas' traffic congestion presents a dense thicket of problems that requires a coherent approach to solve.
So it is fortunate that a bill in the Texas Senate aims to rein in Collin County from becoming more of an outlier when it comes to regionally planned and operated toll roads.
At issue are two decisions from the Collin County Commissioners Court last year. One was the formation of its own toll authority. Second was its rescinding of a three-year-old resolution adopted jointly with Denton County, in which both had recommended that a future leg of the Dallas North Tollway proceed along the counties' mutual border. Collin County ultimately decided it wanted the tollway extension – and the spinoff development – all to itself.
The alignment decision was a symbolic one, since the four-county North Texas Tollway Authority, a state agency, will determine what route will best meet traffic demands.
But the symbolism was a sign of things to come. And when the county created a competing tollway authority, it appeared as though reason ran into the ditch.
Commissioners contend that the county's own tolling agency would ensure that residents are treated fairly when it comes to revenue distribution. But residents ought to ask for the price tag of ramping up a new government apparatus and taking on the administrative and planning functions already done by a regional government agency. The NTTA, in fact, includes two Collin County representatives on its nine-member board – including the current chairman. Further, North Texas' umbrella planning group, the Regional Transportation Council, has an established, equitable toll-sharing policy based on the registration of cars that use a pay road.
As filed, Sen. John Carona's SB 882 could settle this game of brinksmanship. It would permit a county toll authority to advance a project only with signoff from the regional toll-road agency. If some local officials want to work at cross purposes with other transportation providers in the region, Austin has a legitimate reason to step in.
Denton and Collin counties are in a squabble concerning the route of a proposed extension of the Dallas North Tollway. Collin County wants a 7-mile stretch to be located exclusively in its confines, while Denton County wants the tollway to be built on the border of the two counties.
The North Texas Tollway Authority, which has the last word on if and where the road will be built, should reconsider the consequences of having yet another highway built in the Dallas-Forth Worth area.
Generally when highways or tollways are constructed, development and economic growth follow in the surrounding area. However appealing this may sound, construction also leads to suburban sprawl, which causes many problems of its own.
Suburban sprawl usually lacks effective planning because the fast economic growth that follows the building of major roads is difficult to control. As developers stake out their claim of land, many factors are ignored, such as energy, traffic flow and the environment.
Because of the low-density population levels in suburban cities, energy is not maximized and is often wasted. Resources are used to supply residents with their needs over vast distances, requiring energy to bring them to the consumer. Residents also use energy in the form of driving automobiles over large distances to get to work and shopping centers. Because grocery stores and other places are not planned to effectively accommodate the consumer, more gas is guzzled.
Traffic becomes a problem as more roads are built, even though they are meant to alleviate the problem. Suburban sprawl limits the effectiveness of public transportation as locations become spread out. It encourages people to move further out from a city's focal point, which often causes commutes to be longer as more people hit the road for work.
The environment is also altered in a manner not beneficial to residents in the area. Sprawl increases the amount of carbon dioxide emitted in an area as residents use vehicles to get around. Areas that once were grasslands or forests are replaced with impervious surfaces like concrete, which causes a decrease in our water quality as pollutants from cars are washed into the cities' water supply.
Building more roads treats the symptom of a larger problem. Gas will not be cheap forever, and plans must be made accordingly. As America shifts its focus to energy efficiency in the 21st century, North Texas would be wise to adopt methods of planning to reduce the amount of traffic in the area without more road building.
link to editorial...
County Judge Keith Self has posted his written statement given to the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee on SB855.
|Sen. Watson lectures Keith Self at SB855 hearing|
The written statement is very different from Self's oral testimony last week. Both however refer to the Local Option Transportation Act as a "tax increase". That characterization was hotly disputed by Senators Carona and Watson during Self's appearance at the committee hearings.
In a phrase reminiscent of Self's February, 2008 weird blog post comparing the NCTCOG to the Soviet Union's central planning, Self several times refers to the bill as building "a command economy".
On Sunday, the Dallas Morning News wrote an editorial piece on Self's appearance at the hearing. Calling it the, "Keith Self side show", the editorial noted that "Keith Self doesn't speak for all of Collin County", and that the senate bill gives local taxpayers a choice on whether to tax themselves or not.
On Monday, Judge Self is expected to brief the Commissioners' Court on his testimony and the status of SB855 and other bills the court has labeled priorities. At his briefing at the last court session, Self described the committee hearings as no place for "sissies". I wonder if he'll now be comparing Austin to Golgotha.
After the near lynching Keith Self has received in his last two appearances before a legislative committee, the Commissioners Court might do well to appoint one of its more rational members as their spokesman for any future committee testimony.
Update: March 25 - by a 7-2 vote, The Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee passed SB855 to the full Senate.
Judge Keith Self should have seen it coming. After all, he told the commissioners court last week that testifying before a legislative committee was "no place for sissies."
Tuesday, members of the Texas Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee proved him right about at least that one thing.
The bill would allow cities to require a commissioners court to call an election where the voters could create a taxing district that would be able to develop mass transportation projects.
Self, ignoring the fact that the bill allows the voters to choose to tax themselves or not, has been charging that passage of the bill, "Would add a whole new set of taxes to fund every sort of transportation and transit project, as well as give authorities over those tax funds to an entity outside the county."
As Judge Self learned, while email and blogs can get away with inflammatory and half true statements, its not a good idea to use the same tactic in a legislative committee hearing.
SB 855 has the support of most of the cities and counties in the region. Representatives from Denton County, Dallas County, Hunt County, the cities of Plano, McKinney, Frisco, Richardson, Greenville, Commerce and Arlington, the Fort Worth, Arlington and Dallas Chambers of Commerce, DFW Airport and DART all testified for passage of the bill.
Opposition came from several anti-tax PACs and of course from Judge Keith Self.
After more that 2 hours of testimony, the drama came when the Committee called for Judge Self and Commissioner Hoagland to testify.
Self led off, beginning with a comment that over the last ten years, state spending had grown twice as fast as the increase in population and inflation. Self then stated that, "This is a tax increase". When he later repeated the tax increase charge, it was too much for Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) to bear.
Watson said, "You just indicated that we're passing a tax increase. I think you're wrong about that. I hope that what you'll do is go back and look at the bill."
Watson added, "When you say we're passing a tax, that is not true. It is responding to a request from local elected officials and local communities, saying,'We need some help'.".
Wagging his finger at Self, Watson added, "But to say we are passing a tax increase is just a wrong statement. And I just want to make sure that you're clear about that, because I think it is inappropriate... The local community has to make the decision as to whether to have an election, and then would have to have an election."
Watson then told Self, "I know that in politics it's fun and it gets some people some support by throwing around words that's not entirely accurate, but I would ask you that when you're appearing before this committee, that's working as hard as it can to meet the needs of people across this state, that you take care in the way you characterize their work."
Self should have seen it coming.
If he did, he shrugged it off and plowed on. After the Judge completed his statement calling the result of the bill a 'hodge-podge system', Senator John Carona (R-Richardson) weighed in.
Carona let loose a blast at Self, saying, "Judge, we would welcome your help, but thus far we haven't seen any of it. The only thing I've seen so far is a series of emails you've sent out to the various anti-tax groups like yourself. But we would welcome your constructive input."
"But given the fact that overwhelmingly the cities in your county support this, it seems to me that you do a disservice to the community by sending out the missives you've sent out before you even knew or understood what the bill said."
Carona concluded with, "And then divorcing yourself from any opportunity to make the bill better or to offer anything constructive is really tragic. It is especially tragic that in a progressive part of the state like Collin County that this would represent the future leadership of the county."
After the whipping on Self, it was Commissioner Jerry Hoagland's turn to speak. Hoagland began his testimony by pointing out that when he was first elected commissioner, the county's population was 144,000. It is now over 750,000, Hoagland said, and will be as large as Dallas County is now by around 2042.
Reading from a prepared statement Hoagland said that failure to plan for future growth would result in log jams on our highways streets and toll roads.
Calling those who call the county's tax rate too high are playing "chicken little, the sky is falling", Hoagland pointed out that Collin County citizens pay some of the lowest county taxes in the state.
"I believe there is something worse than paying a few dollars in taxes. That something is sticking our heads in the sand and not planning for the future. Growth will gridlock us in the future and therefore cost us more tomorrow if we don't deal with this problem today.", said Hoagland.
Hoagland testified that the people have said they want rail mass transit, and that local government officials have no right to say that the people can not choose to tax themselves by holding an election and voting.
SB855 offers voters a choice of several tax schemes. It allows cities to require a countywide election where the taxes and district would be voted on by the county's voters. Senator Shapleigh (D-El Paso) objected to the bill because he believed it would create a number of districts instead of a united highway and rail system. Shapleigh and several Senators stated that the best way to fund transportation would be to raise the gasoline tax. While many on the committee agreed that a gas tax is a simpler and better approach, it was noted that a gas tax raise is impossible to enact since Governor Rick Perry has vowed to veto any gas tax hike.
SB855 is expected to be approved by the committee in a few days, after some tweaking.
After the fireworks over SB855, the committee then held a hearing on SB882.
SB882 is NTTAs response to the attempt by the Collin County Commissioners Court to hijack a future portion of the Dallas North Tollway. SB882 would give a regional transit authority, namely NTTA veto power over toll projects created by the Collin County Toll Road Authority.
In his testimony, NTTA Chairman Paul Wageman of Plano said that it made no sense for two public agencies to be at loggerheads over the same project without some level of cooperation.
Wageman then charged that, "Judge Self and the commissioners have had on their agendas, at least twice over the last few months, essentially court orders to issue contracts on elements of our system that are either owned entirely by the NTTA or under contractual arrangements."
Senator Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) tried to set the stage for a compromise, saying, "surely there is one way we can meet in the middle." Shapiro seemed surprised to learn that the county had tried to expropriate a part of the DNT.
Senator Carona jumped in, asking to be part of any negotiating team, saying, "I don't think Collin County plays nice lately. I don't think they have a regional concern, but only for provincial Collin County".
"Bad things happen if you don't play nice", Carona added.
Judge Self did testify, pleading that the county had already spent over $3 million on the Outer Loop and that the agenda items were a clerical mistake.
The bill was left pending further negotiations.
The county judge has now made two trips to the Capitol this month to testify at public hearings. Both ended poorly for him and his cause - in both Self was embarrassed to find that his brand of bombast and half truth might work in McKinney, but it is a real mistake to try to carry the same approach to Austin.
After the last legislative hearing, on the County Auditor bill, Self said he learned that the committee hearings were no place for sissies. It's too bad that's all he learned.
It's not about sissies. It's about integrity. It's about leadership.
Update 9:30AM on March 19
The Dallas Morning News blogs covered the hearing and the Collin County Observer:
The public hearing was captured on video tape and can be seen on the Texas Legislature's web site.
Judge Self's testimony on SB855 can be seen at time stamp 2:10:35
Jerry Hoagland's testimony is at time stamp 2:15:50
Hoagland's written statement is here.
Discussion of SB882 begins at time stamp 4:13:00
Last week, the commissioners court approved a $381,000 contract with the engineering firm of HTNB for a "Route Study" to determine the final placement of a 9 mile, 6 lane divided highway over Lake Lavon that would connect FM 1378 in Lucas to SH 78 near Copeville. The road will span the entire width of the lake with 2 bridges, and eventually connect with the eastern leg of the Outer Loop.
The new highway and bridges would provide a more direct route from rapidly growing Lavon and Rockwall to Plano via Parker Rd. SH 205 to Rockwall is already scheduled to expand to 6 lanes.
The road will divert much of the westbound traffic from eastern Collin County from Wylie into Lucas, Parker, and Plano.
Almost immediately after the court's actions a group called "Save Lake Lavon" set up a web site to protest the bridges.
The group lists their mission as to, "Preserve the peace and tranquility of Lake Lavon, its parks, equestrian trails, camp grounds, fishing, swimming, boating, picnic and recreational areas."
Their home page is emblazoned with the headline "Help Save Lake Lavon", and explains, "We seek to avoid the ill fate of Lake Ray Hubbard and do not want Lake Lavon ruined by any more loud, unsightly, polluting bridges."
In another, related action, the court approved spending $450,000 as a 10% match to TxDOT funds for acquisition of land to widen Parker Rd (from Murphy Rd. to FM 1378) to 6 lanes.
In 2005, the county held a public meeting in Wylie to discuss the various routes a widened Parker Rd. could take. Four different right of ways were proposed. One veered sharply to the north to Lucas. It was explained that the northern route would connect with the proposed bridge across Lake Lavon.
The other 3 routes simply eliminated the 'dog leg' intersection of Parker and FM 1378, leaving the main route towards St. Paul and Wylie. Most of the meeting was spent exploring these 3 alternatives to the bad intersection at FM 1378.
During the 2005 meeting, residents expressed a variety of opinions, with several speaking out against the northern route. County officials and the engineers explained that there would be more public hearings before a decision was made on the final right of way.
I recently asked County Engineer Rubin Delgado if purchasing $4.5 million in land meant that the final route had been determined. Mr. Delgado wrote back stating, "We, the county, have set the alignment and are proceeding with the schematic and right-of-way plans leading to a public hearing."
Wow! The public hearing will be scheduled after all the decisions have been made and the plans are drawn.
It used to be "We, the people"; now its "We, the county".
So much for public input. Maybe these Save the Lake folks are on to something.
It seems that the Collin and Denton County NTTA board members don't like naming a road after a Democrat.
Me, I like naming a major highway for Speaker Sam Rayburn - but did it have to be a tollway?
Some on tollway board criticize Sam Rayburn name change
Monday, March 16, 2009
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
If the U.S. House of Representatives was once known as Mr. Sam's House, in recognition of North Texas native Sam Rayburn's 17 years as speaker, the state's largest, costliest and most controversial toll road may soon be known as Mr. Sam's Tollway.
On Monday, the North Texas Tollway Authority board voted 6-3 to rename the State Highway 121 toll road in honor of one of Texas' most dominant figures ever to serve in Washington. Effective immediately, the 26-mile toll road will be known as the Sam Rayburn Tollway. Signs will be erected within weeks, NTTA spokeswoman Sherita Coffelt said.
Rayburn was born and is buried in Bonham, Texas, about 50 miles northeast of NTTA's Plano headquarters. A mentor to Lyndon B. Johnson and a key ally of Franklin D. Roosevelt during the New Deal era, Rayburn is considered one of three Democratic giants to have represented Texas in Congress, along with Johnson and House Speaker and Vice President John Nance Garner IV, also known as "Cactus Jack."
Despite Rayburn's North Texas roots, naming the toll road after him was unusually divisive for the NTTA board. Three board members – including both representatives from Denton County and one of two from Collin County – strongly objected.
Denton County board member Dave Denison dismissed the choice as merely "nostalgic" and urged his colleagues instead to give the road a name closer to what most drivers already know it as, 121 Tollway.
"It is already known as 121, and it has been for years. It was called Highway 121 back when I was drag-racing on it 50 years ago," Denison said.
Denton County board member Michael Nowels told his colleagues he was dismayed by the vote to name the road after Rayburn, when the majority of the toll road runs through Denton County. Collin County board member Gary Base also voted against the change.
"I am disappointed and frankly surprised at how this is turning out," he said. "This road goes through Collin and Denton County, and the three board members who are from those two counties want it to be called 121. The other members are from someplace else."
NTTA chairman Paul Wageman, who also is from Collin County, noted that the toll road actually runs through Dallas County, too – albeit for just two miles.
What's more, he said, the only county commissioners court to weigh in on the naming – Denton County – voted unanimously to support calling it 121 Tollway.
"I would have much preferred it to be named 121," said Denton County Judge Mary Horn. "That's how it's been known for years now, and it's what everybody calls it."
Both Denton and Collin counties are heavily Republican, and Horn said if the authority was determined to name it for an individual, there were better choices.
"Personally I would have preferred Ronald Reagan Tollway," she said.
"It's not going to be for sissies." That's how County judge Keith Self cautioned the members of the court on testifying before a Texas House Committee. Self was relating to his experience at the Texas House Committee on County Affairs hearing on HB561 last Monday.
In his description of the hearing he said "it was all there, the politics of destruction and demonization." What he meant to say was, "There were a lot of witnesses there who disagreed with me." He then charged that he was chastised by two counties whose IT efforts were still in the dark ages.
In fact, there were no personal or nasty attacks. HB561 is a bad bill; it drew a determined opposition from auditors from around the state. The County Affairs Committee saw the bill as an attempt by the county to circumvent the verdict of the court in Collin County vs. Collin County Auditor
Self noted that he "learned a lot" from the experience. He was warning the court that Collin County efforts to support a bill allowing a county to require engineers, architects and surveyors to compete for county business by competitive bid would face strong opposition.
Self was speaking about the county's support for HB1105. That bill, authored by Jodie Laubenberg and Ken Paxton was written at the request of the Collin County Commissioners.
Self is right, he's going to face some very stiff opposition to HB1105. And he'll likely lose.
He might as well get used to it. It would appear that none of the county's legislative agenda will make it into law.
Collin County has defined these bills as its Legislative Agenda:
Author: Jerry Madden, Plano
"Relating to the authority of county auditors with respect to computer software and data of other local officers or departments."
This bill aims to strip the county auditor of the ability to monitor software. It was filed at the request of Collin County, and was presented in public hearing on Monday. It will not get out of Committee.
Author: Jerry Madden, Plano
"Relating to certain employment functions of county government."
This bill is also seen as an attack on the Collin County Auditor. It was debated in Monday's public hearing. I suspect its only chance of getting enacted will be if all mention of the auditor are removed.
Author: Jerry Madden, Plano
"Relating to the use of video teleconferencing systems in certain criminal proceedings."
This bill would allow video testimony in grand jury proceedings and in certain plea hearings. It is generally considered unconstitutional, and will not get out of committee. It was written at the request of the Commissioners Court.
Author: Jodi Laubenberg, Parker | et al.
"Relating to procuring contracts for certain professional services by a governmental entity."
This bill would allow the county to add a competitive bid dimension to the process of selecting engineers and architects for large construction projects. It was also filed at the request of the commissioners court. While the bill has some merit, it will draw powerful opposition. I doubt it will survive.
SB855 & HB9
Author: John Carona, Richardson & Truitt | et al.
"Relating to local options regarding transportation and mobility improvement projects in certain counties."
These bills would allow citizens to hold an election to form a mass transportation district that could levy a variety of taxes. It has wide support of most of the larger cities, and of DART and the RTC. It is expected to pass. The County opposes the bills.
HB2334 & SB882
Author: Geren & Carona
"Relating to the powers and duties of a regional tollway authority, including the establishment of an administrative adjudication hearing procedure; creating an offense."
These bills would gut the ability of the Collin County Toll Road Authority to build any toll road without getting the approval of the NTTA. The bills are seen as an aggressive self-defense move by the NTTA after Collin County tried to take over a portion of the Dallas North Tollway. By grasping for a piece of the DNT, the commissioners may lose the ability to build the Outer Loop. The bill sets the stage for a David and Goliath political battle. The problem is that the county forgot to bring their sling. Or as I remember from the "Untouchables", the county brought a knife to a gun fight. The commissioners are asking NTTA to negotiate a truce.
Shortly after I wrote "Collin badly understimulated", I heard a rumor that Tarrant County, TxDOT, and the RTC were working on a deal.
Tarrant County was not going to be able to collect the SH 121 funds promised it in the contract with NTTA, so the wheelers and dealers came up with the plan that Fort Worth would get the lion's share of the stimulus funds and in return, Collin County would get TxDOT money for US 380 and other projects.
It looks like that's exactly what happened.
On Thursday, Michael Lindenberger reported in the Dallas Morning News that the "DFW Connector" in Tarrant County would receive $250 million in TxDOT stimulus funds. The DFW Connector is a $917 million project containing both free lanes and tolled "managed" lanes.
The RTC voted to send another $144 million of stimulus funds to Tarrant County for interchanges on the Southwest Parkway, a toll road to be build by NTTA.
These decisions mean that all of the stimulus money earmarked for large projects in North Texas will be spent in Tarrant County.
The McKinney Courier-Gazette reports that the RTC also voted to send $27.5 million of TxDOT funds to complete the US 380 expansion. The US 380 project is one of the increasingly few "non tolled" projects (at least it is for now) for which TxDOT has committed funding.
Several legislators were critical of the plan TxDOT proposed to spend the federal stimulus money. They charged that 70% of the funds were going to tolled roads or "toll-related" roads.
Of course, the missing link in this deal is the $2+ billion in concession fees for SH 121. That money is still embargoed by TxDOT. They have promised to release it for projects approved by the RTC that are connected to the State Highway system, but with the legislature in session, and especially with legislators ticked off at TxDOT, anything could happen.
Summary: TxDOT shortchanges Collin County, really stimulates Austin. Tarrant County is the big winner.
On Wednesday, The Texas Department of Transportation delivered its final project recommendations for stimulus spending to the Texas Legislature. The state has been allocated $1.2 billion in federal stimulus funds for highway construction.
TxDOT did not propose spending for any major projects in Collin County, however, they did include as a maintenance item $2.5 million for "Safety improvements" on Preston Rd. at Legacy Dr.
The $2.5 million proposed for Collin County represents about 0.21% of the statewide $1.2 billion allocated.
To put the proposal in perspective, Collin County accounts for approximately 3.1% of the state's population. The stimulus would equal $3.42 for each person in Collin County.
By any measure Collin County is shortchanged: per capita, Collin will receive less than 7% of its fair share; per vehicle, less than 8%; and about 25% of its fair share per lane mile of highway.
Tarrant County (Fort Worth) will be the most stimulated. It is slated to receive almost $252 million.
The other big winner is Travis County (Austin). Its $137.7 million in stimulus is over 11% of the total, while the county has only 4% of Texas' population.
PER CAPITA TXDOT STIMULUS PROJECTS
County Population* $ Stimulus (millions) $ per capita Tarrant 1,717,435 $ 251.8 $ 146.65 Travis 974,365 $ 137.7 $ 141.38 Collin 730,690 $ 2.5 $ 3.42
* Population figures are TxDOT's
While no local state representatives serve on the House Transportation Committee, Senator Florence Shapiro is on the Senate's Transportation and Homeland Security Committee which is chaired by Senator John Carona of Richardson.
Two county engineering projects garnered a sizzling debate among County Commissioners during Monday’s court meeting.
The first project is an engineering services agreement with Lockwood, Andrews and Newnam, Inc. for the improvements to SH 289 from Parvin Branch south of U.S. 380 to north of U.S. 380. The budget amendment will total $1,031,884.
Commissioner Matt Shaheen suggested going back to Lockwood, Andrew and Newnam, Inc. and renegotiate for a new, lower bid. He said if the county can’t get a lower bid, they should go to a different company. Shaheen said he didn’t want to change the scope of the project; he just wants to negotiate the company’s hourly rate. However, Commissioner Joe Jaynes argued that now is the time to move on the project.
“I don’t want to see this important project have to wait,” Jaynes said.
Jaynes said he believes the area around State Highway 289 and U.S. 380 will be a huge development area and urged his fellow commissioners to press on with the project.
The court approved the item in a 4-1 vote, with Shaheen voting against. While Judge Keith Self voted with the majority of the court, he cautioned them against making hasty decisions on budget issues, likening their decisions to the “rush” decision regarding the stimulus package passed by Congress.
The second project is an engineering services agreement with HNTB Corporation for the Lake Lavon bridge study. The budget amendment will total $381,875 and cost 3,100 man hours. HNTB will charge $256 per hour for a principal worker, while a different company, Dannenbaum, would charge $169 per hour for the same level worker.
“We are paying a premium,” Shaheen said. “There’s no doubt that any one of the companies can do the project.”
Tensions were high while commissioners debated their points regarding the project. Again, Shaheen suggested going back to HNTB to renegotiate their rates. Self said that if ever there was a project where the county could make its point n that they want engineering companies to bring competitive bids n this is the project. Commissioner Kathy Ward agreed and said she would like to go back to HNTB and ask them to change their hourly rate. HNTB had already lowered their bid by 7 percent.
“Just because we have half a million dollars doesn’t mean we have to spend $500,000,” Self said.
This would be the third time the Lake Lavon bridge study would be pushed back, but Shaheen said it would not be a slow process to get more bids. He said he’s willing to delay the project a couple of weeks if it will save taxpayers money.
“We just need to get this project moving; my patience is growing thin on these delays,” Commissioner Jerry Hoagland said. “This project won’t only be delayed a couple of weeks, it will be longer.”
After much debate, Shaheen motioned to go back to HNTB and ask for an additional 13 percent reduction and Ward seconded the motion. Everyone except Hoagland and Jaynes voted for the motion.
DART to receive $62 million in federal stimulus funds
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
DART President Gary Thomas said he expects to receive nearly $62 million in funds from the federal stimulus package, according to a message he sent to employees.
No decisions have been made about how those funds will be spent, though Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials have been evaluating a wide range of possibilities. The money will be used on capital projects that are already identified in the 20-year financial plan.
In a message sent to employees on Friday, Thomas said the agency had been told it would receive $61.5 million in formula funds and an additional $300,000 in rail modernization money.
“As many of you know, we've been following the progress of this legislation for several months and have identified a number of potential projects that could qualify for these funds,” Thomas wrote.
The next step is for the agency to make a request to the North Central Texas Council of Governments, which will be involved in administering the funds along with the Texas Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration.
“We are also continuing to review the legislation to see if there are other sources of funding for us,” Thomas wrote.
The DART board of directors and finance committee each meet Tuesday, but there is no mention of deciding how to spend the money on either group's agenda.
Lara Kohl, spokeswoman for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said the planning entity has been focused on how to spend the nearly $200 million in highway funding Dallas will receive, and has not yet focused on DART.
The federal money for transit is a small amount compared with more than $1 billion DART is spending on construction and other capital projects this year, its busiest ever.
On Monday, The Texas Department of Transportation provided the Texas House Select Committee on Federal Economic Stabilization Funding information on its efforts to implement its portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), commonly known as the Economic Stimulus Package.
Collin County looks to get shortchanged once again by our good friends at TxDOT.
Out of a 20 page list of projects totaling over $2 billion, Collin County is included on only 3 of the smaller projects totaling $30 million. Based on population, the proposed spending for Collin County is only half of its fair share of the stimulus funds.
TxDOT's list will be cut in half, so it is very possible that out of a projected state total of $1.2 billion in federal stimulus spending, Collin County would receive nothing.
The 3 projects listed by TxDOT are:
- $27 million to widen US 380 from Lake Lavon to Farmersville.
- $2.5 million for intersection improvements on Preston Rd. @ Legacy.
- $485,000 to construct a left turn lane on SH5 @ FM 455.
Don't our legislators do anything to protect Collin County?
We have commissioners here who campaign for office based on their ability to forge relationships with legislators and state officials. What exactly is that influence getting us? Only screwed six ways from Sunday by TxDOT on pass-through financing, on SH121, and now on stimulus spending.
I'm starting to believe that Austin's only interest in Collin County is toll revenue and reliable Republican votes (votes that Austin doesn't have to work for).
TxDOT released a list of transportation projects that would require $2.2 billion in stimulus funds that department staff will eventually narrow to projects requiring $1.2 billion. TxDOT also provided the committee with a list of maintenance projects that would require $508 million in stimulus money.
The committee was also provided with a list of $600 million in projects that could be funded through the state’s Proposition 14 bond initiative, a program created by the Texas Legislature.
The Texas Transportation Commission will meet in Austin on Wednesday, February 25, and Thursday, February 26. Wednesday’s commission meeting is scheduled to include a discussion of TxDOT’s work to prepare for the expenditure of stimulus funds. Thursday’s meeting is scheduled to include commission action on projects from the state’s share of stimulus funds and from the state’s Proposition 14 bond program.
The county commissioners, meeting as the Collin County Toll Road Authority, have spent a lot of time over the last month listening to staff presentations on the Outer Loop.
Monday, they took action, approving the preparation of full engineering plans for the 3-A,B,C & D sections of the proposed tollway.
Those sections, known as Phase 3 would connect the Dallas North Tollway with Central Expressway. The engineering plans are budgeted at $3.1 million. The court also approved doing preliminary survey work on the Phase 4 section that connects US 380 east of Farmersville with FM 6 between Nevada and Josephine. The cost of the survey work is expected to be about $700,000.
Late last year, the court approved engineering plans for Phase 1 which will connect US 75 with SH 121 north of Melissa. The engineering cost for Phase 1 was approved at $956 million. The court had also approved spending $10 million to aquire the land for the toll road.
The expected cost of the entire 53 mile Outer Loop project is expected to be almost $4 billion (in 2008 dollars). It is hoped that construction will begin in 2011 and probably won't be complete until after 2030.
One thing that came out in testimony during these last meetings is that the commissioners really have no idea how they are going to be able to finance the $4 billion price tag between now and 2030.
The county has $3.9 million available, of which the court approved spending $3.8 million yesterday. They anticipate being able to raise about $4 million from general revenue, and to divert about $10 million from bond funds.
Another $5 million was promised by the RTC from SH 121 money, but the commissioners court learned last week that the money could only be used for environmental studies. That leaves more than $3.9 billion of the $4 billion costs unfunded.
Nevertheless, it is "full steam ahead" for our planned Outer Loop Tollway.
In other action, after meeting in executive session, the court approved beginning a condemnation suit on one parcel of private land needed for the road. (They have the money for lawyers).
February Outer Loop Update presentation, February 16, 2009
The Collin County Toll Road Authority, CCO, January 26, 2009
Outer Loop: County to seek legal action against property owners?, CCO, January 3, 2008
DMN-Outer Loop route gets a green light, CCO, December 15, 2006
County Judge Keith Self, whose record on campaigning for transportation issues has proven to be pretty dismal, is leading a personal blog and email campaign against the "Texas Local Option Transportation" bills introduced in the Legislature.
In an email to supporters (and on his blog) Self charged that, "something must be done or a catastrophe will happen".
Currently the voters have no ability to call a referendum on mobility projects.
His last foray into transportation elections was in the 2007 Bond Election, when Self campaigned against the bond package.
He wanted the county to use "pass through financing" from TxDOT to finance large construction projects, leaving the cities to pay for their own smaller secondary road improvements. His plan was a bad idea then and was soon proven to be a very, very bad idea, when not long after the election, the state killed the whole "pass through" program.
It would appear that Judge Self doesn't trust the citizens to vote in their own best interests. He and our commissioners would rather tax us without an election by using their newly created Collin County Toll Road Authority to build highways that tax by the mile.
No citizen voted for the Toll Road Authority. There has been no election or referendum on the Outer Loop - the commissioners court makes the decisions.
Remember, this commissioners court also campaigned for and approved the SH 121 toll scheme - evidently without reading the fine print. It was the fine print that enabled TxDOT to grab all $3.2 billion of the concession fee. Collin County has yet to see a dime.
Now there is much wrong with the 2 bills submitted to the legislature. There needs to be a lot of work done to insure that local county citizens are not expected to bear the entire burden of building their transportation infrastructure. Traditionally the Federal and State governments have shouldered the lion's share of the costs of major highway and inter-urban rail projects.
They still need to do so. We need to be assured that passage of these bills does not ease the pressure we must put on our state and national leaders to help us build for our future.
The trend of "pushing down" the responsibility for major infrastructure financing needs to be reversed. If we don't how long will it be before we require small cities like Melissa or Fairview to pay to improve Central Expressway?
Other parts of the bill will require a lot of analysis and compromise. The bills offer a wide range of fee and tax options that voters could choose from in the referendum. Some, like $1/hr parking fees need to get deep sixed. Nevertheless, these bills offer a way for Collin County citizens to become the masters of their own fate with regard to construction of commuter rail and major highways.
In his email, Self writes that, "This bill is structured with the belief that you, the voter, will vote for any tax that is put on a ballot with no discernment whether or not the added tax is absolutely necessary or not.". I can't speak for the bill's authors, but it seems that in any election the voters can say "Yes" or "No".
Why doesn't Self trust our citizens to make responsible choices? Because they voted for him?
Judge Self's reasoning become clearer when in his next sentence, he wrote, "Where is the review to make sure that every tax dollar is being spent as wisely as possible before we add yet another tax? Where is the prioritization to make sure that your tax dollars are being spent for the most important government functions?". Obviously he feels that the wisdom to decide resides solely in the Collin County Commissioners Court.
I'm going to disagree with that.
The text of HB-9
A recent Texas Municipal League Legislative Update contains a good "plain english" explanation of HB-9
An interesting analysis of HB-9 by Dallas Morning News' reporter Michael Lindenberger published Feb. 16.
Keith Self's Blog
The HOV setup linking North Central Expressway and LBJ is a sore subject for most everybody who has laid eyes on it.
Motorists in the main lanes complain that there aren't enough HOV drivers to justify the lanes. Richardson drivers complain that they can't get in or out of the lanes in the city. Everyone complains that drivers who bust through the pylons make a mess on the roadway. People want the pylons gone and the lanes liberated.
The beefs range from legitimate to bogus. Either way, they're enough to give a useful traffic-management tool a huge public relations problem, and that has to be fixed.
The bottom line is that the lanes aren't going away, short of a redo of Central. Yes, they're a squeeze, owing to the width of the highway. But that die was cast when Tom Landry was coaching the Cowboys.
We disagree with those who see no value in lanes that encourage car pooling. The environmental and economic costs of congestion argue for more, not fewer, innovations to attack the problem.
As for the effectiveness of this innovation, the data show rising use – about three-fourths of the design capacity of 1,600 vehicles per lane at peak times.
Maximizing use of the remaining capacity is important. One way is signage that makes clear to drivers what they're getting into and where they can get out. Another is safe access in Richardson. Simulations show that a simple opening in the pylons would cause a safety hazard, so TxDOT? is exploring the feasibility of flyover ramps. Good. It makes sense to put Richardson-to-McKinney carpoolers in a lane that rewards efficiency.
Vehicle breakdowns in Central's HOV lanes – and on other HOVs in the area – are one of the biggest obstacles to smooth operation. Drivers on Central now must crash through the pylons to break free of tie-ups, creating a mess of broken plastic. It's good to see officials spacing out the pylons and looking to improve their design. A mess on the highway gives the impression of a slipshod program.
Still, the best sales job for HOV travel is done by satisfied customers who can attest to faster, less-stressful commutes. North Texas needs their success stories if we are to unclog our arteries
From the City of Frisco
FIRST 2009 TOWN HALL MEETING TO BE HELD MONDAY, FEBRUARY 23
(February 19, 2009) How does the City of Frisco measure up? Find out at the city’s first Town Hall meeting of 2009 on Monday, February 23. The economy and its impact on the city’s budget, regional mobility and Census 2010 are among the topics to be discussed.
The meeting will be held in the City Hall council chambers of the George A. Purefoy Municipal Center, 6101 Frisco Square Boulevard. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. and wraps up at 9 p.m. Residents who attend the Town Hall meeting will receive a free ‘Frisco’ tape measure to help you with your spring home improvement projects.
Learn more about Frisco’s financial forecast and what the city is doing to meet economic challenges.
Jeff Behler, Deputy Regional Director with the U.S. Census Bureau, will discuss Census 2010 and Tom Shelton, with North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), will speak about regional transportation. City staff will also provide updates on local road improvement and construction projects, as well.
Learn more about the Frisco Housing Rehabilitation Program and find out if you or your neighbor qualifies for help. Hear your neighbors’ concerns and ideas about how citizens and city staff can work together to grow healthy, sustainable neighborhoods when city staff gives a briefing about the first Congress of Neighborhoods meeting.
Learn the latest on the development of our city’s Hike and Bike Trail Master Plan and get a progress report on the tri-city Arts of Collin County project from Mike Simpson, Executive Director, Arts of Collin County.
Town Hall meetings last two hours and are held three times each year. The next two Town Hall meetings are scheduled for June 1 and October 5.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Danny Gallagher / McKinney Courier-Gazette
McKinney and surrounding Collin County cities warn that delinquent warrant holders “could be arrested anytime” during this week’s state-wide warrant roundup
Local police agencies across Collin County and the state of Texas are looking to clear out any outstanding warrants from their books this week.
McKinney and surrounding Collin County cities are participating in this week’s “Third Annual Great Texas Warrant Roundup” as part of a statewide effort to clear out delinquent traffic violations and deter future violations and delinquencies, according to statements released by the City of McKinney and the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
The warrant searches started Monday with over 200 local and county jurisdictions participating in the statewide effort. The roundup will also include officers from local police precincts as well as sheriff’s deputies, justices of the peace, constables’ offices and municipal enforcement officers, according to NCTCOG.
The effort will focus mainly on class C misdemeanor and traffic violation warrants that have gone unpaid. McKinney city officials noted, however, that officers will attempt to serve any outstanding warrant on their books.
“The effort in McKinney will primarily target people with outstanding class C warrants, although all warrants are subject to be served,” said city of McKinney spokeswoman Anna Folmnsbee. “Anyone with an outstanding warrant or citation is urged to take care of it as soon as possible to avoid arrest.”
McKinney’s Municipal Court and Marshal’s Office have participated in the annual roundup since it started in 2007. This year’s effort will include additional officers from local local law enforcement agencies including the McKinney Police Department and McKinney’s Citizens on Patrol programs.
McKinney City Marshal Tim Rich said the designated week gives them the time and resources to broaden their search and clear out warrants that otherwise would be hard to serve during their normal course of duties.
"Because of the success of the roundup the last two years, we are broadening our target this year,” Rich said. “Anyone with an outstanding warrant could be arrested at any time of the day or night - at home or at work.”
Previous CCO posts on toll road warrants:
DO - For Whom the Toll Bells, Jan. 19, 2009
NTTA responds to "Holy fugitive, Batman", Dec. 31, 2008
Holy Fugitive, Batman, Dec. 24, 2008
Despite problems, HOV use is up on North Central Expressway
Monday, February 16, 2009
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
The access points are few. Lanes are narrow and often strewn with debris.
Jimmy Bortzfield endures it all because the high occupancy vehicle lanes on North Central Expressway cut his trip time.
"The HOV lane is needed, but we need to be able to use it," said Bortzfield, 27, a Plano engineer who used the lane daily until recently.
Fourteen months after opening, Central's HOV lanes have been plagued by design glitches, costly maintenance and spotty enforcement. Many local leaders believe the lanes, which serve a busy stretch north of Dallas, need an overhaul.
"I don't think the HOV lanes have operated to our expectations," said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
Still, motorists are using them to save money on gas by car pooling and to sidestep chronic jams. Rush hour use is up, and the numbers are expected to grow.
"Sometimes, people are a little intimidated by something if they haven't done it before," said Gary C. Thomas, president and executive director of Dallas Area Rapid Transit. "Once they figure it out, we'll see increases."
The project is an important yardstick in the effort to curb traffic and air pollution in North Texas through car pooling and van pooling. That poses a challenge in a region built around automobile travel.
But the stakes go beyond ride sharing. The Central Expressway project is part of a 50-mile network of car pool lanes built with federal money.
And plans call for more, including lanes that solo drivers can use for a fee. Texas, in fact, is planning such toll lanes on many roads, including Interstates 30, 35E and 635.
North Central Expressway has proven an ideal test route. The 14-mile stretch from I-635 to the Allen-Plano border is a busy commuting pipeline between Dallas and its burgeoning northern suburbs.
Separated from the rest of traffic, the lanes are meant to be an express option for long-distance commuters.
So far the $19 million project, built by the Texas Department of Transportation and maintained by DART, has had mixed success.
An estimated 1,250 vehicles per hour use the lanes at the busiest times. That is up more than 70 percent from when the lanes first launched in December 2007, traffic counts show. All told, about 18,000 passengers a day rode the lanes this past December, up from 12,700 at launch.
Drivers shaved an average of 10 minutes or more off rush hour trips, said Cynthia White, a TxDOT spokeswoman.
But the growth has come despite myriad problems and complaints about poor enforcement of cheaters, few entrances and exits, and plastic barriers that spawn hazardous debris.
DART officials, in charge of patrolling for violators, said they have had a tough time.
"You can't patrol that thing because you can't get in and out," said Raymond Noah, a DART board member.
Some find the layout confusing. For instance, the lanes offer direct access to I-635 west. But those seeking to head south or east must exit and wait at as many as two traffic lights.
Moreover, motorists can enter the lanes only at the endpoints and in Plano near Parker Road.
Engineers purposely limited access in Richardson and other spots to keep traffic moving. But the lack of exits has puzzled some drivers.
TxDOT has added to the confusion by closing a southbound section in Plano for a year because of construction at Parker Road.
Even the plastic pylons have proved problematic. The sticks and their fragile bases shatter easily when hit, creating maintenance headaches and, in some cases, endangering driver safety.
Reckless motorists use gaps in the pylons to weave into and out of the lanes. Two people have died in the past year because of accidents caused by weaving, TxDOT said.
The problems have taken a toll. Though statistics offer a portrait of growth, the lanes appear empty most of the time. They draw but a fraction of the roughly 200,000 vehicles that use the expressway daily.
"It's a project that was calculated to do something. And it didn't work," Noah said.
Many of the problems seem to stem from the lanes' narrow design.
Some years ago, transportation experts recommended that engineers reserve as much as 30 feet of road width for the project, leaving room for a shoulder and concrete barriers. The state proposed a reversible lane separated by concrete barriers that could serve traffic in one direction depending on the time of day.
State engineers later agreed to build permanent northbound and southbound lanes at the behest of the city of Richardson. As many people commute to the suburbs as to the region's core, the city argued.
Fitting the twin lanes was a squeeze, said Bill Hale, the transportation department's Dallas district engineer. The space for each lane is about half as wide as the ideal girth, making shoulders and concrete barriers impossible.
According to an article in the Dallas Morning News, Frisco Mayor Maher Maso said that NTTA long ago rejected his suggestion of any name ending with "Freeway".
Here are my suggestions...
Pick yer Pocket Parkway
Eternal Tolls Tollway
Feel free to submit your suggestions here or to the NTTA.
The Regional Transportation Council is a committee made up of elected city and county officials in the 9 county DFW planning region. The RTC is the primary planning and funds disbursement organization for all highway, rail and mobility projects that get state or federal funding. It controls literally billions of mobility dollars including the $2 billion gained from the SH 121 toll road contract with NTTA.
On Monday, February 9, the RTC is holding a public meeting at the Christopher Parr Library at 6200 Windhaven Parkway in far west Plano. The meeting will begin at 6:30 P.M.
The RTC "invites the public to learn what is happening with transportation in the region and to help set priorities for the future."
Topics to be presented include:
- Long-term planning Final recommendations for the Mobility 2030 plan.
- Short-term planning detailing the listing of transportation projects planned in the DFW region.
- Air quality conformity for all long and short range projects.
- Status of regional projects scheduled to receive federal economic recovery funds
The Collin County members of the RTC are Collin County Commissioner Joe Jaynes, Plano Councilman Lee Dunlap, NTTA Chairman Paul Wagemen (from Plano), Frisco Mayor Maher Maso and McKinney Mayor Bill Whitfield.
Unfortunately the regional planning group didn't plan for Collin County Days in Austin, to be held on the same day as the public meeting. I know Commissioner Jaynes plans to be in Austin. I don't know if any of our other representatives will be at the public meeting.
These meetings are usually held held by senior and mid-level staff at NCTCOG. I would like to see more of my elected representatives at these public meetings. They are the ones who are accountable to the taxpayers, not their staff.
I do know that I am planning on attending. One question I will ask is why the RTC does not keep a record on how its members voted. For a group that dispenses billions of dollars, it is beyond belief that the citizens can not get the basic information they need to hold their representatives accountable.
I will also be interested in the current efforts to get the $2.6 billion from the SH 121 toll road contract away from TxDOT and back in the region.
Details of the meeting plans can be found on a flyer posted on the North Central Texas Council of Governments website.
Thousands of drivers use the Central Expressway HOV lanes every day. There's no telling how many more might use them if there were additional entry and exit points.
But don't expect them in Richardson anytime soon. A new study says it would be too dangerous.
Ask drivers on Central Expressway in Richardson about not being able to gain access to HOV lanes there, and they'll give you an earful.
There's only one access point on the 14-mile stretch of HOV lanes between LBJ and Bethany Drive in Allen, and it's in Plano.
College student Nancy Mathias takes the highway to Dallas everyday. "There were a lot of times I was late and wanted to get into the HOV lanes - we carpool, a lot of students and I - and there was just no way... and so we were stuck behind people," she said.
Another motorist, Ryan Roberts says, "It makes it a little inconvenient just got to sit through traffic and stuff like that."
The Texas Transportation Institute conducted a study to see if they could create entry and exit points to the north and southbound HOV lanes around Collins Avenue.
But researchers found doing so would be dangerous because vehicles travel faster in the HOV lanes than in the main lanes.
So the institute says drivers would have to gun it just to enter an HOV lane safely or quickly slow down to get out of it.
Cortney Berry tries to take the HOV lanes as often as possible, but says, "If it's unsafe, clearly that would create other problems. I don't understand why it has to be here at Collins. I think something could be done to fix it."
But the study says two other areas it considered north of Collins won't work either.
Then there are the thousands of pylons that separate the HOV and main lanes. DART, which will soon give up maintenance of them to TxDOT, says it would be unsafe to remove them.
As soon as I see this TTI report on the web, I'll post it here.
In 2001 the Texas legislature allowed for the creation of the Denton County Transit Authority.
Less than 8 years later, construction of a 21 mile rail link from Denton to DART is about to begin, at a cost of only $15 million per mile. Meanwhile buses running a full capacity transport workers from Denton County to Downtown Dallas.
I say "only $15 million" because compared to the US average cost of $35 million per mile for light rail, and the anticipated $75 million per mile (in 2008 dollars) for Collin County's Outer Loop, Denton's A-Train is a real bargain.
Meanwhile, what is Collin County doing? Building toll roads?
Denton County transit agency's rail service coming around the bend
Monday, February 2, 2009
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
Dallas and other cities have long held the transportation spotlight in North Texas. But Denton County has grand ambitions of its own.
Eight years after county leaders first envisioned a multimillion-dollar rail line from Denton into Dallas, the concept is nearing reality.
Stakes and spray paint mark the 21-mile train line's path, which runs not far from Interstate 35E on an old freight route. Details such as where stations will be built and what the sound barriers will look like are just about decided. Construction could start as soon as next month.
And a far-flung slice of the region now reachable only by asphalt will soon become connected to Dallas by rail.
"With this ribbon of transit, we will become more focused on the metropolitan area," Denton Mayor Mark Burroughs said.
Not all have bought into the $314 million project, known as the "A-train" and managed by the fledgling Denton County Transportation Authority.
Some believe the succession of sprawling malls and subdivisions along I-35 is hardly ideal terrain for train service. Others think the line will fail to draw many passengers when it launches in December 2010.
And though local leaders have secured the funding, critics are skeptical of whether the county can pull it off.
"We're way too early for rail," Corinth City Council member Jim Mayfield said. "Rail is the future, but it's way in the future."
Path of the A-train
Still, the vision keeps unfolding.
The diesel line will start in downtown Denton and move south through five stops – one south of Denton, one in Highland Village and two in Lewisville – before ending in Carrollton around Trinity Mills.
Getting from the A-train to DART's future Green Line will take a short walk across the station platform. A typical trip from Denton to downtown Dallas using both lines will take some 70 minutes.
Denton retirees Gary and Cheryl Christopherson said a rail option has become all but a necessity for the fast-growing county – population 600,000 and rising. "This is a good first step," said Gary Christopherson, 68, a retired computer engineer.
Supporters believe the A-train will help curtail air pollution and give commuters a welcome alternative to I-35E, a snarling river of traffic, ramps and merging lanes. The train line is pegged to open just as the interstate is scheduled for a major face-lift.
"The big game plan is getting as many people off the roads as possible," said Dianne Costa, mayor of Highland Village.
The University of North Texas and Texas Woman's University also stand to benefit. Both Denton schools are home to many students and staff whose only option right now is to drive between Dallas and Denton County.
"This project will make it clear that we are part of the vibrant growth of the region," said UNT President Gretchen Bataille.
Big-ticket public projects often take decades to build. This endeavor has come at lightning speed.
State lawmakers passed a measure in 2001 allowing Denton to form a local transportation authority. County voters later overwhelmingly supported the idea.
In 2003, Denton, Highland Village and Lewisville approved a half-cent sales tax increase to help pay for the project. That money, plus a $250 million infusion from the State Highway 121 toll road deal, will help cover construction.
Local Chambers of Commerce have for the past several years sponsored events and a trip to Austin for community leaders and citizens during Collin County Days. There are usually several opportunities to meet and network with state leaders and the local legislative delegation. And so it is this year.
Governor Rick Perry will give the keynote address at the opening luncheon.
I am giving some serious thought to attending. I even scheduled vacation time for those 2 days. The $125 registration fee didn't seem overly expensive, since there was a lunch reception included. But then I read the planned schedule of events.
The program includes a series of informal panel discussions. Looking at some of the leaders of those panels I realized that I would be paying $125 to listen to lobbyists' propaganda.
For example, the healthcare panel is to be led by Arlene Wohlgemuth, Founder and President, Three Point Strategies. I've called Ms. Wohlgemuth the "Pied Piper of Texas", as she played a legislative tune while leading hundreds of thousands of poor children off a cliff.
Ms. Wohlgemuth was a Republican legislator instrumental in the ruinous privatization of Texas's social service system. Her role and the disastrous effects to the poor of that privatization was graphically documented in a recent Dallas Morning News investigative report titled "State of Neglect". Ms. Wohlgemuth's firm, Three Point Strategies lobbies the legislature primarily on behalf of health care companies.
The Taxes and Spending panel is led by Michael Quinn Sullivan, a lobbyist and conservative activist, and former press secretary for Ron Paul. He is described as a devotee of the "Austrian School of Economics", which believes in a radical laissez faire government policy. He is presently the director of Empower Texans, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and the Empower Texans PAC.
The other two panels are not led by lobbyists, but by State officials.
The Energy Panel is led by Barry Smitherman, the Chairman of the Public Utility Commission. His PUC is largely responsible for the fact that Texans pay some of the highest electricity prices in the nation.
The other panelist is Dub Taylor, the Director of the Comptroller’s State Energy Conservation Office. Mr. Taylor had previously served on the Texas Railroad Commission and now is a leader of the state's efforts towards energy efficiency and sustainability.
The Transportation panel will be chaired by Steven Polunsky, the Committee Director, Texas Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security. Mr. Polunsky is a former policy maker at TxDot and was Director of Research at the now defunct Texas High-Speed Rail Authority. The Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corp., an outgrowth of the High Speed Rail Authority gave a presentation to the Commissioners Court last week. The Collin County Commissioners declined to endorse its plans believing them to be too expensive and not cost effective.
There's no balance on the discussion panels. No representatives from Common Cause, from the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Public Citizen or from any group except right-wing lobbyists and state agencies. While some of the speakers, especially Mssrs. Polunsky and Taylor can offer some real technical insight into the issues, only one works at the legislature. This is supposed to be a legislative trip.
Where are our state legislative leaders on these 4 subjects? I'd really like to hear from Dallas's Senator Carona the chair of the Transportation Committee on our $1.2 billion of SH121 funds,. Or from our own Senator Shapiro on the effects of property tax cap bills on education.
Businesses and citizens in Collin County have a real stake in many of the deliberations of the 81st Legislature. They deserve the respect of our state leadership. Instead, it appears my $125 would go largely for attendance at a far right pep rally.
That's too bad.
The Collin County Commissioners, acting for the first time as the Collin County Toll Road Authority (CCTRA), met on Tuesday. The Directors of the Authority are the County Judge and County Commissioners. They listened to a presentation on the status and costs to complete the controversial Outer Loop project.
Last year, the Collin County Commissioners Court, disappointed in the way TxDOT handled the financing of SH 121 and seeing no way to insure state or federal funding for large road projects such as the Outer Loop, formed the Collin County Toll Road Authority.
Recent state and federal legislation had made it possible for a regional or county toll authority, such as the CCTRA to pursue alternative financing schemes in order to build new roads, and to have the authority to preempt TxDOT in controlling the future of specific road building projects, while keeping financial revenue local.
The alternative financing schemes are generally private or public contractors leasing the rights to build and operate the new highways as toll roads. Frequently, the contractor must pay a large "upfront" payment in exchange for the right to build and operate the tollway. The county, not the State of Texas would collect and keep the upfront fees and excess toll revenue.
There are few other "County Toll Authorities" in Texas. Besides the new Collin County Toll Authority, Harris and Montgomery counties have formed their own toll road operations.
Collin County has been struggling to find a way to finance its portion of the Outer Loop. State and federal funds are increasingly scarce. As a result, toll roads have become the default mechanism of choice for funding new road construction.
The commissioners court wanted to both finance the new highway and generate revenue for future mobility projects.
The Outer Loop was conceived by local planners as a regional beltway around the DFW metroplex. The Collin County portion is the "upside down L" shaped turn from the road's northern segment to the eastward run. The eastern part of the Loop is in far east Collin County running north from the Rockwall County line (south of Nevada) past US 380 and turning east north of Blue Ridge, then intersecting with the Dallas North Tollway at the Denton County line between Prosper and Celina.
Other regional segments of the Outer Loop run west of Fort Worth and south of Dallas.
Besides the Outer Loop the CCTRA hopes to develop the future Phase 4B of the Dallas North Tollway from FM 428 to the Grayson County line.
Much to the displeasure of the Commissioners Court, NTTA had proposed moving most of the Phase 4B tollway extension into Denton County.
Because of the anticipated development generated by the highway, the Court wanted to keep the road in Collin County. By using their newly created Tollway Authority, the commissioners hope to gain the priority claim to the rights to construct and operate this northernmost extension of the Dallas North Tollway.
Actual construction of these roads is several years out. Right now, the CCTRA is in the process of determining the exact path the road will travel, getting the engineering done, and acquiring the land for the right of way.
No decisions have been made as to who would operate the toll roads or how much the tolls would cost consumers.
Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday that he supports the Rail North Texas plan that would give North Texas counties the right to hold elections to raise perhaps billions of dollars over the next 15 years to pay for new suburban rail lines and other projects.
"I am a very strong proponent of having the local officials make those decisions," Perry said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News. "If the solution is to be found for that type of transit, it is going to be found at the local level, with a regional approach."
While noting that he generally opposes higher taxes, he said that wouldn't keep him from signing a bill giving local counties the right to raise local taxes or fees for rail.
"I don't have an entrenched opposition that would deny people at the local level the right to make this decision," he said.
In the hour-long interview Tuesday, Perry, who will deliver his State of the State address Jan. 28, also said he will urge the Texas Legislature to increase state transportation funding by as much as $750 million a year.
The rail plan has been endorsed by the Regional Transportation Council and dozens of local cities, including the Dallas City Council. It would allow counties to hold elections to impose new fees and taxes to pay for up to 212 miles of rail connecting suburbs. In cities where taxpayers already support rail through membership in DART or Fort Worth's transit agency, some of those new funds could be used for other transportation needs.
The governor's vote of confidence for the bill, which could be changed significantly by lawmakers, comes as the RTC is trying to line up support among members of the Legislature from North Texas.
If passed, the bill would give each county the option of imposing a mix of new fees and taxes – including higher property tax rates, a new $150 vehicle registration fee, a new one-time fee for new residents, or a combination of several new sources of revenue. Voters in each county would have to approve the new fees or taxes before they could take effect.
In calling for up to $750 million in additional annual funding for TxDOT?, Perry is proposing a complete halt to the use of motor-fuels taxes for purposes other than transportation. Currently, lawmakers divert about $1.5 billion in gas taxes every two years to pay for the Department of Public Safety and other needs.
"You prioritize what's important to you," Perry said. "I don't know if you cut something or not, but you go find the money. I know we are going to have a tight budget, but you prioritize. What's more important – building transportation infrastructure in your area, or is some other thing more important?"
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and other legislative leaders have already agreed to reduce the so-called diversions from the gas-tax account but have said they will probably do so over several years given the slowing Texas economy. On Tuesday, Dewhurst filed a budget bill that would restore just $150 million a year in funding now diverted to other uses.
When asked if he is calling for an end to all diversions, Perry said Tuesday: "I am. That's our position, all of it."
Jim Schutze's Dallas Observer articles are typically long, well researched and opinionated.
This piece on the North Texas Tollway Authority is no different. However, Shutze does offer some real insights on the whole confusing process that lead our county to dealing with over 12,000 "failure to pay toll" warrants.
For Whom the Toll Bells
The North Texas Tollway Authority exacts a stiff price for those who drive willy-nilly on its highways
By Jim Schutze
January 14, 2009 / The Dallas Observer
Certain things you can do that might turn out very badly for you. Borrowing money from the Mafia, for example. Posing naked for a photographer who is a stranger.
But who worries about driving down a toll road? I can tell you who should: You!
Over the last several years I have received numerous phone calls, letters and e-mails from people complaining that they have been hit with huge, totally unexpected bills for unpaid tolls and associated fines.
For a long time, I brushed these aside. I thought, "Well, you know, people should pay their tolls."
But most of the people calling me don't sound like folks who regularly skip on restaurant tabs or jump over turnstiles. I made up my mind a few weeks ago that the next time I got one of these complaints, I would stop whatever I was doing and take a look. I didn't have long to wait. On a Monday morning I found a phone message from Rick Johns, a probation officer in Tarrant County.
Johns had just received a bill from the North Texas Tollway Authority for $337 for four trips on the President George Bush Turnpike, which runs from near the D/FW Airport east to the vicinity of Rowlett on Lake Ray Hubbard.
For the first trip, which he made a year and a half ago, he was charged at a rate of $3 in tolls and $100 in "administrative fees." The second trip, made about a year ago, was billed at $3 in tolls and $75 in fees. Another cruise down the PGBT the following day cost him $2 in tolls and 50 bucks in fees.
The most recent trip, his most expensive, was made last May and billed at $4 in tolls and $100 in fees.
According to Johns, this statement was the first notification of any kind telling him he owed the NTTA money. His claim—that this was a first notice—was backed up by the notice itself, of which he gave me a copy, and by the NTTA's own description of its billing practices when I called them. The NTTA didn't comment on Johns' case specifically.
Before I even venture into the question of the billing practices, let's you and I see if we can figure out how a normal, law-abiding citizen—a parole officer in this case—gets behind the eight-ball to the tune of three C-notes in unpaid toll road fees.
Johns drives to the Dallas side of the metropolitan area for his son's baseball games. He used to drive on the State Highway 121 tollway between Coppell and Lewisville.
There are no tollbooths on 121. Therefore it is not possible to pay your tolls as you go. Cameras along the way take pictures of you as you pass. If you do not have an electronic TollTag on your windshield connected to a credit card, the NTTA bills you by mail for the amount of your tolls.
Johns didn't have a Dallas-area TollTag. Didn't want one. Was happy to pay by mail. Did so. He even thought mistakenly that he was paying a little extra and didn't mind.
"I was under the impression that the toll may have been even 25 cents higher per toll by not stopping and paying, and I didn't have a problem with that."
He says he paid those bills when he got them. Never had a problem. So where did he do wrong? He started driving on another NTTA toll road—the President George Bush Turnpike. There, the rules are different.
As explained to me by NTTA spokeswoman Sherita Coffelt, the difference is that the PGBT does have tollbooths, while the 121 tollway does not. Coffelt said that wherever there are tollbooths, a motorist who does not have a TollTag must stop and pay cash. Where there are no tollbooths, a motorist does not have to stop and pay cash.
When a motorist is not required to stop and pay cash, he will be billed for the amount of his toll only. When he is required to stop and pay cash but does not, he's a toll jumper. He will be billed for the amount of his toll plus a $25 penalty called an "administrative fee."
No signs along the road warn motorists of this difference. Coffelt told me it's the motorist's obligation to know the rules.
Each skipped toll station incurs a new $25 administrative fee. On his jaunt down the PGBT last May, Johns passed by four toll stations, each one of which took a picture of his license plate and billed him for a $1 toll plus a $25 administrative fee. So four times $26 amounted to a bill for $104, a tab he racked up for 33 minutes of driving.
But wait. We're not done with the different rules on how to pay your toll. There is a third rule. On the Dallas North Tollway, you can pay cash, so if you don't have a TollTag you must pay cash, and if you don't pay cash you'll be billed for the tolls plus the $25 fees. But you can't pay cash.
- DA John Roach standing in court with his shirt tails hanging out, telling a judge, "I knew about Sue and Tom the whole time, neener neener."
- Judge Keith Self and Commissioner Jerry Hoagland featured on a Friday night WWE match, with proceeds benefiting the Plano Children's Clinic.
- The NTTA declaring "Warrantless Wednesdays" and "Toll Free Fridays".
- TxDOT giving the SH121 money back after the Collin County legislative delegation threatens to kick their ass if they don't.
- The Fusion Center actually doing something useful.
- Sam Johnson bringing a nice fat transportation grant check to Collin County.
- The opening of a new highway that doesn't charge by the mile.
- Sheriff Box giving NTTA their 12,000 warrants back with a note, "Do it yourself."
- The County buying a software package that actually works and saves money.
- Jerry Hoagland caught in an airport restroom with an unnamed US Senator.
Plano's City Council has agreed to pay a Seattle-based development firm up to $1.1 million in taxpayer money for a new apartment and retail complex on the downtown DART rail line.
The project, to be just south of 15th Street near Haggard Park, represents Plano's latest effort to revive its aging downtown area since DART arrived in late 2002.
Developer Pinnacle plans to build a complex several stories high that includes shops, more than 200 apartments and a parking garage for the city's Police Department. The project will add some $20 million to the city's tax rolls, planners say.
The project was supposed to break ground in the fall, but was delayed, in part, because of the uncertain economy.
Plano has agreed to give away a section of public land to the project and pay for sidewalk and other upgrades. The council approved the money on Dec. 22, its last meeting of 2008.
All told, the city has pumped more than $20 million in taxpayer funds into its downtown area.
After I posted "Holy fugitive, Batman", I received a few comments and emails implying that I was unfairly representing the process that has led to Collin County law enforcement dealing with over 12,000 "Failure to pay tolls" arrest warrants.
So I asked the Public Information office at NTTA if they cared to respond. They did, and here is their response.
Once again, thank you for the opportunity to respond to your article.
Most NTTA drivers, more than 95% of those who travel on North Texas toll roads to be exact, pay their tolls through a TollTag, ZipCash or the violation/invoice process.
However, the individuals to which you reference have driven on the toll roads and - for whatever reason - have not only failed to pay tolls, but have also failed to contact the NTTA to pay, and have not responded to several notices/invoices sent by us for payment.
At that point, the process for enforcing toll payment is handed over to the court of the local jurisdiction in which the violation occurred. This process is outlined in the Texas Transportation Code Section 366.178.
As such, the warrants you reference are for "failure to appear" and not the failure to pay as you mention in your story. The original citation is for failure to pay tolls, but the citations are issued from the Department of Public Safety if someone doesn't call, respond, come in, contact, or make arrangements with the Court. The NTTA has no authority to issue warrants for failure to pay a toll. Rather, these warrants are issued by the court because these individuals did not appear.
It is also important to note that these individuals who receive "failure to appear notices" have used the toll roads multiple times before any of this process starts and an invoice for payment is sent.
The NTTA and DPS use all means available to send toll invoices to the correct address, and there are multiple checks along the way to identify the vehicle's registered owner. Moreover, the NTTA has a court coordinator to assist patrons with any questions or concerns about their toll bills.
There is a simple message for drivers who chose not to pay: If you drive on the toll roads - pay the tolls like everyone else.
Thank you in advance,
Asst. Public Information Officer
North Texas Tollway Authority
Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast asked what I think is a very important question, "Licensed peace officers are some of the most expensive employees on every local government's payroll. Does it really make sense to use them as bill collectors for the toll booth operators?".
I know I would feel better sleeping at night knowing my local deputies and police officers were stopping/solving crimes instead of chasing down toll jumpers.
I have little sympathy for those who drive on the toll roads and refuse to pay. I just don't think that collecting tolls is the highest (or even proper) use of the limited resources in our criminal justice system.
It appears to me that the NTTA is saving money using the automated toll system by passing collection costs down to the police agencies and violators.
As to the "failure to appear" vs. "failure to pay", I appreciate the distiction. I used the term "failure to pay tolls" because that is the description used on the Sheriff's Department warrant page.
While Collin County residents go about their daily lives, most are unaware of a new crime spree that is sweeping our county. Thousands of offenses against the peace have created a new class of criminal fugitive from justice.
Warrants are piling up, they come in faster than the constables and police can hope to keep up with them. Periodic warrant roundups can only scratch the surface of the mass of arrests needed to keep up with the papers that flow in daily to our constables office.
As of yesterday, there were 12,377 of these arrest warrants waiting to be served in Collin County.
About a third of the thirty thousand plus outstanding arrest warrants in Collin County are for this one crime - "Failure to pay tolls". It has become the leading reason to be wanted by the police in Collin County.
That's right, "Failure to pay tolls". No fooling.
"Failure to pay tools" is a crime without a witness, and a crime without a perpetrator. A computer decides that you didn't pay, it triggers a camera, which triggers a fine to the last registered owner of the vehicle.
It doesn't matter if you were driving or not; it doesn't matter if you were even there or not.
You don't have to actually commit a crime anymore to have a warrant issued for your arrest. All the tollway authority has to do is mail you a letter informing you of the fine. They don't even have to mail it to your right address. They don't have to prove you received the warning; they don't have to properly serve you any papers at all. The computer mails the letter, then after a while it sends a judge the warrant complaint.
Even then you're still not properly served. The first you might hear about you being wanted is when you are hauled off to county jail.
I remember when the NTTA first proposed the automated toll booths. We were told that since the fines were civil in nature, an "administrative fine", there need be no typical "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" burden that the US and Texas constitutions provide for all criminal defendants.
But now as the warrants pile up, we learn that while the fine may be civil, failure to pay it is a criminal offense.
If you drive on any of the tollways in the area, you might want to check and see if there is a warrant out for you.
If you are not on the list, the chances are that someone you know is.
Development slow to follow Dallas transit rail at Plano's Parker Road station
Sunday, December 21, 2008
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
The arrival of DART's Red Line has sparked a rebirth in downtown Plano, where new apartments and eateries have opened along decorative brick streets.
A far different landscape has emerged just one station away at Parker Road, the rail line's northern end and one of DART's busiest stops.
Empty lots abound. Sidewalks are cracked and broken. And the area's odd mix of buildings – big box stores, a day laborers' center and a bowling alley among them – makes for a disjointed suburban stew.
"There's a lack of a sense of place," City Council member Pat Miner said.
For all the examples of light rail fueling community turnarounds, DART's Parker Road stop has proved to be an exception. Six years since the Red Line was extended north to Parker Road, the station and its surroundings have changed little.
The lack of progress runs counter to a trend toward transit-centered building, which has grown more popular as traffic has worsened, fuel prices have risen and more people have embraced city-style living.
Several North Texas cities, including Carrollton, Garland and Rowlett, have anchored redevelopment efforts around future or existing DART stops. Planners in Dallas hope a station scheduled to open next year at Fair Park will help revive dilapidated neighborhoods nearby.
Plano, too, has lured new apartments and stores around its downtown station. In recent years, the city has invested about $20 million into downtown street upgrades, tax breaks and other projects.
Planners regard the Parker Road area as an untapped frontier for redevelopment that could enliven one of this suburb's poorest sections. Yet efforts have languished.
Will Collin County ever get it's $900 million from the sale of the Highway 121 concession?
"We conclude that section 228.012 of the Transportation Code does not provide authority for the Texas Department of Transportation to transfer monies held in trust in a particular subaccount of the state highway fund to a regional transportation authority."
Attorney General Greg Abbott in opinion GA-0687
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled today that the Texas Department of Transportation may not release the $2.6 billion deposited by the NTTA as a concession fee for constructing and operating SH 121.
After citing the state law that permits the RTC to allocate the funds, the AG opinion then launched into a legal discussion of the difference between "allocate" and "distribute".
Abbott then concludes that the RTC may allocate the money, but it does not have the authority to distribute it.
In other words, the RTC can promise Collin County $900 million, but can't give it to them. The AG expressed no opinion as to who does have the authority to distribute the money, which would appear to leave it to the next Texas Legislature or the courts to decide the future of Collin County's road projects.
In November of 2007, the NTTA deposited the $2.6 Billion in "excess toll revenue" with TxDOT. The funds were the "concession fee" from the sale of the concession to collect tolls from highway 121 for the next 50 years.
TxDOT had promised to hold the money for distribution by the RTC (Regional Transportation Council).
Since then, the RTC has allocated the funds to several counties in the region. Collin County's share was $1.5 billion, of which $600 million was earmarked for SH 121 construction. The balance was to be used for local projects, including major improvements to Central Expressway.
The RTC recently approved much of the county's project list. However TxDOT, which has been sitting on the entire $2.6 billion, refused to release any of the funds and in June asked Attorney General Abbott if it had the legal authority to release the funds to the RTC for distribution to the counties.
Now, according to Abbott, it could be only the Texas Legislature who can actually distribute the monies.
Leaving this question to the Legislature was the Collin County Commissioners' worst fear - and it appears their nightmare has begun.
The legislature is notorious for grabbing whatever money it can find to meet the competing priorities of State Government in a way that members can go home and say they did not raise taxes.
Late night, last minute committee deals frequently change entire spending bills, which are rushed to a vote before many legislators have an opportunity to analyze them. A last minute bill that sped through the final days of the session is the source of the "allocate" language used by Abbott to freeze up the money.
The legislature had passed a transportation bill that, in effect, killed the funding for the Trans Texas Corridor and most future toll road construction. After Governor Rick Perry vetoed it, the wheelers and dealers at the Statehouse put together a end-of-session compromise that allowed the highway 121 project. But it seems these legislators either pulled a fast one or just screwed up the bill in not granting the RTC the authority to actually distribute the funds.
Once the 81st Legislature is in session in January, Collin, Denton and the other counties in the SH 121 distribution will have to fight tooth and nail to preserve as much as they can from the NTTA deposit.
It remains to be seen how much they will get when the battles are over.
Anyone who is interested in the political and legislative history behind the CDA between NTTA and TxDOT, the 2007 Transportation Bill, its replacement, SB 792, and the request for AG opinion should listen to the fascinating presentation attorney Rider Scott gave to the Commissioners Court on November 18, 2008. The presentation was taped and can be found here. (Scroll to time 53:30)
Attorney General's Opinion GA-0687, December 17,2008
Attorney General says no to forwarding 121 money to RTC, Dallas Morning News Metro blog, December 17, 2008
RTC votes to spend $1.5 billion for eight Collin County road projects, McKinney? Courier-Gazette, August 22, 2008
The County Line, Commissioner Joe Jaynes, August 2008 on excess toll revenue projects
Perry urges a fight for toll roads., CCO, April 22, 2008
Is NCTCOG about to shaft Collin County (again)?, CCO, January 29, 2008
NTTA writes $3.197 billion check for SH 121, CCO, December 7, 2007
SH 121 agreements final on financing, tolls, and revenue sharing, CCO November 8, 2007
SH 121 Project Agreement (NTTA/TxDOT)
A local-option plan to expand rail transit in North Texas picked up support last week from a group crucial to its success – one-time critics on the region's transportation planning board.
What's significant – and laudable – is that these board members were frank and detailed about their misgivings, yet they helped build an overwhelming vote of endorsement to make a statement about regional unity.
The 34-4 vote by the Regional Transportation Council wraps up a year of arduous work to present a consensus plan to state lawmakers from North Texas. For transit supporters – including this newspaper – the vote was an encouraging improvement over the RTC's 26-13 margin last month on essentially the same concept. Those additional votes will help build momentum just before next month's start to the 2009 lawmaking session.
One of those votes came from Richardson City Council member John Murphy, who provided a key assessment. He told the 43-member board that, considering the diverse interests across North Texas communities, representatives will never entirely agree on details of such a complex plan. The important thing, he said, is getting the broad outlines into the hands of lawmakers, who will inevitably make their own changes.
Differences that remain among RTC members are numerous and understandable. The plan would be a radically new approach to transportation funding. It calls for county-by-county elections on new sources of revenue. Ballots presented to voters would list specific rail projects to build. In Dallas and other DART cities, new money would fund other specific transportation projects – roads, bridges, walkways, etc. – at the discretion of voters. Sources would include new levies on car registrations, motor fuels or property, among others.
Officials are justified with concerns over governance. Raising and spending public money must have clear aims and limits. We trust that public officials will continue to speak in behalf of these principles while focusing on the goal – improving mobility in North Texas.
The RTC now sends the proposal to city councils and county commissioners, seeking their endorsement. It's important for these voices to continue their consistent call for a transportation system that keeps up with North Texas' population boom. State lawmakers will get the message sooner or later.
The Dallas Morning News reported on delays in putting the LBJ freeway rebuild to bid. An interesting part of their article discussed the new "mobility lanes" (Lexus Lanes)that will be constructed under the new freeway. In my series on Lexus Lanes, I noted that the tolls would vary according to traffic conditions, reaching up to $1/mile.
The Morning News story confirmed that the tolls could be that expensive, noting that one Houston tollroad already has tolls reaching that dollar per mile landmark.
On December 3, Stewart James of Inside Collin County Business discussed the need for rail as part of the future of the County. He notes that the Dallas / Collin County region is the 4th largest in the country - and the largest without a comprehensive mass transit system.
Stewart quotes NCTCOG's Michael Morris in asking, “Collin County is one of the fastest growing counties in the United States and you have to ask if you have the right balance of transportation investment to succeed in the future?”
“If our region gets the reputation that’s plagued with traffic gridlock, businesses can easily chose to expand or relocate in other regions,” said Vic Suhm, NCTCOG, North Texas Commission.
"Traffic gridlock jeopardizes economic development, increases the cost of consumer goods, increases emissions that pollute the air and reduces employee performance."
“If people driving to and from work are stuck in traffic all the time, when they arrive at work they are frustrated, they are unhappy and they are angry. That doesn’t lead to the highest level of productivity and performance.” - Vic Suhm, NCTCOG, North Texas Commission.
On Thursday, the Dallas Morning News' Michael Lindenberger reported that the RTC (Regional Transportation Council) had made moves to unify behind a proposal to set up a regional transportation district. Last month, the RTC approved the proposed Rail North Texas Plan, on a 27 to 13 non-record vote.
This week ,both DART and the Denton County Transit Authority changed their votes from "no" to "yes", joining in a larger majority.
Since the RTC does not take recorded votes, it is still unclear how Collin County's representatives to the RTC voted.
Will 121 be Among Most Congested in America? Survey predicts highway will be "choked with holiday shoppers"
The nation's largest traffic reporting service ranks Highway 121 in Collin County ninth on its list of the Top 10 worst holiday traffic tie-ups.
By Kevin Cokely
Tue, Nov 25, 2008 / NBC DFW
The nation's largest traffic reporting service ranks Highway 121 in Collin County ninth on its list of the Top 10 worst holiday traffic tie-ups.
"It's a great problem to have"
Frisco Mayor Maher Maso
According to Metro Networks' list, the highway "will be choked with holiday shoppers heading to Stonebriar Centre." The list was compiled by a team of experts in New York.
"It's a great problem to have, frankly, with the tough economic times," Frisco Mayor Maher Maso said. "We know Stonebriar Mall and that whole area with over 5 million square feet of retail is going to be really busy."
Maso said he suspects the survey didn't take recent improvements to Highway 121 into account.
"The main lanes of 121 have opened," he said. "We have an operations center; we can make changes remotely to traffic signal timing."
UPS driver Ryan DeSimone? said he agreed traffic moves much more smoothly.
"Honestly, I think it's gotten a lot better since they've opened up the tollway over here, but the service roads are still pretty bad," he said.
Frisco recently added extra turn lanes leading off the toll road to keep traffic moving and plans to place traffic pylons in the perimeter road surrounding Stonebriar to keep cars moving in the right direction.
"We don't expect any delays," Maso said. "We don't expect any congestion."
Watching North Texas transportation officials shape a proposal for building out rail transit has been like watching a committee paint a mural.
The undertaking is sweeping and complicated. Not everyone agrees with the look of every corner, every color and detail. But if you stand back far enough, the picture coming into focus is a good one overall.
The effort in question is getting the Legislature to create a money-raising mechanism to add more than 200 miles of transit lines to the rail network that's already taking shape. It's a project vital to the future of North Texas' economy, environment and quality of life.
Building it will take more than $5 billion, but it's money that the region doesn't have. Local elected officials have been pushing state lawmakers for years, so far unsuccessfully, to let North Texas voters decide whether to pay for improved transportation. The effort has been frustrated despite wide community support, including from this newspaper and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Here's where things stand: Representatives of the policymaking Regional Transportation Council, made up mostly with local elected officials, have held countless meetings, workshops, hearings and brainstorming sessions this year to get a transit proposal ready for next year's legislative session. The process involved input from major local employers who torpedoed a proposed sales tax last year and vowed to kill any similar measure in the future.
The current plan is far more complex but fundamentally sound. It seeks local-option elections on raising money for rail, and for other transportation projects – roads, bridges, hike-bike trails, etc. – where rail service already exits. Local governments would devise the lineup of proposals pending review from the regional planning agency.
Officials want to choose from a menu of revenue sources, including boosts in the gas tax, vehicle registration fee, driver's license fee and property taxes. New sources would include a first-time levy on newcomers to the area and, when technology permits, a fee based on miles driven.
Some local officials fear lawmakers will keel over at the sight of so many revenue sources. But everyone must keep in mind that the voters would have the final say.
The region's transportation plan was approved by the RTC last month by a 26-13 vote, with several members voicing unhappiness with different provisions. One issue in dispute is whether the regional planning body should have authority to call or coordinate elections and, if so, if that would be a needless new layer of government.
It's a fair policy question with no easy answer. The RTC will try to address it at a follow-up meeting next month. Regardless of how another vote turned out, it's important that transportation officials rally around the final product and make a full-court press on the region's delegation to the Legislature.
As for the complexity issue – well, lawmakers couldn't handle the simple plan. Many squawked that local leaders were politically naive and unrealistically narrow with last-year's single-source idea.
OK, fine. Dallas-Fort Worth legislators will have the latitude they sought. Now they must be ready to embrace and perfect the new transit plan as a priority item from constituents and get it through the Austin minefield. Other metro areas beset by traffic congestion are interested in the concept, too, which will complicate the lawmaking effort.
So be it. The foot-dragging and dismissiveness in Austin have gone on too long. Metro areas have not received enough resources from the state to unsnarl traffic and keep the air breathable. Residents have the right to make the hard choices.
RTC NTTA NCTCOG CCAD CJPDC MPO DART RRC
There is an alphabet soup of organizations that impacts almost every facet of your life. These quasi-governmental groups determine transportation policy, collect taxes, appraise your property, take you to work, dole out grant money and spend vast amounts of public funds.
Yet, they are not accountable to the citizens they serve. You've probably never even heard of many of them. You've never elected anyone to these boards and commissions, yet some of them are made up of elected officials. They operate in the shadows.
Take for example the RTC. The RTC is the Regional Transportation Council. It is made up up local city and county elected officials and it serves as one of the primary planning and funds disbursement. All $3.2 billion "up-front" money for the SH 121 toll road flowed through the RTC, who alone set the guidelines for divvying up these billions to the counties.
Last week, the RTC voted to approve a regional rail plan named "Rail North Texas" after a long 3 hour debate.
According to an article published in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the RTC approved the plan and recommended it to the legislature for their approval. The Star Telegram article noted that the, "vote was split — 26 yeas, 13 nays and four no-shows."
Since the plan was controversial, and would result in the formation of another regional taxing district, I contacted the RTC and asked for the list of members who voted 'yes' or 'no'.
"The RTC does not take recorded votes so I do not know who specifically voted for or against."
Lara Kohl, NCTCOG
Collin County has 5 members on the RTC, Commissioner Joe Jaynes, Plano Councilman Lee Dunlap, NTTA Chairman Paul Wagemen (from Plano), Frisco Mayor Maher Maso and McKinney Mayor Bill Whitfield. I wanted to know how they voted.
I was surprised at the response I got from Lara Kohl, the Public Involvement Manager for the transportation department at NCTCOG. Ms. Kohl wrote, "The RTC does not take recorded votes so I do not know who specifically voted for or against."
The Rail North Texas plan proposes to spend billions of dollars, raise taxes, and collect fees, but no one knows who voted for it!
In this writer's opinion, the lack of accountability here is appalling. Most of us remember the excesses that have plagued DART, starting decades ago with a fancy conference room and more recently with major budgeting difficulties. No one is accountable.
The whole concept of democracy is based on a government that is "of the people". Our government was created to be held to task by its citizens. Several times each year, we go to the polls to do exactly that.
But who in this "shadow government" is held to task? It's time we looked at the makeup of these organizations, and demanded accountability - including recorded votes on all actions.
CCAD Collin County Appraisal District. Board members elected by member cities, school boards and taxing agencies. Responsible for all property appraisals in the county.
CJPDC Criminal Justice Policy Development Committee. Responsible for reviewing and setting priorities for all criminal justice funding requests. Committee members are appointed by NCTCOG's Executive Board.
DART Dallas Area Rapid Transit. Operates trains, buses, HOV lanes. runs its own police department, collects taxes and fares. Board appointed by local member cities.
MPO Metropolitan Planning Organization. Made up of NCTCOG and RTC. Overall catch all for transportation planning and policy.
NCTCOG North Central Texas Council of Governments. Is the MPO for North Texas. Operates dozens of programs that control and funnel billions of dollars of state and federal grant money... for everything from air quality to roads. Board is appointed by local governments.
NTTA North Texas Tollway Authority. Builds and operates tollroads, tunnels and bridges. Collects tolls. Board is appointed by the 4 member counties, with one member appointed by the Governor of Texas.
RTC Regional Transportation Council. The MPO's transportation policymaking body, determines how regional transportation funds should be spent. The 43 members are appointed by local governments.
This is only a partial listing of the 'shadow government' organizations that may set policy, receive tax money, charge fares or tolls, spend public funds, and control billions in grant funds.
DART NEWS RELEASE
October 24, 2008
116.8 million trips
FY 2008 a banner year for DART ridership
Continuing its record-breaking pace of more than 400,000 daily passenger trips, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) finished Fiscal Year 2008 with more than 116.8 million passenger trips on its growing network of buses, trains, high occupancy (HOV) lanes, paratransit services and vanpools.
The ridership gains of recent months are particularly significant given the steady decline in regional gasoline prices from their highest prices in mid-July. Total and average weekday ridership in bus, DART Rail, Trinity Railway Express and HOV were up over FY 2007.
Average weekday ridership for September
- DART Rail: 71,502 (up 14.4% over September 2007)
- Trinity Railway Express: 10,309 (up 11.8% over September 2007)
- DART Bus: 174,575 (up 4.3% over September 2007)
- HOV Lanes: 152,900 (up 38.75% over September 2007)
Total ridership for FY 2008
- DART Rail: 19,437,603 (up 8.6% over FY 2007)
- Trinity Railway Express: 2,746,992 (up 10.9% over FY 2007)
- DART Bus: 45,033,990 (up 1.3% over FY 2007)
- HOV Lanes: 48,094,350 (up 27.9% over FY 2007)
HOV, DART Rail and TRE set records for total ridership and TRE set an all-time record for average weekday ridership for the year. July was the best month for the TRE, setting a record in average weekday ridership of 11,234 daily riders. The DART Rail weekday average in August, 73,058 average daily riders, also was an all-time high.
DART Rail doubling
DART ridership is expected to get a substantial boost as the agency's current expansion programs double the DART Rail System to 90 miles by 2013. Altogether, the rail extensions are expected to add 60,000 weekday passenger trips, essentially doubling ridership on the DART Rail System.
Toll road agency poised to borrow $100 million from Bank of America
Monday, October 13, 2008
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
The North Texas Tollway Authority is poised this morning to borrow $100 million from the Bank of America, one of the few financial giants to have emerged unscathed -- so far -- from the Wall Street crisis.
The borrowing is designed to help NTTA whittle away at the $225 million in short-term debt it must retire by next month, when a 12-month deadline expires on "bond anticipation notes" that the agency took out to pay for the State Highway 121 toll road project.
After it won the contract, NTTA faced a hard deadline imposed by the state of Texas to make good on its eye-opening promise to outbid Cintra, the private firm that had offered about $2.8 billion to build the road. NTTA offered $3.3 billion, though it ultimately paid about $3.2 billion.
To pay that bill, NTTA borrowed more than $3.5 billion – and did so by taking out short-term notes, rather than traditional municipal bonds. The move allowed it to meet its deadline to pay the state what it owed, and gave it a year to find the best long-term financing available.
At the time, some critics, including top state transportation officials who had pushed for the contract to go to Cintra, complained that NTTA paid too much for State Highway 121, and that the debt it incurred could limits its ability to build other roads. NTTA chairman Paul Wageman and others have strenuously denied this, arguing that over time the profits on the 26-mile toll road in Collin and Denton counties will greatly enhance NTTA’s finances.
The short-term financing carried a November 2008 deadline. A year ago, few anticipated that NTTA -- a cash-rich and credit-worthy agency -- would have any problems quickly converting the notes into traditional municipal bonds.
But that was before the global credit market blew up this fall, sending borrowers of all shapes and sizes – from big cities to public agencies to entire states – scrambling to float bonds that had until recently been routine transactions.
NTTA has been steadily converting the notes into bonds over the past year, and has just $225 million left to go. But while it’s a fraction of the total debt incurred for the toll road contract, $225 million is still a lot of money when the credit markets are all but closed.
Spokeswoman Sherita Coffelt said this morning’s anticipated transaction is good news for the authority, and sets the stage for it to retire the final $125 million in debt next week.
“The NTTA has been presented with an opportunity to sell $100 million of notes to Bank of America with the proceeds used to retire existing BANs,” she said. “The NTTA plans to enter the market the week of the Oct. 20 to retire the BANs remaining after the Bank of America transaction. However, we still will have the option to issue new BANs to refund the existing BANs if by chance we could not enter the bond market.”
DMN - Citing frozen credit market, NTTA likely to delay completion of long-term financing for State Highway 121October 12th, 2008
We're likely to get a clearer picture of how badly the credit market woes have impacted NTTA on Monday. The tollway authority has called a special meeting of its board of directors amid expectations that it will not be able to meet a deadline to refinance the part of the debt it incurred last year when it paid $3.2 billion for the State Highway 121 toll contract.
Unfortunately for those of us who will be attending, the meeting is at 8 a.m., and at its Plano headquarters.
When NTTA won the right to build and operate State Highway 121, its win over Cintra came with a tight deadline -- and a big upfront payment. To make the payment on time, the agency took out some $3.5 billion in what are called Bond Anticipation Notes.
But the notes comes with an expiration date -- November 19, 2008 -- and have to be converted into other, long-term debt before them.
Over the past year, NTTA has been doing so in phases, most notably last February, when it refinanced some $5 billion in revenue bonds, and converted a bunch of the BANs. But since then, the credit market has only gotten worse and the deadline has loomed like a bad headache for the agency.
It still has $225 million in unconverted BANs, and Monday's meeting is a sure sign that the agency does not expect to be able to convert the notes by the Nov. 19 deadline. Spokeswoman Sherita Coffelt said Friday that the credit market remains perilous for public agencies seeking to sell long-term municipal bonds.
"We're looking to mitigate missing the (BAN's) maturation deadline," she said. "We're going to find interim financing to refinance our interim financing."
The idea is that the agency will be better off floating another short-term loan -- even a bank loan -- for the $225 million, giving it time to return to the bond market when the credit crisis has eased. The impact in the short-term, however, will likely be higher interest expenses.
Mr Lindenberger has written an excellent overview of some of the near term issues facing the financing of our highways. However he neglects to mention that the "billions of dollars in debt" are mostly the $5 billion of highway construction bonds approved by the voters in the 2007 constitutional amendment election. That transportation Proposition 12 was approved by over 62% of the voters.
The citizens want new roads to be built - not as toll roads and using debt if necessary.
Mr. Lindenberger also fails to mention the fact that a substantial portion of the Texas gas tax revenue is siphoned off by the legislature for non-transportation uses. For example, 25% of the gasoline tax is mandated for education. In one recent case, TxDOT promised $20 million in gas tax money to help fund a park in downtown Dallas.
Also not mentioned is the similar siphoning off of federal gas tax money to non-transportation use. Making the federal situation worse is that Texas is also being shortchanged. Only about 70% what it's citizens spend in fuel tax money is returned to Texas projects... and it seems our local congressmen don't give a damn about it.
The Collin County commissioners don't seem too fazed by the voter backlash against toll roads either. Last week they approved the formation of the Collin County Regional Toll Authority - to develop the county's portion of the Outer Loop as a toll road.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
State transportation officials are poised to issue billions of dollars in debt to help speed road construction, a move that will keep Dallas-area projects on schedule for now but will do little to shore up the state's long-term road-funding crisis.
"We have 15 major highways proposed in Dallas-Fort Worth, and all 15 are planned as toll roads. In that situation, you can no longer say tolls are an option for motorists. If they are all built, you won't be able to drive anywhere in Dallas without using a toll road."
Texas Senate Transportation Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas
The Texas Department of Transportation will likely begin issuing $1.5 billion in bonds within 60 days, pending the recovery of the nation's upended credit markets, and is taking steps to borrow another $6.4 billion over the next few years.
Historic turmoil in the credit markets is already costing the department hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra interest payments each week on some of its smaller loans, and any efforts to borrow much more will be complicated – and likely delayed – if the markets do not improve.
Credit worries aside, the decision to borrow billions enables TxDOT to end months of hand-wringing over whether it will have the money to complete projects local officials throughout Texas have been depending on. Late last year, the agency announced it was going broke and would have to delay some of those projects.
The new borrowing will allow the state to keep projects on schedule. But the big debt will do nothing to reduce the state's long-term shortage of road funds and could make paying for future projects more difficult as interest costs grow.
"Borrowing money does have the benefit of building projects faster," said Michael Morris, North Central Texas Council of Governments' transportation director. "Borrowing money does nothing for building more projects [in the long term]. Some people will be confused that building projects faster solves the problem, but it doesn't address the total funding need."
Mr. Morris says North Texas' transportation needs are $50 billion ahead of expected tax revenues between now and 2030. Some critics call those numbers too pessimistic, but everyone agrees that the number is big. Conservative estimates have said statewide needs will outpace funding by $50 billion to $60 billion.
Meeting last week in Austin, Texas Transportation Commission members said the bond program won't fix a basically busted system – and could make things worse if the Legislature doesn't eventually provide new tax funds.
"The system for funding TxDOT is fatally flawed," said Ned Holmes of Houston, one of five members of the Texas Transportation Commission that runs the department.
A political problem
Few leaders in Austin disagree with Mr. Holmes.
But while lawmakers, the governor and TxDOT all seem to agree Texas needs more money for roads, consensus on a solution beyond more borrowing has proven devilishly difficult to reach.
One camp argues that, of course TxDOT is going broke, given that state gasoline taxes have remained flat since 1991, at 20 cents per gallon. However, efforts to raise the tax rate have been dead in the water for years.
"As far as the gas tax goes, there is simply no appetite in the Legislature for that. None at all," said Allison Castle, press secretary for Gov. Rick Perry, said. "To make a real difference, you'd have to raise it 50 to 55 cents per gallon. Raising it a nickel or two would be just giving false hope."
But even simply indexing the 20-cent-per-gallon rate to inflation would have a huge impact over time, said Senate Transportation Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas. He said he is going to press for that this session.
"If we had had the courage to do that two years ago, we'd be in a substantially better place already," Mr. Carona said.
For the past five years, the governor has pushed instead to build more toll roads and then to borrow heavily against future revenue.
"Toll roads are fair, as they are essentially user fees, and drivers can decide whether to use them or not," said his spokeswoman.
Opposition to tolls, especially private toll roads, was a powerful force during the 2007 session, and even lawmakers who say some tolls are helpful also argue that Mr. Perry has pushed too hard for tolls.
"We have 15 major highways proposed in Dallas-Fort Worth, and all 15 are planned as toll roads," Mr. Carona said. "In that situation, you can no longer say tolls are an option for motorists. If they are all built, you won't be able to drive anywhere in Dallas without using a toll road."
Mr. Holmes, too, acknowledged the governor and the agency under former chairman Ric Williamson had been too focused on tolls as the solution.
"They came up with a solution that did not require TxDOT to go to the Legislature to ask for new funds," he said. "But tolling was never going to work by itself."
Ready to borrow
For now, the only solution lawmakers and the governor have agreed on is to borrow another $8 billion.
It's not a new direction. From 2002 to 2007, the department first went on a borrowing spree – and then a building spree, much to the delight of traffic-clogged regions like North Texas. In those years, the department spent as much as $5 billion a year in construction contracts.
But by 2007 TxDOT had spent the money and was left with flat revenues, rising costs and hefty interest payments. TxDOT says it has about $2.5 billion in tax money to spend on major road contracts annually, about half what it was spending in recent years. It also warns that soaring maintenance costs could soon eat up as much as $2 billion a year.
Collin County Area Regional Transit will begin charging riders
Friday, October 3, 2008
By Jim Kilpatrick, McKinney Courier-Gazette
The Collin County Area Regional Transit service will begin charging customers for their rides starting in May -- and some of the seniors who are the most affected are not happy about it.
The new fares will be 50 cents for passengers who are handicapped or over 60 years old, and $1 for everyone else.
“It may not seem to be a lot to most people, but to our population [seniors] it is a lot,” said Marilyn Stidham, executive director of the Collin County Committee on Aging. We will transport about 275,000 people over a million miles this year. We take them to work, medical appointments and shopping. These are all the vital things people do every day.”
But public officials believe they are doing the right thing creating the fare system.
“The way the Federal Transit Administration and the State look at it is that public transportation is not free,” Director of Transportation for CCART Ronald “Rep” Pledger said. “There is a push that there should be a fare for everything that deals with public Transportation.”
Residents are invited to share their views on the new fare system at a public meeting at McKinney City Hall at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 16.
They are not the only changes being imposed. Also included are termination of weekend routes, having all five routes meet at the CCART offices every hour, having the Route 500 shadow the 100 route and color-coordinating brochures and street signs, Pledger said. These changes take place Nov. 15..
Pledger urged people to show up at the meeting to look at the proposed routes and make suggestions.
“We want input,” Pledger said.
David Henry of McKinney is a regular rider of CCART and considers it the easiest way and the quickest way to work.
“I didn’t know they were going to have to start charging to ride, but I can understand why,” he said. “It’s not going to change me riding the bus.”
Evelyn Box of McKinney? knew about the new fare rate knew it would affect her..
“It will in some ways because I am on a fixed income,” Box said. “In the first of the month it won’t affect me but in the middle and end of the month it will.”
She also will keep riding the bus, she said.
It would be naive to think the fares won’t affect some riders, Pledger said. But ultimately, if people need the bus system, they will use it, he added.
“I’m sure they will, but I think it will actually put more folks on there then are actually using the transportation to get to work,” he said.
CCART’s growth began because of the growth of McKinney, according to officials.
When the population of McKinney grew to over 50,000 people in the 2000 census, the Federal Transit Administration notified the state that McKinney had a transportation issue and provided money to handle the issue.
“CCART had already started running fixed route in the city of McKinney,” Pledger said. “They were doing it without anything to do with the city.”
Transportation officials lobby Collin County cities to support commuter rail expansion
Friday, September 26, 2008
By ELIZABETH LANGTON / The Dallas Morning News
MCKINNEY – Transportation officials this morning attempted to buoy support from leaders in McKinney, Frisco and Allen for expanding North Texas rail lines and establishing a revenue system to pay the $9 billion price tag.
The Regional Transportation Council wants North Texas communities to present a united front on rail funding options during next year’s legislative session.
The Rail North Texas plan would add 250 miles of suburban rail lines, including a route to Frisco and an extension of Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s red line, which currently ends in Plano, through Allen to McKinney.
McKinney, Frisco and Allen do not participate in DART.
Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said McKinney could benefit now from a rail line. As gasoline prices go up, the urban sprawl that has driven Collin County’s booming growth will slow, he said.
“This city has been very successful, largely based on gas at $1 or $2 per gallon,” he said. “How much risk do you want to take with fuel cost and availability in the future?”
About 200 elected officials and business leaders attended the meeting sponsored by the three cities’ chambers of commerce.
The NTTA Board of Directors has awarded its largest single contract to date to fund construction of segment four of the 121 Tollway, which includes the 121 Tollway/U.S. 75 Interchange in Collin County.
The contract was awarded to W.W. Webber, the firm that came in with the lowest offered bid – nearly $220 million.
The contractor will construct a 2.94-mile stretch of the 121 Tollway in Collin County from Hardin Boulevard to the east of Medical Center Drive, including the 121 Tollway/U.S. 75 Interchange within the City of Allen, the City of McKinney and the Town of Fairview.
The four-level interchange will feature six direct-connecting ramps to provide main lane access between the two roadways. The NTTA also will construct a loop ramp configuration connecting to the service roads.
The interchange is expected to open in January 2011.
“The NTTA will formally execute the contract with W.W. Webber and start construction after environmental approval for the project is received from the Texas Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration,” said NTTA Director of Project Delivery Elizabeth Mow. “This milestone contract means continued progress on the 121 Tollway project and our dedication to improving mobility in the area.”
Transportation officials lobby Collin County cities to support commuter rail expansion
Friday, September 26, 2008
By ELIZABETH LANGTON / The Dallas Morning News
MCKINNEY – Transportation officials this morning attempted to buoy support from leaders in McKinney, Frisco and Allen for expanding North Texas rail lines and establishing a revenue system to pay the $9 billion price tag.
The Regional Transportation Council wants North Texas communities to present a united front on rail funding options during next year’s legislative session.
“How much risk do you want to take with fuel cost and availability in the future?”
Micheal Morris, NCTCOG
The Rail North Texas plan would add 250 miles of suburban rail lines, including a route to Frisco and an extension of Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s red line, which currently ends in Plano, through Allen to McKinney.
McKinney, Frisco and Allen do not participate in DART.
Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said McKinney could benefit now from a rail line. As gasoline prices go up, the urban sprawl that has driven Collin County’s booming growth will slow, he said.
“This city has been very successful, largely based on gas at $1 or $2 per gallon,” he said. “How much risk do you want to take with fuel cost and availability in the future?”
About 200 elected officials and business leaders attended the meeting sponsored by the three cities’ chambers of commerce.
DART released new numbers today that show train ridership and HOV lane usage increased by double digits.
Media Relations Contact:
Mark A. Ball
September 25, 2008
400,000 daily trips on buses, trains and HOV lanes
Another ridership record for DART
Each weekday DART is delivering more than 400,000 passenger trips on its growing network of buses, trains and high occupancy (HOV) lanes, setting records in average weekday ridership on DART Rail and combined fixed route (bus, rail and Trinity Railway Express) services.
Average weekday ridership was up in all fixed route modes and HOV. To put the August 2008 ridership data into perspective, the 407,000 weekday trips are more than the combined populations of the DART Member Cities of Garland, Richardson, Rowlett and Addison.
Average weekday ridership for August
DART Rail: 73,058 (up 17.6% over August 2007)
Trinity Railway Express: 11,092 (up 19.5% over August 2007)
DART Bus: 157,963 (up 3.2% over August 2007)
HOV Lanes: 165,400 (up 38.3% over August 2007)
While our elected representative give lip service to creating a regional mass transit system as they call for the elimination of the HOV lanes, we breathe polluted air.
Today, the Collin County area is under a federal condition Red ozone alert. As the day heats up it is predicted that the ozone levels will exceed limits that are safe, even for healthy individuals.
The heat and humidity combined with auto exhaust and industrial pollution create air pollution so severe it is considered unhealthy for everyone.
High concentrations of ozone near ground level can be harmful to people, animals, and plant life. Ozone can irritate your respiratory system, aggravate asthma, and contribute to chronic lung diseases like emphysema and bronchitis. Harmful ozone levels can also reduce the immune system's ability to fight off bacterial infections in the respiratory system, and may cause permanent lung damage.
The National Institute of Health suggests that on Red Alert days everyone limit outdoor activity.
Meanwhile we only talk about mass transit.
Also see: Dallas Morning News, Dallas-Fort Worth placed under level-red air pollution watch
RTC votes to spend $1.5 billion for eight Collin County road projects
By Brandi Hart, McKinney Courier-Gazette
Friday, August 22, 2008
Collin County got a huge financial boost on Thursday as the Regional Transportation Council voted on which transportation projects will be paid for through $1. 5 billion from State Highway 121 toll revenue that the county will receive.
Members of the RTC Board of Directors, which is part of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, chose to allocate the $1.5 billion that Collin County will receive in revenue from tolls for SH 121 to the following road expansion projects:
# SH 121 main lanes that are currently under construction from the Dallas North Tollway to US 75 in McKinney?.
# SH 121 and US 75 interchange in McKinney.
# Widening of US 75 from four to eight lanes at Legacy Drive in Plano to where the Collin County Outer Loop will eventually be built near Melissa’s northern boundary.
# Widening of SH 289 from two lanes to four lanes from Frisco to Celina.
# Widening of SH 121 North in Melissa from two to four lanes from US 75 to Farm-to-Market Road 455 near Anna.
# SH 205 east of Wylie from two to four lanes to FM 6 in Lavon.
# Construction of two lanes for the Collin County Outer Loop between US 75 and SH 121 North.
Collin County Commissioner for Precinct 3 Joe Jaynes, who is also a member of the RTC Board, said that Collin County is one of the most fortunate counties in the United States as $1.5 billion from toll revenue is being given from the North Texas Tollway Authority to transportation projects in Collin County.
The $1.5 billion will also pay for an environmental assessment for the Collin County Outer Loop and for a feasibility study to bring rail service to Fairview, Allen, and McKinney? and to other areas in North Collin County, Jaynes said.
Our morning commute down the Central Expressway HOV was dramatically slowed today.
The cause of the congestion was a terrible accident in Richardson in the northbound lanes. As we passed it, I said a small prayer, for no one could have survived inside that mangled SUV.
There was a report on the news tonight that the wreck was caused by an illegal lane jumper exiting the HOV into the left lane of the freeway.
After passed the accident and were on LBJ freeway - still in the HOV, a small car darted into the lane in front of me. For the next 10 miles - all the way to I-35, that lady weaved in and out of the HOV.
She got away with it. Today there was no enforcement.
The driver on Central didn't get away so lightly. She killed someone this morning - all to save a minute or two getting to work.
The police are considering filing charges of manslaughter.
DART was in the press today, bragging about its 80 miles of HOV. Unfortunately, some of those miles, especially on Central were poorly designed.
Instead of bragging and finding ways to toll these lanes, DART need to solve the design issues, and it needs to dedicate the resources to enforce the law. Lane jumpers and single passenger cars must not be allowed to violate the law with impunity.
Man Dies After Dallas HOV Lane Accident
CBS 11 / Bud Gillett
RICHARDSON (CBS 11 News) ― A Dallas man is dead after the SUV in which he was riding was clipped by a car that police say was illegally leaving a High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane.
The accident happened occurred along a controversial stretch of Central Expressway in Richardson.
The area is considered controversial because there is no exit from the HOV lane anywhere in the city of Richardson.
According to police, a Chrysler sedan, driven by Gendince Price of Dallas, left the HOV lane and hit the SUV. The car also careened into a pickup truck.
Sergio Vega Pintor of Dallas was ejected from the back seat of the SUV. The 47-year-old man later died at a hospital.
"If the driver of the Chrysler had not exited improperly then there may have been a different result today," said Richardson police investigator Jonathan Wakefield.
Police say the investigation into the crash is ongoing, but it is possible that criminal charges could be filed in the case.
In all, four people were injured in the three separate vehicles, but the most seriously hurt had a hand injury, according to police.
Perhaps you’ve seen the electronic signs recently flashing on Central Expressway with the message, “Level Orange Ozone Alert”.
The signs remind of the reality that our air here in Collin County is often unfit to breathe.
Somehow, we’ve become conditioned to the fact that the air around us is unhealthy and making many of us ill. Although our leaders have tried to minimize the condition of our environment and have sought easy solutions, there are no easy answers.
Because our air is so polluted, the federal government has declared the 9 county North Texas region as a “non-attainment zone”. Collin County is in the non-attainment zone, and is therefore subject to a mandate that it do nothing that will increase toxic emissions like auto exhaust.
It is obvious that if the region can lower the number of cars on the road, and how long those cars idle, emissions will be reduced. That is why TxDOT? built HOV lanes along Central Expressway.
Unfortunately, many don’t like those weird lanes with no exits. And many flaunt the restrictions because there appears to be no enforcement. A recent TxDOT? survey shows almost 12% of the cars on this HOV are there illegally and that only 1.9 people are in the average car traveling on the HOV!
Last week Mr. Koorosh Olyai from DART was invited to the commissioners court to discuss HOV strategies for the region. While the commissioners listened politely, it was obvious that they only wanted to discuss one issue – the Central Expressway HOV. The commissioners could not hide their scorn of these awkward lanes. Jerry Hoagland wants to “scrap HOV”, and Joe Jaynes vowed to fight any attempt to extend it northward to McKinney
There are many other HOV lanes in the region, and they do not seem to elicit the scorn that the Central HOV has engendered. I remember when the “zipper” HOV was built on I-30. Folks liked it, and it garnered a lot of positive press, not so with Central. In Sunday’s Dallas Morning News, columnist Ed Housewright wrote, “I can't recall a transportation "improvement" that's been met with such public disdain.”
There is indeed much to dislike about the Central HOV. It is hard to get on, impossible to get off. The rubber stanchions are frequently broken, inviting “lane jumpers”. There is nowhere to pull over in the event of an emergency, and there is no enforcement, so more than 10% of those in the lane are single occupant.
Lost in the general conversation was the reason Collin County got stuck with such a dysfunctional, goofy HOV. What happened? Did the engineers go brain dead?
Perhaps it was pressure from politicians and not poor engineering that is to blame. A look at the “High Five” interchange will help to get a sense of the evolution of the Central HOV.
The highest bridges on the “High Five” are one lane wide, reversible HOV lanes connecting Central with LBJ freeway. These bridges are designed to move southbound morning traffic and northbound afternoon traffic. The HOV lanes along Central were designed to also be reversible.
Much of N. Central is elevated – to widen it would be a huge undertaking and very expensive. However, there was room down the median for a nice, wide reversible "zipper" HOV with exits and enforcement “pods” for police surveillance. The original design for the lane was for this reversible "zipper" similar to I-30 in East Dallas.
But the county and local authorities protested. They wanted two separate lanes – one going north, and one going south. TxDOT caved to local pressure and Collin County designed the beast we have today.
I have to say, that I like driving in an HOV lane. I car pool almost every day form Wylie to Dallas. HOV lanes cut time off my drive.
The recent DART study on Central showed that the average rush hour speed on Central was 31 mph. In the HOV, it was 61 mph. Studies have also shown that the HOV lane has improved drive times for those in the main lanes. The statistics indicate the HOV is a win-win-win situation, where the number of cars on the road, the average drive times, and total vehicle emissions have all been reduced.
But while getting rid of the HOV is both impossible and undesirable, fixing it must be a priority. DART’s Mr. Olyai promises that there will be new exits and entrances in Richardson. They will help, but not solve the issues.
It cost the taxpayers $19 million to build the HOV lanes. Sadly, TxDOT ignored its own experts in succumbing to the local political pressure. Collin County then paid for the engineering for the present design. I can’t think of a better illustration of why politicians should not be designing roads. Perhaps it is time to rethink the engineering and regardless of the expense, ignore the political pressure and go back to the original “reversible lane” design.
The segment of Highway 121 between FM 2281 and Hillcrest Road is up for discussion.
The Texas Department of Transportation wants to know what you think about its plans to transfer a segment of State Highway 121 to the North Texas Tollway Authority.
The segment runs from west of FM 2281 in Denton County to just east of Hillcrest Road in Collin County.
The first hearing is scheduled for Monday, August 18 at Plano's Christopher A. Parr Library. The second hearing is Tuesday, August 19, at The Colony City Hall Council Chamber.
TxDOT's presentation starts at 6 p.m. followed by a public comment session
LINK: SH 121 project from NTTA
DART considers charging riders to park in its lots
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
With parking lots full, and fuel costs going up, should DART charge riders to park in its lots?
Dallas Area Rapid Transit board members are asking the same question, though any decision is probably still months away, agency officials said.
"The board is talking about options. No plans. No vote. Just discussion," DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said.
Some board members, and riders, too, think that any parking fees should be aimed only at riders who live in cities that aren't members of DART. Many of the cities that are members have spent 25 years collecting a full cent of sales tax to fund the agency.
Still, talking about new fees is often just a first step to imposing them, and riders haven't waited to weigh in on the subject.
Brett Ryder at mckinneynews.net reports that McKinney's lone red light camera is losing money for the city.
Not only is it losing money, but accidents haven't gone down much either - from 16 to 15. However, rear-end accidents increased from 0 to 2.
The city may soon face an embarrassing choice. Like most other cities, McKinney says it bought the camera for "public safety". Officials in most cities are quick to piously disclaim any attempt to use the cameras to extort fines from their citizens.
With no revenue coming in, the city will have to ask itself the question, "How much do we pay for public safety?"
The traffic camera at the intersection of Stonebridge Drive and Virginia Parkway has been snapping pictures of red light runners for nine months. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, the camera hasn’t generated a single penny of surplus revenue for the McKinney Police Department.
When the pole was planted in the ground and the camera’s shutter started clicking last October, the idea was straight forward: motorists who enjoyed dashing through a stale four-second yellow light would be popped with a $75 citation come calling through the mail. Human behavior being what it is, the police department hoped a hefty sting to the wallet or pocketbook would curtail red light running and associated potentially deadly intersection crashes.
As it turns out, crashes have declined -- by one.
From October 2006 to July 2007, before the camera was installed, 16 wrecks at the intersection were reported to police. From October 2007 to July 2008, that number had dropped to 15.
But not all crashes are the same.
When the data are crunched further, another collection of numbers appears. In the nine months prior to the camera’s installation, seven right-angle intersection crashes were reported. After the camera was installed, four right-angle and two rear-end collisions were reported.
Right-angle crashes are generally considered more serious and potentially life threatening than rear-end collisions.
The city is shelling out $4,790 to Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., a company out of Scottsdale, AZ, to operate the camera. The city’s nine-month revenue average for the site is $2,189.
Operating in the red puts public officials in an awkward position. On one hand, the camera is apparently doing what it’s supposed to do, deterring red light runners. On the other hand, the city presumably can’t hemorrhage money forever, failing to ticket enough intersection runners to pay for the automated camera service.
McKinney isn’t the only city experiencing this paradox.
In the spring, the city of Dallas was faced with a similar situation. With many of its traffic cameras not generating enough income, the city chose to idle more than one-fourth of its 62 cameras.
Plans For Commercial Airlines In Collin Co. Grounded
Expansion Plans At Regional Airport Continue
August 8, 2008
NBC 5 / KXAS-TV
McKINNEY, Texas -- The dream of commercial airline service in Collin County is apparently fading.
Expansion plans at the regional airport in McKinney continue, but there now seems to be little interest from commercial airlines.
With economic turbulence, Collin County Regional Airport finds itself navigating its desire for commercial air service with an industry that is in a tailspin.
In 2006, major airlines were courting the regional airport to provide passenger service based on the area's growth.
Studies backed up the predictions, but with a new runway and millions committed to the airports expansion, the idea of commercial flight has stalled.
McKinney's new city manager has taken a hard look at the airports plans and concluded that "smaller plane, less fuel consumptive, commercial air service that goes more directly to business and employment centers, may be the future for the airport."
For the foreseeable future, plans for 737 passenger aircraft taking off and landing are grounded.
Judge Keith Self said with the county's current growth rate, he prefers to think of commercial air service as on standby.
The airport’s board of directors and McKinney's City Council meet on Monday to discuss the airport's future.
City, Pegasus talk passenger service here
By Brandi Hart, McKinney Courier-Gazette
Monday, July 21, 2008
Passenger flights from Collin County Regional Airport may come to fruition sooner than people realize, as some city officials have been working with the Pegasus Associates, Inc. for the last 18 months to build a passenger terminal facility at the airport.
City officials and James Alderson, a Dallas attorney who worked as a property manager at D/FW International Airport 15 years ago, presented an unsolicited proposal to the city to build the passenger terminal. However, some council members are questioning the qualifications of Alderson and his partners at Dallas-based Pegasus Associates to actually building a passenger-service program from the ground up at a general aviation airport with no current passenger.
Alderson tried to develop a passenger terminal at the Piarco Rainbow International Airport in Trinidad in the early 1990s. However, the Airports Authority for Trinidad and Tobago did not accept Pegasus Associates’ proposal after members of the Trinidad Parliament questioned the bidding process.
Alderson's work at D/FW was as a property lender and business manager. He has also worked for AMR Services, he said. D/FW already had passenger service when Alderson worked at the airport.
When asked, Alderson said he and his partners have not created a passenger terminal and service from scratch.
Alderson said that he initially wanted to build a terminal at the CCRA after meeting a lawyer at the Abernathy, Roeder, Boyd, and Joplin law firm in McKinney, where his great-great-grandfather got his started. “I am related to the Abernathys in McKinney, and Larry Boyd told me that his law partner, Bob Roeder, was the most familiar person with the on-goings of the McKinney airport,” he said.
If approved by the city and the McKinney Airport Development Corporation, the CCRA passenger terminal would be built north of the airport. Pegasus Associates is proposing that the city own the land and the Pegasus would lease it during construction of the passenger terminal. Pegasus would convey the terminal to the city upon receipt of a certificate of occupancy, according to the most recent agreement between Pegasus Associates and the city.
The agreement also states that Pegasus wants complete control of the terminal; that the city could not bring in any competitors to manage the terminal; and that Pegasus could market the airport and terminal. The city could not control or direct Pegasus or its employees in operations and management of the terminal. Pegasus would have to provide periodic, but not monthly, marketing reports.
Pegasus is also proposing, according to the proposed agreement, that it not be responsible for any breach of security at the terminal, regardless of whether such breach is caused by an airline and those under its control. The city would be responsible for security, the agreement states.
The most recent agreement also states that Pegasus would keep all terminal revenue. The city would keep the revenue from the landing fees generated by passenger flights at the airport, and Pegasus would pay the city facility use fees.
The more I read his story, the more I wondered why anyone in McKinney was talking to these guys. I'd like to follow up on this when I can get some more information.
Can you say "sweetheart deal"?
Editorial: Frisco must offer alternatives to autos
Thursday, July 17, 2008
TDMN Suburban Editorial Board / Dallas Morning News
Many people in Frisco would consider public transportation out of place in the community, or at least a frill that should be at the bottom of the list of civic priorities.
But that's a narrow perspective blind to the broad needs of the community. It's a perspective of the here and now, as opposed to a vision that looks down the road.
A recent consultant's report on developing public transportation offers good starting points for city leaders to pursue.
The central theme is a solid one – helping to bring commuting options to residents. Considering the escalating cost of driving to work, the city would provide a valuable role by fostering ways of non-car travel.
The round trip cost of commuting from Frisco to downtown Dallas on the tollway has climbed to the $15 to $20 range, not including parking. (From Eldorado, figure $6.10 in tolls and $12 in gasoline in an efficient car.)
This kind of expense has become a quality-of-life-issue for Frisco-to-Dallas commuters. Over-the-road express buses, along the lines of Denton's commuter service to Dallas, would not only help individual residents, the service would help maintain the value of a Frisco address. Residents also told Frisco's consultant that they're interested in service to Plano and Lewisville.
Such routes could be operated by the city, by DART or by a private contractor, but City Hall has a role in making them happen.
According to a NCTCOG flier:
The Regional Transportation Council of the North Central Texas Council of Governments invites the public to learn what is happening with transportation in the region and help set priorities for the future at a public meeting on Thursday, July 17, 6:30 p.m. at the Allen City Hall.
RTC and NCTCOG staff will offer presentations and status reports on issues that will greatly affect Collin County's future. Public comment is permitted.
Regional Toll Revenue Funding Initiative
As a result of the S.H. 121 toll road agreement and upfront payment, the region received $3.3 billion to fund much-needed transportation projects.Project and funding recommendations for Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties will be presented.
Job Access/Reverse Commute and New Freedom Programs Call for Projects Results
Projects designed to transport residents to suburban employment opportunities or to transport low-income individuals to work or work-related activities were eligible for funds under the Job Access/Reverse Commute Program. The New Freedom Program supports new public transportation alternatives for persons with disabilities beyond those required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
AirCheckTexas Repair and Replacement Assistance
The AirCheckTexas Repair and Replacement Assistance Program offers financial assistance to repair or replace vehicles that fail the state emissions test or replace vehicles that are 10 years old or older. Staff will explain administrative changes planned for Fiscal Year 2009 that will make the application and voucher redemption processes simpler.
Rail North Texas
The Regional Transportation Council, elected officials and business leaders have explored potential funding sources to build an additional 250 miles of rail over the next 25 years. The RTC previously approved the rail expansion and seeks to have regional consensus about funding options before the 2009 legislative session. Information about the potential funding sources and the interactive worksheet used to evaluate funding sources will be presented for public comment.
The meeting will be held:
Thursday, July 17, 6:30 p.m.
Allen City Hall
305 Century Parkway
Allen, Texas 75013
A transportation consultant has recommended that Frisco launch a flex-route bus within the city, shuttle service to a Plano DART station and a commuter bus to downtown Dallas.
The consultant's proposal suggests a seven-year plan for launching public transit services, some of which could begin a year after adopting the plan. The City Council heard about the study last month but took no action.
Council member Tony Felker asked staff for a work session on the study.
"The sooner we look at options, the sooner we can start planning," Mr. Felker said.
Frisco has no public transportation system. Collin County Area Regional Transit stopped its free service in March. Frisco Shuttle, a private business that charges fares, started about the same time.
City Council members cited the high cost when voting to end the contract. CCART's 12-stop route cost Frisco $150,000 annually. Annual ridership in 2006 was 10,707, which amounted to $14 per ride.
City leaders said that low demand indicated that Frisco didn't need the service. But transit consultant John Bartosiewicz told the council that his work led him to a contradictory opinion.
The consultants looked at 11 cities that were demographically or economically comparable to Frisco, and 10 of them had comprehensive public transit systems. Community members interviewed expressed high interest in bringing a rail line to the city, Mr. Bartosiewicz said.
The report indicates that Collin County experienced a slower growth rate than in previous years. The County grew from 724,900 on January 1, 2007 to 748,050 on January 1, 2008. That translates into a 3.19% annual growth rate.
Lavon led the region with an almost 26% growth - adding 400 new residents. Melissa, Princeton and Fairview all sustained a double digit growth rate, while Farmersville, Lowry Crossing, Lucas and Parker grew by less than 2%.
McKinney gained the largest addition of people, adding 6,200 new souls to reach a 2008 population of 118,200. Plano and Frisco came close - each growing by more than 5,000 new residents.
According to the COG report, "North Central Texas has added 131,000 persons during 2007 for a January 1, 2008 total population of 6,538,850. This marks the twelfth consecutive year to add over 100,000 persons. A decrease in growth during 2007 can be explained by a slow down in new single-family completions."
"Over 40 percent of the region’s growth in 2007 was located in five cities. Dallas (1,300,350) led the region by adding 19,850 new residents. Fort Worth followed, adding 16,000 new residents, bringing the city’s total population to 702,850 persons. McKinney? (118,200) added 6,200 persons. Frisco pushed its total population to 97,600 by adding 5,500 residents. Plano (260,900) rounded out the top five in absolute growth by adding 5,200 persons."
"In 2007, single-family home construction slowed significantly across the region. Nearly 39,000 new single-family units were completed, which is 9,000 fewer than in 2006. On the other hand, the region saw a sizable increase in new multifamily units in 2007. Close to 11,600 multi-family units were added, up from 8,300 in 2006."
|Final Census 4/1/00||Revised Estimated Population 1/1/07||Estimated Population 1/1/08||Growth Rate 2007-2008|
|Remainder of Collin County||36,382||50,300||52,000||3.38%|
The Complete NCTCOG 2008 Current Population Estimates report can be downloaded here.
Data tables, presentations and other population information from NCTCOG can be found here.
There may be more than one way to bring transit service to non-DART cities in Collin County, says County Commissioner Joe Jaynes.
It doesn't have to be the assortment of new fees and/or taxes that regional transportation officials hope to pass in next year's Legislature, he says.
So why shouldn't cities go ahead now and look into non-tax possibilities for starting their own transit service to hook into DART rail in Plano?
Good question. In fact, they should.
Mr. Jaynes has shown leadership in inviting six cities – Plano, Allen, Fairview, McKinney, Melissa and Anna – to join the county in exploring possible business plans for new rail transit service. It would use the DART-owned right-of-way formerly known as the Union Pacific line. The line runs north from Plano, through Allen, Fairview and McKinney and into Sherman.
The proposal calls for the city councils to pass a joint resolution to advertise for consultants who would present different ideas – perhaps public-private partnerships. Ideally, the work would be paid for with a grant from the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
Mr. Jaynes has the right goal: to bring rail transit to commuters who want an alternative to sitting in traffic jams on North Central Expressway or wherever. Traffic will only get worse in hot-growth Collin County, and high gas prices only make matters worse. Plus, transit has demonstrated the economic benefit of attracting new development to its stations.
As for the best way to pay the considerable cost of laying track and building stations, the Regional Transportation Council should continue working with lawmakers to fashion a package of new fees and taxes to take to the Legislature next year.
Friday, June 20, 2008
By MICHAEL LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
Dallas-area rail passengers should probably get used to standing this summer.
For the second month in a row, DART light-rail and commuter trains drew more passengers than in the same month last year, according to numbers released by the transit agency Thursday.
The increase has made finding a seat on some business routes more difficult, DART officials said. And with gas prices expected to stay at or above $4 a gallon, it's not likely to get any easier.
" DART provided about 120,000 more rail trips last month than it did in May 2007, with most of that increase seen in light rail."
The overall increase in transit ridership has been modest, with bus ridership showing only a small gain in April and a small reduction last month. But DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said the busiest light-rail routes – including the morning Red Line train cars headed downtown – are seeing passenger loads up to about 1.25 times the available number of seats. That means that for every four people who have seats, another person will be standing.
That may not be ideal for the riders, but it is well within the agencies' guidelines for what makes a full train, Mr. Lyons said. A rail car isn't considered full, he said, until it reaches a ratio of about three passengers for every two seats.
A $190 million plan to switch out all of DART's 115 rail cars with larger light-rail cars will get under way this summer but won't be complete for two years, Mr. Lyons said. The new cars will have 25 more seats, plus bike racks and more room for people to stand.
Victor Manuel is the Democratic Party's nominee for Collin County Commissioner, Pct. 3, which is the post presently held by Commissioner Joe Jaynes.
I offered Mr. Manuel an opportunity to respond to Jaynes' column "Providing for rail".
The Collin County Observer published both Commissioner Jaynes' and Mr. Manuel's articles complete and unedited.
Response to "Providing for rail"
I stand amazed that our elected officials continue to be short-sighted and hands-off when it comes to long term planning in Collin County.
We are faced with a light rail mass transit system from DART that will cost hundreds of millions to extend from Plano into Frisco, McKinney, and beyond. The estimates are that it would take roughly $20 million to build 1 mile of rail line. This would place the dream of DART Rail expansion from Plano to McKinney? at over $200 million if we started now. Even Frisco would cost almost half of that amount. A rail line that services even half of the county could run into the billion dollar range.
The need is here today because gas is at $4 a gallon, but we need to plan for tomorrow, even if gas goes down in price. It takes more than knee-jerk reactions to the morning newspaper to build a better future for the county. We need a vision for all of our cities that will serve as a guideline for the future.
The benefits to rail expansion are very real. We are faced with the prospect of doubling the citizenship of Collin County by the year 2030, yet we have NO county-wide mass-transit system. In Dallas, the value of office properties that reside near DART Rail increased 53% more than comparative locations without rail service. Residential neighborhoods serviced by rail increased 39% in value more than other locations.
The University of North Texas Center for Economic Development and Research estimated more than $8.1 billion in economic activity stemmed from the North Texas region’s investment of $4.86 billion to build the current and planned rail systems. When we consider the growth potential of our future, it’s vital to consider how much the entire county will benefit from this planned expansion.
This is project that benefits the entire county, so we need to treat it as such. Can we afford it? Yes. Collin County’s Transportation Budget for 2008 is less than one fifteenth of the $255 million annual budget. This year’s budget increased only 1.84% over 2007, while the county’s revenue increased 11%. Even if we doubled that amount to support a bus and rail system, we would be well within our fiscal guidelines for the county.
The solution is simple. In order to kick off mass transit for Collin County, we need to concentrate on a bus system first, that allows all citizens to enjoy the benefits of mass transit while preparing for the rail system. And our County Commissioners need to step up to the plate and be prepared to use some of the windfall in our County budget to kick-start the rail system.
Opinion published in the Dallas Morning News
Sunday, June 15, 2008
As gasoline prices surpass $4 a gallon, it is becoming crucial to expand both light and commuter rail throughout Collin County.
As Collin County's representative to the Regional Transportation Council, I also sit on the Regional Rail Committee. However, I have a growing concern about the committee's discussions on how to finance rail expansion. At every meeting I have attended, the philosophy has been to raise this tax or increase this fee. Many of these increases have to deal with gas taxes, motor vehicle registration fees, increased sales taxes and even a new transportation tax.
In my view, especially with today's economy, these approaches are wholly unrealistic. Imagine asking voters to approve an increase in the gas tax in the hopes that in 10 or 20 years we can get rail expanded throughout the county. That is not something I can support.
There are better solutions.
First of all, rail – whether commuter or light – is expensive. I believe that local governments should make the necessary cuts to begin to provide for rail funding. For instance, if cities set aside a portion of their economic and community development sales taxes, it would be both a good start and set an excellent example of governmental entities working together to bring about much needed mass transit. Besides, without mass transit, in the long run, we run the risk of reduced economic and community development.
Local governments should also become active in buying real estate along rail corridors and using the development rights to attract private investors. Solutions like these should be thoroughly explored and then, if there are any shortfalls, voters should be approached to address those shortfalls.
In today's economic times, governmental entities are going to need to think outside the box and take steps to cover the costs of expensive but worthwhile projects such as rail. The current attitude of placing the costs squarely on the backs of taxpayers is a recipe for disaster that should be avoided at all costs.
Recently, I have recently met with representatives of the cities along the DART-owned line that runs from Plano through Anna. We will be sending out a request for a proposal to bring a consultant on board to develop a business plan and discuss methods and financing to expedite rail to this area. Collin County and its cities have to take a proactive approach. Just sitting and waiting on DART will not get the job done.
My goal is to see the day when the trains running north in the mornings are just as full of employees as the trains running south are today.
Republican Joe Jaynes, the only county commissioner facing an re-election opponent in November, is the county's representative to the RTC (Regional Transportation Council).
Jaynes makes several good points about the need for a rail mass transit system. However his financing plans, like most we've seen are way too vague and seem to me to be an attempt to shift the political and financial responsibility to someone else. Saying that "that local governments should make the necessary cuts to begin to provide for rail funding" is a cop out.
Rail will cost hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars. What is Collin County willing to do? What cuts are Collin County willing to make? Is the county prepared to go to the legislature with a concrete plan for using existing tax revenue to finance commuter rail? Is the county willing to use their spending discretions to force the local EDC's to give up revenue?
For some reason, I doubt it. For example, County Judge, Keith Self has made it clear that he will oppose any transit tax, and during his campaign, he stated he was opposed to subsidized commuter rail.
It's too easy to jump on a grandstand and preach that somebody else needs to cut services or expenses. Let's see the Collin County Commissioners Court come together and show some real leadership in hammering out a plan, selling it to themselves, to the cities, to the taxpayers and to the legislature.
The kind of changes in our local paradigms needed to solve our transportation issues will require courageous leadership. For a long time now, courageous leadership has been in short supply in Collin County government.
I note that in the article, the Dallas Morning News cites Joe's campaign website, but his taxpayer paid county email address. The use of the county email system for non-county business was an issue in Jaynes' primary race. I wish I could tell if this opinion piece was campaign rhetoric or the business of the commissioner.
If North Texans are going to see a new 251-mile network of suburban rail lines by 2030 – an idea that remains a cherished goal of elected officials and regional transportation leaders – they are going to have to pay for it, and pay steeply.
The project will cost about $9 billion – an amount that would be funded almost entirely by new fees and taxes.
The question of what those fees should be took center stage Thursday as the Regional Transportation Council voted to authorize a plan that will cobble together a menu of possible tax increases to pay for what is being called Rail North Texas.
Among the fees that the staff has proposed are higher property taxes, higher vehicle registration fees, a new sales tax on gasoline and a new tax on new car purchases, and a new resident impact fee, among others.
Between now and August, council members will meet with Texas lawmakers to find support for a menu that will produce the hundreds of millions of dollars needed each year while drawing the lowest possible amount of opposition from lawmakers and voters alike.
Several elected officials who spoke Thursday said public support for the rail idea has only increased in the wake of worsening traffic and soaring gas prices. But as always, the question came down to how to pay for it.
Plans had initially called for the rail expansion to be paid for by sales tax increases, a funding source that would require legislative approval. That idea – which would allow cities to hold sales tax elections to raise rates above the state cap of 8.25 percent – has failed in each of the past two sessions of the Legislature.
DART comes up a billion bucks short, no worries. DART gets sued by a taxpayer for $5,000, watch the lawyers fly.
By Jim Schutze / The Dallas Observer
June 12, 2008
Sorry, but every once in a while life just hits you over the head. Dallas Area Rapid Transit finds out it's short a billion dollars on its construction budget. No big deal. Don't sweat it.
This is a story about a guy whose house has been repeatedly damaged by flooding because DART built a parking garage that acts like a river dam across the alley from him. DART is playing super-hardball on his damages.
But DART's not up for hardball when its own money is in question. You already know about DART's incredible billion-dollar budget shortfall. In November of last year, DART revealed that costs for new rail lines were suddenly a billion dollars more than what the agency had in its budget—twice the budgeted amount!
It was a shock. State legislators and city council members and citizens were insisting that DART be subjected to an outside audit to find out why DART was suddenly a billion short. But by the time the DART board got done schmoozing and cutting deals, the whole billion-dollar boo-boo was forgotten and forgiven.
No outside audit. Nothing. Find out why the budget is suddenly off by a billion dollars? Too much trouble. But pay this poor guy five grand for the damage to his house? No way. DART's all hard-core about that.
RTC subcommittee considers tax increases to fund regional rail system
By Brandi Hart, McKinney Courier-Gazette
Monday, June 9, 2008
Members of the North Central Texas Council of Governments’ Regional Transportation Council subcommittee are considering using one-eighth of 1 cent sales tax, or some form of a tax, to pay for rail expansion in Collin County and throughout North Central Texas.
Partnership Committee members are proposing using one-eighth of 1 cent in sales tax from cities that have economic development corporations, or a 4A corporation, and community development corporations, or a 4B corporation, to pay for rail service in those cities.
Voters would have to approve spending one-eighth of 1 cent sales tax to be used for rail service. The McKinney Economic Development Corp. and the McKinney Community Development Corp. are both funded by one-half of 1 cent sales tax.
The one-eighth of 1 cent sales tax is one of nine funding options that all involve a tax of some form to pay for a regional rail and bus transportation system that would serve nine counties in North Central Texas. The other options include a vehicle mileage tax, which the city of Portland, Ore. uses that tracks the mileage of a vehicle; a gas sales tax; a motor vehicle sales tax; a voter registration fee; a local option gas tax; a new resident fee; a local subsidiary option; and a transportation property tax. The counties being considered to help fund the regional rail system are Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Johnson, Kaufman, Parker, Rockwall and Tarrant counties.
The funding options are outlined on the NCTCOG’s Web site www.nctcog.org/rnt, which includes the Rail North Texas Worksheet where people can choose an amount of tax to allocate to fund the NCTCOG’s $428 million regional rail system.
Collin County Commissioner for Precinct 3 Joe Jaynes, who is a member of the RTC, has attended the rail sub-committee meetings where some RTC members have suggested increasing the gas tax to pay for a regional rail system. Jaynes is against all tax increase proposals to pay for the regional rail system, he said. Jaynes does not want to increase the gas tax to fund a regional rail committee because he doesn’t want to further burden taxpayers who are already paying $4 a gallon for gas. “I think the government should bring something to the table. Before we get rail service, government has got to make some cuts. The second option for funding would be to get private investors before we increase any taxes to pay for rail service. The legislature always diverts money from the gas tax revenue to the general fund and we had $3 million in gas tax revenue last year,” Jaynes said.
How high do gas prices have to go before we get serious about mass transit?
How bad does the air we breathe have to get?
How gridlocked must the High Five be?
How high must tolls go?
How much longer will we have to wait for politicians to come up with and sell a working plan for regional mass transportation?
New Sunset report calls for end to TTC: Paxton said legislation to replace commission with chairman could pass
BY DANNY GALLAGHER, McKinney Courier-Gazette
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
A new report from the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission places some heavy criticism on the Texas Department of Transportation and calls for the abolishment of the Texas Transportation Commission.
The 157 page report released earlier this week proposes a four year plan in which the five-member TTC panel would be replaced by a single commissioner and control over TxDOT would return to the Texas Legislature “where it belongs.”
The Sunset Commission, founded in 1977, conducts reviews all of state agencies every 12 years in an effort “to identify and eliminate waste, duplication and inefficiency in government agencies,” according to their website.
The latest TxDOT report characterized the state agency as a distrustful group that ignores public opinion and pushes its own agenda with very little government oversight or accountability.
“Many expressed concerns that TxDOT was ‘out of control,’ advancing its own agenda against objections of both the Legislature and the public,” the report said in its opening summary. “Sunset staff found that this atmosphere of distrust permeated most of TxDOT’s actions and determined that it could not be an effective state transportation agency if trust and confidence were not restored. Significant changes are needed to begin this restoration; tweaking the status quo is simply not enough.”
The report offers a four-year proposal followed by another review that aims to bring greater government control over the agency and reduce or eliminate certain spending measures that can go back into the state’s highway fund. The most radical proposal is the elimination of the TTC. The report lists the suggestion under the issue heading, “Until trust in the Texas Department of Transportation is restored, the state cannot move forward to effectively meet its growing transportation needs.”
The SAC suggests replacing the TTC with a single “Commissioner of Transportation” and creating a transportation legislative oversight committee that will review and comment on TxDOT’s activities, programs and spending.
With palpable pain at the gas pump, many North Texans can thank their good fortune that they have the option to commute by rail. They can board a DART train along 45 miles of the Red Line or Blue Line and give no thought to the price of gas.
In 2010, the 28-mile Green Line will open and extend the rail option to riders from Carrollton to Fair Park and Pleasant Grove. Denton County's transit agency will hook into the network the same year. DART's Orange Line will start service to Irving in 2011.
The commuting picture is far different for hundreds of thousands of others. For them, the future cost of car travel could be financially ruinous, but transit agencies lack the money to build rail service to them.
The region must work with urgency to change that picture. Public officials, especially state lawmakers, should get wise to the implications of the spiking cost of gasoline. It will be a matter of economic survival for many families.
North Texas' Regional Transportation Council has been working to update a financial plan to build more rail – nearly 250 miles – to a ring of cities including Frisco, McKinney, Mesquite and Dallas' southern suburbs.
Meeting Tuesday night at Murphy City Hall, the Commissioners Court sent a strong message to the NCTCOG, TxDOT and NTTA by voting to rescind their support for a Collin/Denton County line alignment for the next phase of the Dallas North Tollway expansion.
Judge Keith Self spoke of the huge economic impact of moving the tollway into Collin County. Commissioner Jack Hatchell noted that, "Denton County does not want to cooperate".
In another unanimous vote, the Court approved beginning the process to create a Collin County Toll Road Authority. If the CTRA is in fact authorized, it would allow the county to have the right to build and operate their own tollroads. The law that created CTRA's permits a CTRA to build tollroads without getting any approval from NCTCOG or TxDOT.
The court also will accelerate the choosing of the county's two representatives on the NTTA board.
The court is reacting to their frustration with NCTCOG, and the RTC in getting our fair share of the SH 121 revenues. There is a growing feeling that Collin County is being shortchanged in the allocation of the revenue.
While TxDOT is sitting on over $3.2 billion from the SH 121 CDA, local officials are being told that they may not receive as much as they were led to believe, and that what they receive and how it will be spent, may be determined by regional priorities. In other words the county will loose a large part of its ability to set priorities.
Several on the court had eyed the SH 121 funds as a means to jump-start the Outer Loop project. The last legislature, reacting to a public outcry over the Trans Texas Corridor has pretty much halted any progress on the Outer Loop, which would connect to the TTC on 2 ends.
This battle of wills between Collin County and the RTC is far from over. Next January, the Texas Legislature will begin its 81st session. They are expected to take up the issues of highway funding, toll road expansion and the Trans Texas Corridor. What they will do, and what it's effect on Collin County are huge unknowns.
The court's actions tonight were akin to firing over the bow of a ship. Yes, the first shots have been fired, but the outcome is anyone's guess.
By Stephanie Flemmons, Plano Star Courier
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
In an unanimous vote the Collin County Commissioners agreed to rescind a 2005 resolution sharing the Dallas North Tollway expansion with Denton County.
County Judge Keith Self explained to the commissioners the huge economic incentives Collin County receives from the DNT.
Self said studies were conducted breaking the DNT’s current and expansion projects into four sections.
The first part from 635 to George Bush is now worth $9 billion in economic development, Self said. The section from George Bush to 121 is worth $6 million and the DNT phase 3 up to 380 is worth $5 billion.
Self said phase 4, which is yet to be complete, is already worth $500 million.
“You can tell the DNT is a tremendous economic generator,” Self said. “This is a huge powerhouse. This makes us realize the 2005 resolution should be rescinded.” Self also explained to the commissioners he felt confident property owners a little further east into Collin County will work with county officials to purchase right of ways.
Commissioner Joe Jaynes said the court always intended to keep the roadway in Collin County for economic benefits to the citizens.
North Texas Tollway Authority officials addressed the commissioners on future planning for toll road extensions.
Other Media coverage:
Dallas Morning News - Collin County won't share tollway with Denton County
McKinney Courier-Gazette - Collin County rescinds DNT resolution; Denton County claims bad move
Michael Morris has a reputation of being both a wheeler dealer and the ultimate highway Tzar for North Central Texas. While he is widely respected for his knowledge of how to structure and broker complex highway funding deals, he is royally screwing Collin County out of the money it was promised from the SH 121 CDA.
I hope the Commissioners put a lot of pressure on NCTCOG to rein in Morris's and the RTC's excesses and to return Collin County's just share of the SH121 toll revenue. We were promised a prime steak - we got tripe soup.
Leaders come to defense of DFW transportation chief
By GORDON DICKSON
Fort Worth Star-Telegram staff writer
Friday, May. 09, 2008
We like Michael. That's the message from dozens of Metroplex leaders who made it clear this week that they're happy with the work of Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
The message is a response to rumors that a few Collin County officials are quietly lobbying to have Morris fired. Although the Collin County officials haven't spoken against him publicly, the scuttlebutt is that they're unhappy with recent negotiations over two toll projects under construction: Texas 121 north of Grapevine and Texas 161 in Grand Prairie.
Morris negotiated both deals. He is credited -- or blamed -- with forcing the Plano-based North Texas Tollway Authority to pay top dollar for the projects. The authority agreed to pay $3.2 billion for Texas 121 and is studying whether to pay $548 million for Texas 161. Only a small fraction of that windfall will go to Collin County. The rest will pay for roads across the region.
Morris' supporters say they acted quickly to nip the clandestine anti-Morris campaign in the bud. Three agencies -- the Regional Transportation Council, Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition and Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition -- passed resolutions expressing confidence in him.
Over the years, suburban citizens become very skeptical about DART's ability to keep up with the demand for public transportation. They seem incapable of doing anything in under 30 years (except building themselves million dollar conference rooms and engineering new scandals).
As readers of this blog are aware, I've also been critical of the proliferation of toll roads in our county. It is sad but true that we are viewed as a "cash cow" by TxDOT - their attitude is that a rich Collin County can afford the tolls to build infrastructure for the entire North Texas region.
And I don't see how privatizing our roadways will move more people from their homes to work and school. Instead toll roads merely add another level of taxation, leaving those unable to afford the tolls to be forced to increasingly 2nd class roads.
However, I could support tolls if the money generated was used to really remediate the mobility problems caused by our rapid growth. One such remediation would be to use toll revenue to build a mass transit infrastructure. That idea makes sense.
Rail can move more people and do it with less pollution than any other mass transit method. While I still have reservations about public-private transportation schemes, I applaud the kind of forward thinking that is being discussed for utilizing the Cotton Belt Line, and I hope we will hear more of these ideas being debated in the public arena.
ICCB - Cities unite to expedite rail service on Cotton Belt
May 07, 2008
Stewart James / Inside Collin County Business
by Stewart James
Gas prices are surging and freeways are becoming increasingly more congested yet the largest east/west undeveloped rail line owned by a public transit authority in the U.S. remains undeveloped.
“As I understand it, this is the longest stretch of rail line in the country that is presently owned by a transit authority that is not developed,” said Ron Whitehead, city manager of the Town of Addison.
The Cotton Belt line is a 52-mile, east/west rail line that connects Wylie to Fort Worth and has been owned by DART since 1990. DART has the intention of developing this freight rail line into a commuter rail sometime in its 2030 plan.
Cities along the Cotton Belt are being informed and urged to request the North Central Texas Council of Government (NCTCOG) to undergo a study to determine whether potential exists to attract a comprehensive development agreement from a private firm to develop the Cotton Belt line into a commuter rail. The city managers of Addison and Richardson along with the former city manager of Irving have been spearheading the initiative.
“So far, we have visited with Plano, Richardson, Addison, Coppell, Carrollton, Grapevine, Dallas, DART, DFW Airport and have had preliminary conversations with North Richland Hills,” Whitehead said.
“We are going to get a request in the next few weeks,” said Michael Morris, PE, Director, NCTCOG. “We are going to implement a study to see if we can advance the Cotton Belt rail line at least 10 years. What we are going to do is look at several funding sources to do that. One is the use of toll road revenue and another is the use of public/private sector partnership.”
Morris believes a study could be underway by late summer and will be a year-long effort.
“We probably will not have to wait for the whole study to be done in order to implement some portions of what it is we do,” Morris said. "This project is still in its infancy and a number of questions still need to be answered. With the cooperation of DART, the painstaking task of securing right of way is already complete."
“Everyone realizes that there are technology questions and other question that we need to answer about funding,” Whitehead said. “We are trying to see if there are some opportunities for perhaps public/private partnerships that might expedite the line. Right now it is in the 2030 plan and what we would like to do is expedite that project and think that we can do that.”
As big as they're getting, Frisco will surely need another toll road.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
By JIM GETZ / The Dallas Morning News
Frisco, welcome to the 100,000 club.
Despite slowing growth, Frisco has become the 12th city in the Dallas-Fort Worth region that is home to at least 100,000 residents, according to city and U.S. Census estimates.
In only eight years since the 2000 U.S. Census — when it registered 33,714 residents — the city has nearly tripled in size. The city reached the milestone sometime in April, city officials said, though it’s not sure when or who the 100,000th resident is.
Frisco joins only 27 other Texas cities to hit the six-figure mark. But beyond being the population equivalent of an odometer rollover, what does it all mean?
“It’s a recognition from other cities, about being respected, listened to, and being partnered with,” said Mayor Mike Simpson, who has overseen the city’s rapid growth since he took office in 2002.
Growth came to Frisco at lightning speed. John Lettelleir, the city’s planning and development services director, recalls seeing a 1991 comprehensive plan with a population estimate for the year 2020: It was 26,000.
At the annual TxDOT Forum, Governor Rick Perry urged the participants to "be willing to get a bloody nose for a good idea" in fighting to gain legislative approval of the Trans-Texas Corridor and privately financed toll roads.
He also called on the legislature to, "end its addiction to gas tax money", saying, "We cannot afford for 2009 to be another 2007".
Perry's speech is an important document - it sets the stage for what promises to be a monumental legislative battle over the future direction of Texas highway construction. (The next legislature will convene in 2009)
While the citizens did approve a constitutional amendment authorizing the TTC, popular protests and rural opposition caused the legislature to rein in most new toll projects. (The legislature exempted the DFW area from the toll moratorium: because of that, the last year the region has seen the birth of 3 profit making toll roads - SH 121, The Trinity Parkway, and SH 161)
As the November election date nears, there will be some real debates and polarization between candidates for the Texas House and Senate. I believe the outcome of these debates will set the direction Texas will follow in building new roads.
Sadly, there will be no legislative debates in Collin County. All our legislative incumbents are running for re-election unopposed.
I received an email from CorridorWatch, a grass roots organization opposed to the Trans-Texas Corridor and of private ownership of public roads, which responded to the Governor's speech to TxDOT.
In order to present both sides of this issue that will NOT be debated in Collin County, but which profoundly affects our county, I am posting here both the complete text of Rick Perry's address, and of CorridorWatch's response.
|Texas Governor Perry Addresses TxDOT's Transportation Forum||CorridorWatch Comments on the Governor's Speech|
Thank you, Ned [Holmes, commissioner of the Texas Transportation Commission] for that kind introduction and for having me here today. I also want to commend Amadeo [Saenz] for your work leading this organization through one of the most challenging times in its history.
TXDOT has certainly been spending some time in the public eye, but this place is about big challenges, not big excuses. And I'm convinced that this team can handle the heat. Road builders are cut from a different cloth. It takes a person of vision to look at a state, analyze the growth trends, understand the infrastructure needs, and offer a plan to move people around that haven't even been born yet.
That kind of planning can sometimes puzzle those individuals of limited perspective. As you know, my good friend, Ric Williamson, was such a visionary. So that often put him at cross-purposes with infrastructure needs through the lens of the next 2 years, instead of looking at the next 20 or 30 or 40 years. With his passing, we certainly lost a clear, passionate voice, but the challenges that he vigorously fought to overcome have not gone away.
If anything, those challenges have grown larger, and this moment in time finds us at a crossroads. Our population continues to grow by roughly 1,500 people per day. For you Aggies in the audience, that means we could fill Kyle Field up with newcomers every 55 days, or fill it up 66 times in the next ten years.
That's a whole lot of people with a whole lot of needs, but that's not the only factor in play. We're also dealing with a funding crisis brought on by a less-than-reliable federal gas tax system. inflation at the national level for everything from materials to labor, and the fact that the bondspassed in 2003 have been spent. As of right now, TxDOT construction lettings are projected to be half of what they were in 2005.
That is not what I call progress. It's what I call a problem.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I travel around Texas and the country, one of the things I enjoy the most is bragging about the Texas economy. Texas is leading the nation in job growth and has been voted the top state in the nation to do business. Just yesterday, I read where we are now the leading state in the nation for corporate headquarters, recently surpassing New York.
Companies are moving to Texas in droves, creating thousands of new jobs for our people and investing billions in our economy. If we can't find a way to move their goods, services and workers around this state, they will leave just as fast.
The simple truth is: When it comes to roads, we need more of them.
Because I'm sure as heck not going to stop inviting companies to relocate their operations to our state. Those jobs mean income for Texas families, tax revenues for local communities, and a continually rising economic tide. And good roads mean a better quality of life for our citizens.
Unfortunately, folks on the various sides of this issue have lost sight of these simple facts. Too often, we have seen the issue of road construction driven by emotion, rather than reason. When this happens, honest debate is stifled, and solutions are sacrificed at the altar of politics.
Just a few short years ago, we made significant progress on the challenge of building our transportation infrastructure. I would argue, in fact, that we changed the ages-old paradigm of how Texas does transportation. We brought local communities to the table through our regional planning authorities. We instituted bonding so local authorities could leverage toll roads and make their tax dollars go even further. We invited the private sector into the conversation for market-driven solutions to the funding challenge. This was progress and it works.
I want everyone within earshot to understand that we cannot assume this problem will fix itself. And while I am looking forward to addressing this issue when the legislature meets in 2009, the state cannot afford a repeat of 2007. Members of the legislature must understand that "no" is not a solution to this challenge. It is an abdication of responsibility.
Instead, we need to innovate. We need to thoughtfully debate. And we need to bring all ideas to the table to tackle the overwhelming need our state faces. And we already have some pretty innovative ideas on the table.
A decade ago, if I would have told you that there was a way to pay for all the roads you wanted, if I had talked about a group of people who are dying to compete for the chance to spend their money to build your roads, you would have told me I'd lost my mind. With all your experience in financing and building roads, you would have thought such a thing too good to be true. But it is true.
There are many, many financial institutions out there ready and willing to invest in Texas roads, willing to pay for the roads we need but can't afford, in exchange for the opportunity to recover their investment and make a profit over time. In fact, last month, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters publicly estimated that there are roughly $400 billion dollars in private money available worldwide for public infrastructure projects. That's billion with a "b."
In Texas, we pursue private money to build our communications infrastructure, we leverage private money to build our rail infrastructure, and we welcome private investment from overseas if it means putting up a plant for Toyota or Samsung. So why in the world shouldn't we pursue private funds to help us build roads?
I am convinced that private dollars, administered through private-public partnerships, are a significant part of the answer to our transportation infrastructure challenge. I also believe the legislature should break its addiction to gas tax money and insist it be spent on transportation and transportation alone. That will be a great first step, but not the only step.
We Texans are at the wheel of a powerhouse economy that is racing forward at record speeds. As our growth accelerates, our needs do as well. We do not fulfill the public trust if we waste our time arguing over millions when our needs are in the billions. We are stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime and hurting our state in the process.
So we need to innovate. And I'll step up and say it's possible we haven't thought of every single solution to our infrastructure challenges. That door is open for a better idea. I'm intrigued by Senator Ogden's idea of finding a way to give our Texas pension funds first chance to invest in Texas roads. I think this idea is loaded with promise. As the next session approaches, I look forward to discussing it and other ways to fund our road construction. The Senator's creativity is a great example of how to approach the issue.
I also believe additional bonding can be part of a greater solution. However, until that greater solution, that long term strategy, becomes more clear, I am not willing to allow this state to just go further into debt. Running up the credit card just pushes back the greater problem for two more years. I say no more band-aids. No more short-term fixes. Texas needs long-term solutions and a long-term strategy and Texas needs it now.
I am fully committed to working with the legislature to find that long-term sustainable solution. Leaders like Lt. Governor Dewhurst and Speaker Craddick have shown they have what it takes to tackle tough problems. We have done so together in the past with tough issues like medical malpractice reform, balancing the budget in times of deficit, and finding solutions to school finance. I am confident that we can work together to solve this great challenge too.
By advancing toward solutions and, ultimately, solving this challenge, we will make a better tomorrow for the state we all love so much. I encourage you to stay engaged, bring your best ideas to the table and be willing to get a bloody nose every once in a while for a noble idea. Otherwise, we'll just watch the world pass us by as jobs, citizens and investment hit the open road for more favorable conditions.
That has never been the Texas way and, God willing, never will be.
Thank you for all you do. May God bless you and, through you, may He continue to bless the great state of Texas
|Today Governor Perry used the podium at a TxDOT conference to deliver a verbal assault on the Texas Legislature and every citizen of Texas.
We can certainly agree that the last few years have been challenging times at TxDOT. Finally, TxDOT is in the public eye, and the result so far has been a real poke in the eye to anyone looking.
The heat TxDOT receives today is the direct result of the direction they have been forced to take by two powerful men, Governor Rick Perry and his late best friend Ric Williamson. It is their planning, not TxDOT's, that has people puzzled. It is their insistence that a projected population growth somehow justifies anything they want to do, anywhere they want to do it, using any financial scheme available. It's building roads from where no one lives to where no one works that leaves us puzzled. No matter how many Aggies you put in Kyle Field you still don't need a 1/4-mile wide Trans Texas Corridor in Pecos County.
Yes, companies are moving to Texas in droves, but will they continue to find our state as inviting when the toll cost of driving to work or moving their goods to market skyrockets? Texas is a big state and tolls here will add up to big money in a big hurry.
Perry accuses the legislature of abdicating their responsibility when in fact they are among the few who are acting responsibly.
We believe the Governor's headlong rush to public-private partnerships could lead to disaster. Wall Street firms are just now starting to describe these deals as financially-engineered infrastructure models that should raise great concern. We agree. Does anyone remember the marvelous financial model that led to the rise and fall of Enron?
Today Perry described this private financing as something that you would have thought too good to be true. Then claims, "But it is true." Really? And if Texas is such a powerhouse economy why is it that the only way we can afford to build highways is with one of these private partners?
We have not lost sight of the facts, even though they are hard to find among the something for nothing public-private partnership rhetoric. And when was there ever any honest debate to stifle? When was there any debate?
One thing we know for sure is that market-driven solutions will, by design, produce the highest possible tolls to maximize revenue. A good deal if your on the collection side of these state sanctioned monopolies. Not so good for the traveling public and those who will pay the added cost for goods and services using these maximized toll roads.
Yes, we need to address transportation finance. But in that process the citizens of this state should have a say in what they want and what they are willing to pay for. Somehow we ended up with the Governor dictating what we need and how we'll get it. In the process we completely lost our ability to control the price we will pay for what he is buying. Seems Perry and Peters knows what's best for us. You can call it politics Mr. Perry, but that's how we the citizens have our say. We elected those legislators and we expect them to represent us, and sometimes that means saying no.
We have a lot of needs in this state, better and safer roads are certainly high on the list, but so is education, and a few dozen other items. Rumor has it that our population is booming. It's hard to believe that the only thing all those new Texans will need are toll roads.
Maybe we do need toll roads. If so lets have that discussion, maybe even a vote, and lets be reasonable in the process. How about a return to accountability and transparency in the way we propose projects like the Trans-Texas Corridor?
The Governor's good sound bites will leave a bad taste in our mouths for decades to come. As always the devil is in the details. Details that Perry brushes aside. There is no free lunch and there is certainly no free highway. No matter how you get it built it is the citizens of Texas who will pay the tab. We can pay it though a direct tax we have control of or pay it along with a profit to a private monopoly that we have no control over. In either case we deserve to have a say.
The real innovation that the Governor has proposed is turning our highways into the state's largest and least controllable taxing machine. Ensuring that we, our children, and grand children will be producing revenue for the state and their public-private partners long after Governor Perry has left the stage.
When I saw the link, "US Rep. Johnson: Toll roads are here to stay.", I first though, "Gee, Sam Johnson (R-3rd TX) woke up and is finally paying attention to our roads!".
I clearly remember his only comment during this year's Collin County Transportation Summit was that he thought DART was a threat to our society and ought to be outlawed.
However, it turns out this Rep. Johnson is Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-30th TX) whose Dallas district has maybe 3 miles of tolled highway. She says that recently deceased TxDOT Commissioner Ric Williamson convinced her that privately financed roadways like the Citras' Trans-Texas Corridor and SH 121 publicly financed roads are essential to paying for our neglected infrastructure.
Well you don't say!. I sure as heck think she's wrong. We need get our highway dollars out of the general fund and back into our highways, and we need a major investment in public transportation.
There's enough tolls already here in Collin County. I'll grant you that perhaps the 30th congressional district needs a good, long, expensive toll road.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson: Tolls are here to stay
Monday, April 21, 2008
Michael Lindenberger / The Dallas Morning News Metro Blog
Toll roads are going to be part of North Texas' future -- and the country's -- whether drivers, or even lawmakers, like it or not.
That was one message delivered Monday morning by U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, in an address to the Transportation Forum in Austin, an annual confab for more than 1,000 planners, road-builders, and assorted money people.
"Let's face the real facts, there is not enough money," Rep. Johnson said. With the country's infrastructure -- including water pipes, sewers, roads, bridges and more -- in bad repair, she said the federal government is going to be looking for every penny it can find to foot the looming bills.
So when it comes to building roads, the answer is going to have to include more toll roads -- not just here, but all across the USA, she said. "Our road capacity has to increase, and I came to realize that without new tolls, we aren't going to get any more roads at all."
Rep. Johnson, a Democrat and the state's most powerful House member on transportation issues, said she spoke often Texas Transportation chairman Ric Williamson before his death in December. Mr. Williamson had convinced her to give toll roads -- and private toll contracts like the one Cintra had initially won to build State Highway 121 -- a second look.
She's now convinced that both tools are essential for America to pay for its aging infrastructure, and to build new roads and other facilities to cope with population growth in areas like Dallas.
"We Texans don't like change too well," she said. "And a lot of us get sort of up in arms over the idea of new tolls. But there is no other way."
DMN - Dewhurst doesn't rule out giving locals right to bust sales tax cap for transit, transportationApril 21st, 2008
Dewhurst doesn't rule out giving locals right to bust sales tax cap for transit, transportation
Mon, Apr 21, 2008
Michael Lindenberger / The Dallas Morning News Metro Blog
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said in an interview in Austin Monday that he is not opposed to giving local voters a chance to vote themselves higher sales taxes to pay for transportation or transit improvements.
Stopping short of promising to support the measure, which has twice failed in previous sessions of the Legislature, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst said it's possible he would support giving local governments the right to hold sales tax elections that would bust the state's sales tax cap of 8.25 percent to raise funds for transit, or even highway, projects.
"It's a Democratic process up here, and representatives from Houston, Dallas and North Texas have all come to ask for legislation that would put it up to a local vote," Lt. Gov. Dewhurst said. "The elected officials that have come to me asking for the legislation to increase the local jurisdictions' sales tax cap to invest in highways and transit want to make it subject to a vote of the people. They want the people to decide. They have all felt that if you put it on the ballot, it would pass."
"No roads, slow roads, or toll roads" So spoke Robert Black, Gov. Rick Perry's spokesman earlier this week.
Black was interviewed by the New York Times on Monday for an article about New Jersey's plan to reduce the state deficit by tolling highways.
The Times quoted Black as saying, "We’ve got three choices in this: no roads, slow roads and toll roads. Tolls have to be part of the solution, whether it be this state or any other state, simply because there is no other revenue stream out there. So any kind of outside-the-box thing is welcome at this point because you can’t do things the way you have in the past.”
No other revenue stream?
How about state gasoline taxes? Texas currently sets aside 25% of the state gas tax revenue for schools. Of the remaining 75%, about 10% goes into the general fund, leaving only 65% of gas taxes for highways.
How about federal gasoline taxes? Texans only get back 86% of the US gasoline taxes they paid in federal highway dollars.
How about the state motor oil tax? The battery tax? The oil production tax? The auto rental tax? The vehicle sales tax? The vehicle registration fee? All these taxes and more are imposed on Texas drivers, but little of the revenue goes to highway construction.
Was Brown merely parroting U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters? The Seattle Times reported last week that Peters wants to, "to lower gas taxes".
"But in return, drivers would pay tolls on highways around the country, under a 'congestion-pricing' system. Tolls would rise in heavy traffic and drop in light traffic, in an effort to reduce congestion at peak times."
The Seattle paper reported that, "Peters aired her views Friday to the Washington Roundtable, a group of business executives who have backed transportation campaigns. She argued that Americans lack "investor confidence" in higher gasoline taxes, because she said the money is spent inefficiently and hasn't reduced congestion.
Peters offered New York City and Seattle grant funds to implement congestion-price tolling.
Similar schemes are proposed for Dallas and Collin County "mobility lanes". The tolls for these roads would rise during peak periods, eventually reaching up to a dollar per mile. Plans call for mobility lanes to be constructed along I-635 and US-75, Central Expressway.
The toll agreement for SH-121 also allows for "congestion" pricing on SH-121 after year 2010.
Collin County toll roads include the Dallas North Tollway, George Bush Tollway and SH-121. Add in the outer loop and the TTI, and that's a whole lot of toll roads!
Tolls are a tax, and Collin County is going to bear an unfair proportion of the Texas toll and highway tax burden.
Other States Keep an Eye on Corzine's Uphill Trek, The New York Times, April 13, 2008
Transportation chief says tolls should replace federal gas tax, The Seattle Times, April 5, 2008
Lexus Lanes - And you thought $3 gas was expensive?, CCO, Nov. 15, 2007
Lexus Lanes, Part 2: the new Rules of the Road, CCO, Nov. 17, 2007
Carona: We will Love our new tollroads!, CCO, Feb. 29, 2008
Texas Annual Cash Report, 2007, Susan Combs, Tx Comptroller of Public Accounts
Dallas Morning News editorial
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Pardon the frustration with local transportation policymakers. But frustration is a predictable reaction when someone ignores or forgets a homework assignment.
Members of a 28-member committee planning an expanded regional rail transit network were supposed to roll up their sleeves last week and map out a revised funding package to take to state lawmakers.
One fatal problem: Only two transportation officials stepped forward to put out a firm proposal.
The rest had the look of students who came to class unprepared. They talked in generalities about their preferences and problems, and the work session trailed off to ... a decision to hold another meeting.
This is no way to build a railroad. Planners are in danger of missing any reasonable deadline for hammering out a position. If things drag on toward summer, it might be impossible for local officials to reach consensus with legislators early enough for next year's lawmaking session.
That level of failure would offend a four-year effort across North Texas to build a transit system that keeps pace with galloping population growth, especially in the outer ring of suburbs.
The action – or inaction, as it were – is at North Texas' 40-member Regional Transportation Council, made up mostly of elected officials from across the region. The council has tasked a committee with finding alternative ways to pay for adding 250 miles to the local rail network over 25 years.
It would be interesting to know why these Collin and Dallas County officials believe it will take 15 to 25 years and "up to a penny" in sales tax to construct a rail line, when the Denton County Transit Authority figured out how to go from enabling legislation to a rail link in only 10 years and with a half cent sales tax.
Perhaps our leaders should go to night school up in Denton. (If they can get through the traffic)
Officials struggle over how to fund suburban rail network
Thursday, April 10, 2008
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
Elected officials and business leaders appeared no closer to a consensus Thursday over how to find at least $400 million it would take annually to pay for a huge suburban rail network.
A push to get the Legislature to permit cities to increase sales taxes by up to a penny to pay for the 239-mile rail network has failed in the past two sessions, but supporters insist the plan is more necessary than ever. Many of its key backers are pressing to put the issue before the Legislature again next year, though key Dallas area senators have said it is likely to fail again.
Thursday's meeting in Arlington only underscored the deep differences between elected officials and leading business interests over how to pay for the plan.
"I don't think that there is a snowball's chance in you know where that the people of Collin County would support a sales tax increase,"
Plano City Council member Loretta Ellerbe.
Top businesses, including Texas Instruments and other North Texas corporate leaders, have flatly opposed an increase of any amount to the sales tax rates.
Bill Alloway, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, said told those gathered Thursday that the business community remains flatly opposed to any sales tax increase. In a statement distributed at the meeting, the association said, "the case for increasing the cap on local sales taxes has not been made. We will continue to oppose any increase in that cap in light of the compelling state interest in the sales tax and the existence of other viable local options."
There were wide differences between elected officials as well.
"I don't think that there is a snowball's chance in you know where that the people of Collin County would support a sales tax increase," said Plano City Council member Loretta Ellerbe.
The leaders narrowed funding options to five options, and will meet again April 28 to discuss them. Those options range from continuing to push for a sales tax increase, to raising property taxes, to imposing car registration fees of more than $100.
The suburban rail service, if funded, would begin operating in 2025, or perhaps 2030, its backers said.
Editorial: New North Texas rail concept has promise
Plan involving private investment is promising
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Dallas Morning News Editorial
A novel and intriguing approach is in the works for developing a wider North Texas rail transit network. It's one worth watching.
The concept calls for multi-city compacts that would form around specific rail corridors and target private partners for financing. This might be the type of focused, politically nimble effort needed to expedite rail links that would otherwise remain on the drawing board.
One of the lines would run east-west from Richardson and Plano to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Those cities would band together with Dallas, Addison, Carrollton, Coppell and Grapevine. (Farther west, the line would extend into Fort Worth.)
Known as the Cotton Belt line, the right of way is already owned by DART and is on its 2030 development plan. But DART has its hands full with nearer-term construction goals and is trying to make the numbers work based on its primary source of revenue, the 1-cent sales tax.
A Cotton Belt compact would need DART as a partner; we trust the region's premier people-mover would be a willing participant in exploring the possibilities.
Texas 121 bonds selling slowly for toll authority
By GORDON DICKSON
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
PLANO -- The North Texas Tollway Authority has sold only a portion of the bonds needed to pay for the Texas 121 toll road north of Grapevine because of a volatile bond market.
But tollway authority officials said Wednesday that they're confident that the transaction will be completed by November. Officials also expect to proceed with plans to build Texas 161 in Grand Prairie this year, Southwest Parkway in Fort Worth next year and many other projects over the next decade or so, said Rick Herrington, deputy executive director.
The bond sale was needed after the authority cut a $3.2 billion check late last year to the Texas Department of Transportation and the Regional Transportation Council for the right to take over the Texas 121 project in Denton and Collin counties. The money is to be spent on other transportation projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth region.
The authority issued temporary debt to cover that check and is now attempting to refinance the temporary debt with long-term bonds. However, the authority issued only $2.43 billion in bonds last week, short of about $5.2 billion needed for the Texas 121 project, debt service, insurance and other fees.
Texas Department of Transportation officials have warned that the authority is spreading itself too thin by taking on too many projects that could be leased to private toll companies.
Herrington said the authority will be patient. "We're going to make sure we're good stewards of the money and go to the market at the right times."
Yesterday, I wrote about the need to seek innovative solutions for growing regional mass transit (see "The DCTA gets its train moving" next post down).
Today, the Dallas Morning News weighs in on the same subject.
Great! This issue needs more attention, especially from our local elected leaders.
Local transportation officials have come up with a fresh menu of options to pay for expanded rail transit. They should continue their exploration – with urgency.
Various combinations of these revenue sources could well break a stubborn political logjam on funding. It's a good sign that significant business interests remain engaged in the search for solutions, an effort being coordinated by the Regional Transportation Council.
The sales tax remains under discussion, although not at the previous "up to a penny on the dollar" level. Lowering that levy could work if rail proponents can combine it with other needed revenue. The important thing is finding enough money to build out the RTC plan for nearly 250 additional miles of rail.
Providing more commuters with this option must remain a top priority for the North Texas delegation in next year's Legislature. Lawmakers have failed their constituents by not approving new funding methods, despite local elected officials' calls to do so these past four years.
Expanded rail use can help ease traffic congestion and clean the air – both vital to the economy and quality of life in North Texas.
New ideas on the table include one radically different funding concept: allowing new transportation taxes to be used for either rail or roads. The two have always had separate sources of revenue; dissolving the barrier would give local communities flexibility and could overcome political obstacles.
While DART fights its own internal corruption and financial incompetence, Denton is leading the way in showing what a county can do to solve its mobility problems.
It was only a few years ago when 3 Denton cities formed the DCTA. Since then, they have started bus service to downtown Dallas, and will have commuter rail by 2010.
Of course, for Denton, it took courageous leadership by a few elected leaders, working in concert towards a vision - then educating, inspiring and campaigning until that vision was fulfilled.
"Courageous leadership" is, unfortunately, a Collin County oxymoron. In Collin County, we have many "Elected Officials", but damned few leaders.
Frisco is joining up with some DART cities trying to form a coalition that can contract with private companies to provide what DART seems incapable of doing. (see "Cities weighing rail service on BNSF" article below) It's good to see that someone in this county is looking for alternatives.
I have concerns about public-private transportation partnerships. They make me think Trans-Texas Corridor and foreign companies that deal under the table with the Governor.
Nevertheless, these types of creative solutions must be explored, debated, and perhaps even made to work for the citizens. We know that the old formulas won't work - we must seek new solutions. And we won't know what they are until we begin to try to find them.
It is appropriate that the progress in building a railroad is similar to that of a railroad locomotive itself. A train moves so slowly at the beginning that an impatient passenger can be forgiven for thinking the thing is never going to get out of the station.
But the train eventually begins picking up speed, and at some almost imperceptible point the passenger realizes he is on his way.
If things go according to plan, that “We’re off!” moment will come in May for the Denton County Transportation Authority. That’s when the DCTA hopes to award a contract for a dozen diesel-powered railroad vehicles that will move passengers along its Denton-to-Carrollton line sometime after the road is completed in 2010. The bidding process will begin next month.
The DCTA has set aside $71 million for the 12 commuter-rail vehicles, and there will be some suspense to see which, if any, bids come in at or under that estimate. The DCTA’s specifications call for the vehicles to have the capability of running on electrified as well as non-electrified rails, and to be manufactured with the latest fuel-efficient and sound-dampening technology. The money is coming from the DCTA’s own coffers and from the Regional Transportation Council.
City managers from Irving to Frisco know begging won't advance DART's plan to someday start rail service between their cities.
Not when soaring construction costs are complicating efforts to keep even the agency's higher-priority projects on schedule.
So the managers of Irving, Farmers Branch, Carrollton and Frisco are taking a different approach. They want to study the feasibility of rail service along the 25-mile Burlington Northern Santa Fe line – and look for a way to pay for it.
The managers expect to ask their city councils this month to authorize them to form a DFW Rail Coalition, possibly with a paid staff.
Each city in the coalition would contribute money based on its population. Businesses, chambers of commerce and other entities would be invited to participate.
The coalition would seek requests for proposals from companies to build and operate rail service along the BNSF line, which stretches north-northeast from the Trinity Railway Express station in Irving to U.S. Highway 380 in Frisco.
County Judge Keith Self must like banging his head against brick walls.
Since his election, Self has engaged in a series of losing battles in what is fast becoming an undeclared war with his 4 county commissioners.
Keith Self lost another battle in that war yesterday.
Monday, Self endorsed Corbett Howard's bid to unseat incumbent Joe Jaynes in Precinct 3. On Tuesday, Howard lost by a wide margin.
Monday, Self also endorsed Matt Shaheen against Commissioner Phyllis Cole. Cole out-polled Shaheen by 9 percentage points but the race will be decided in a run-off.
The war first started last year when Self publicly opposed the county's bond proposals that were supported by the rest of the commissioners court. The bonds passed anyway - in a landslide mandate from the voters.
Maybe the judge should seek some "pass-through financing" to buy a good helmet. He's going to need one if he wants to keep picking fights he can't win.
And I'd like to know how the citizens win when their elected leaders start playing Hatfield and McCoy power games.
State Senator John Carona, a Republican from Dallas, chairs the Texas Senate Committee on Transportation. He is widely regarded as an expert, if not the expert, on issues of state funding of highways.
I'm used to reading all the "sky is falling spin" state officials like to give about how the highway system is bankrupt. So his dire predictions didn't surprise me. What did get my attention was this line of pure bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo:
"managed lanes are a set of lanes where operational strategies are proactively implemented and managed in response to changing conditions, with the goals of achieving safe, fast, reliable trips for users of the managed lane and providing all users with real travel choices."
Now is that perfectly clear or what? What he said was that TxDOT is going to build new lanes on LBJ. They are going to be toll lanes. They are going to be very expensive toll lanes. They are going to be very, very expensive toll lanes. During peak hours, these tolls will run as high as $1/mile. A trip from the High 5 to Stemmons Freeway could cost $10 or more.
I call these Managed Lanes, "Lexus Lanes" - Highways for the wealthy.
Sen. Carona would have us being grateful for the new Lexus Lanes. He describes the work on I-635 as giving us the, "latest in highway design and [will] provide welcome relief."
Some of the other things the Senator believes we should be grateful for include, "two consortia [to build the road] for this project... Both partnerships involve large international companies." What he is saying here is that Rick Perry is determined that the Spanish company Cintras gets to own the roads in Texas, regardless of the will of the citizenry.
Now, one thing the Senator and I agree on is, "It is imperative that we tackle our infrastructure needs for the sake of taxpayers and drivers who depend on well-built, safe roadways. Excessive traffic congestion hurts job creation, air quality, public safety and quality of life."
We disagree on how to get there. Perry and Carona would try to tell us that foreign owned and run toll roads are our best solution.
I would like to see us start by using the state gasoline and highway excise taxes for building roads, instead of for funding the state's general fund. I'd like to see our federal gasoline and excise taxes being used to build roads in Texas, instead of bridges to nowhere in Alaska and Iraq.
And I'd like for my elected representatives to quit blowing smoke at me. I'm a taxpayer, not a consumer of propaganda.
Leave the spin for drunken fishing stories. Tell us the truth.
From a City of Frisco Press Release -
WAY TO GROW’ TOWN HALL MEETING TONIGHT; S.H. 121 AND LOCAL ROAD CONSTRUCTION, ELECTIONS ON AGENDA
(February 25, 2008) As Frisco anticipates its population will reach the
milestone of 100,000 residents this year, ‘Way to Grow’ is the theme of
tonight's Town Hall meeting, Monday, February 25. . The City of Frisco’s first Town Hall meeting of 2008 starts at 7 p.m. in the City Hall council chambers of the George A. Purefoy Municipal Center, 6101 Frisco Square Boulevard.
Town Hall meetings are a great ‘Way to Grow’ your knowledge about the
place you call home. Residents who attend the Town Hall meeting will
receive a souvenir trowel and seed packet as a ‘thank you’ for planting
roots in Frisco!
Staff will give progress reports on local road construction projects and representatives from the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) will brief citizens on the S.H. 121 project and completion of the Dallas North Tollway (DNT) extension.
Citizens will get information about polling places, precincts and voter
registration so they’re better prepared for the March 4 primary election and the City of Frisco’s May 10 election. The City Council will also share its ‘draft’ of priorities for the next fiscal year.
Staff will educate citizens on the expansion of the arena inside the Dr
Pepper Star Center and construction of the Heritage Center at Frisco
Junction. The Police Department will discuss its program to help at risk teens and juvenile offenders stay out of trouble and Municipal Court will introduce the public to its new Teen Court initiative, now underway.
With spring around the corner, staff will share information reminding
residents home improvement projects, such as fence installation and
storage buildings, require permits. It’s not too early to begin thinking about water conservation, which is also on the agenda.
If you’re not already a member, learn how to get in shape for summer and find out more about the city’s newest facility, the Frisco Athletic
Center. Finally, the spring class of City Hall 101 members will be
introduced to the public. Find out how you can enroll in the next class!
For more information, go to www.friscotexas.gov and click on ‘Town Hall’ under Communication.
At the Frisco Chamber of Commerce's commissioners debate tonight, I heard a lot of rhetoric from incumbents and challengers alike about the county's need for mass transit solutions.
While the politicians fiddled, Frisco was announcing that it was ENDING bus service.
We're going the wrong way, boys and girls. It appears to this writer that our leadership is clueless and acts powerless to develop a working plan of mass transit for Collin County. Denton citizens figured out how to get buses and trains without a DART bureaucracy. Maybe Denton County Transit (DCTA) officials could be persuaded to come tutor our community leaders.
Today's City of Frisco's press release is below:
The following information is distributed from the City of Frisco's News
and Information service.
CITY TO DISCONTINUE CONTRACT WITH CCART; BUS SERVICE TO END MARCH 1, 2008 (February 5, 2008)
The contract between the City of Frisco and Collin County Area Regional Transit (CCART) is being discontinued. As a result, the free fixed route bus service will end on March 1, 2008. Tuesday night, February 5, the Frisco City Council agreed to accept CCART's request to terminate the service; however, 'on-call' service for the elderly and disabled is not affected by this change.
In January, staff received notice that CCART cannot provide funding to help defer the $249,600 annual cost (or $20,800 monthly) to operate the single bus route in Frisco. In 2007, rider ship for the calendar year totaled 12,707. If the City of Frisco were to continue service, at no cost to riders, it would cost the City of Frisco an estimated $19.62 per ride. In 2006, Frisco's cost per ride was $16.60 for a one-way trip and $33.20 to go 'to and from' a location.
The original, 2004 agreement between the City of Frisco and CCART cost approximately $100,000 a year. Since then, service continued on a month-to-month basis. Last year, the council voted to terminate service in May of 2007 and use remaining monies dedicated to CCART for a Transit Study. At that time, CCART offered to continue service at 'no charge' while it searched for supplemental funds or grants to help defer the cost of service in Frisco.
Last month, CCART notified the City of Frisco it was unable to secure supplemental funding, and as a result, CCART no longer has resources to continue the free service in Frisco.
The City of Frisco has since used the monies originally dedicated to the bus service for the Transit Study, at a cost of $91,500. The study's first public forum was held in October of last year. Next month, Frisco will host a public meeting where initial findings of the Transit Study will be presented.
A Transit Study presentation will be made to the Frisco City Council in April.
Every time new news comes out about the SH 121 concession fees, it seems like Collin County's share of the toll funds shrink.
In November, the RTC approved Collin County getting about $580 million, Denton County about $860 million and Dallas County $204 million.
For a road that is 1/2 in Denton county and 1/2 in Collin county, Collin took it on the chin.
Since these figures were announced in November, I've heard nothing but bad news (at least for Collin County).
First of all, "cost overruns" on state financed projects would have to be covered out of our portion, since the State of Texas was cutting off most funding. Collin's $580 million was quickly cut to $512 million.
People who seem to know have told me that in the end, we can expect to see about $400 million.
Now today's Dallas Morning News is reporting that Michael Morris, the transportation guru at NCTCOG, was in Dallas briefing a Dallas City Council committee "on a complex plan to use about $335 million from Highway 121 revenues to pay for projects that the Texas Department of Transportation doesn't have the money to fund in the near term."
Wait a minute, here. Dallas is due $204 million, not $335 million. Based on what we've seen in the recent past, it seems very possible that Morris would pledge our money to Dallas. It wouldn't be the first time - why do you think Denton got an almost 30% larger cut than we did?
Today's DMN article, "Official's plan means loss of road funds may not take toll on Dallas"
The RTC website
The Collin County Observer, September 10, 2007 - "COG Proposal on SH 121 Shortchanges Collin County 'Big Time'"
The lead story tells of an investment and development boom along the future commuter rail line. Rail line, I thought, What rail line?
I know that DCTA exists because every morning I see one of its buses, full of commuters, near downtown Dallas. I know I'd love to catch a bus to work every day, but I live in Wylie. No mass transit there. In fact, much of Collin County has no mass transit.
Around Collin County, I have often heard that commuter rail could be a good idea, but no one wants to pay sales taxes for 20 years or more...and then maybe (if you're lucky) get rail. We can see what's happening with DART delays and cost overruns in Irving and Rowlett. I can understand why folks are skeptical.
I started looking closer at DCTA. It was formed in 2001, and the rail lines connecting to DART are expected to be complete by 2010. That's 10 years from concept to completion, not 20! And meanwhile Denton citizens have both local and commuter buses.
Meanwhile we here in Collin County have traffic. We have pollution. Unfortunately however, we have no local solution to gridlock other than more concrete and more tolls.
What makes Denton so different? Could it be "vision"?
I was at the Collin County Transportation summit last week. At the meeting were all of our county, state and congressional representatives, as well as spokesmen for the USDOT, TxDOT, NTTA and even the CC Regional Airport. Conspicuously absent was ANY voice for mass transit. DART wasn't invited. Citizen participation was prohibited.
What I heard was the US Department of Transportation telling us we needed (and wanted) more toll roads and I heard TxDOT telling us we needed more toll roads. Not one of the experts there had any better ideas.
Seven years ago, the leaders in Denton County did have better ideas. They were able to take those ideas and convince their State legislative delegation to go to Austin and change the laws to make it happen. (Now that's a novel concept, asking your elected state officials to do something for the home town.) The vision of those leaders is now taking form in real solutions to crowded suburbs.
County leaders in Collin are crying that we are growing faster than we can build roads. They are begging for money that will not meet our needs. They are planning for new and bigger toll roads. They are sowing the seeds of an infrastructure that by its very nature will choke us, maybe fatally. And choke we will, on congestion and on smog, unless we show the courage and vision to think past roads, tolls and highways.
In this writers opinion, we could do worse than look to our western neighbor for inspiration. A regional transit system, locally controlled and unencumbered by DART's bureaucracy might just be the ticket for Collin County's future.
One footnote: Denton County taxpayers enjoy a lower property tax rate than we here in "rich" Collin County. (Of course they only pay their County Commissioners about 75% of what our elected commissioners take home.)
The Collin County Commissioners Court will host a
special transportation workshop on Monday, Jan. 14, 2007, at 1:30 p.m. and
will feature detailed updates and briefings on the county's transportation
funding needs for the next 20 years.
The workshop, which will be held in the central jury room of the Collin
County Courthouse at 2100 Bloomdale Road in McKinney?, will include
detailed presentations on federal, state and local transportation funding
Also attending will be U.S. Reps. Ralph Hall and Sam Johnson; Texas
Senators Florence Shapiro and Craig Estes; State Reps. Brian McCall?, Jerry
Madden, Ken Paxton and Jodie Laubenberg; plus, mayors and city managers
from at least 10 Collin County cities.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Texas Department
of Transportation, the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the
North Texas Tollway Authority, Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the Collin
County Regional Airport will participate in discussions with Collin County
The public is invited.
With the growth, congestion and air pollution we have here in Collin County, you might think that there are more than a few citizens who would interested in plans to build our transportation network.
After all these citizens voted overwhelmingly to approve the 2007 bond package - most of which is slated for roadway construction.
Many might also want to offer some input on how the half a billion dollars from the SH 121 concession might be spent.
Some might want to ask about plans for expansion of mass transit.
Some might want to offer opinions about the Outer Loop, or plans to build near their property.
You might think your elected County Commissioners would be interested enough in your opinion to make it possible for you to attend.
You might think that the new County Judge, who's campaign promised to "Move the Commissioners’ Court open sessions to a facility large enough to accommodate all fully-engaged citizens of Collin County who wish to participate in the open conduct of county business." would schedule a public hearing on the county's Mobility Plan so that citizens could attend.
You would be mistaken.
Instead the Collin County Mobility Plan Update Public Hearing is scheduled for 1:30 PM on Tuesday, January 8th, in the 6th floor closet the Commissioners like to meet in. Their closet holds about 4 commissioners, one judge, 2 reporters, 25 county employees and 6 citizens.
Some day, our voters will elect a Commissioners Court who values their constituency enough to actually WANT to hear what citizens have to say. This Commissioners Court will meet after 6PM and in a room large enough to encourage participation.
The present regime spends more time every year discussing their own salaries than listening to voters. What is more important to YOU?
The public Notice is here
The county may seek legal action against recalcitrant Collin County landowners in order to develop the northern section of the Outer Loop toll road.
In a letter to the commissioners, Rubin Delgado, the County's Director of Engineering notes that in attempting to gather information to appraise and acquire right of way, some property owners will not grant the county entry to their land. His letter notes that, "as discussed previously, it appears that legal action will be required in order to secure the right-of-entry needed".
While Mr. Delgado's letter does not ask for condemnation of the land needed by Eminent Domain, the legal actions by the county could certainly presage the forcible taking of land for the road.
The county is working to purchase or otherwise obtain the needed land for the northern portion of the controversial Outer Loop in Anna and Melissa that runs from US 75 to SH 121. County officials have publicly stated that the Outer Loop will most probably be a toll road. Many also believe the Loop is destined to become a portion of the Trans-Texas Corridor.
The Commissioners Court is scheduled to discuss and act on Outer Loop property acquisition at its scheduled meeting on January 8th.
On Thursday, the North Texas Tollway Authority deposited almost $3.2 billion with TxDOT as the "upfront" concession fee for SH 121.
"SH 121 now becomes not just a part of our road system, but a part of our financial system"
NTTA Chairman Paul N. Wageman
At a ceremony in Carrollton, NTTA Chairman Paul N. Wageman presented an oversized check to Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson, and North Richland Hills Mayor and Chairman of the North Texas Regional Transportation Council (RTC) Chairman T. Oscar Trevino, Jr.
In a NTTA press release, Wageman was quoted as saying, "SH 121 now becomes not just a part of our road system, but a part of our financial system"
When complete, the SH 121 toll project will be a 25.9 mile all-electronic toll road from McKinney where SH 121 intersects with U.S. 75 west to near the Tarrant County line. Per the project agreement, the NTTA will operate the tollroad for 50 years. The NTTA will assume responsibility for SH 121 in 2008.
“Our work on SH 121 is just beginning. The responsibility of delivering this project now passes to our engineering, maintenance and operations team who will complete and operate the entire 26-mile toll road by 2012,” added Chairman Wageman.
"The risk is that with its payment for 121, the NTTA won't have the money needed to finance the Trinity, the Southwest Parkway and the other projects it has committed to building."
Michael Morris, NCTCOG
Critics of the NTTA plan, including Michael Morris of the NCTCOG have expressed concerns that the Tollway Authority is taking on too much debt. In a Friday Dallas Morning News article, Morris was quoted as saying, "The risk is that with its payment for 121, the NTTA won't have the money needed to finance the Trinity, the Southwest Parkway and the other projects it has committed to building."
The last Texas Legislature, responding to public pressure to keep the highway out of the hands of foreign companies supported by TxDOT and the Governor, required TxDOT to reopen the bidding process after they had tentatively awarded the SH 121 contract to a consortium led by Spanish owned Cintra. In the rebid, NTTA offered substantially higher concession fee, and was awarded the contract to build and operate the new 121 tollway for 50 years.
Collin County is scheduled to receive about $580 million from the concession fee for local construction projects.
Officials are scrambling to close a loophole that could let some motorists beat speeding tickets.
A recent News 8 investigation revealed that on the Bush Turnpike and parts of the Dallas North Tollway, some speed limits were set in violation of state law.
Some motorists complain that the violation results in unfair tickets.
For example, a Richardson man recently got a speeding ticket on the Bush Turnpike for going 75 mph in a 60. However, he said that is the speed limit on North Texas toll roads, which violate state law and not the drivers. He asked not to be identified until after his trial, which is next week.
"I really feel this is unjust," he said. "It's not worth my money that I've earned."
Before transportation officials can set a speed limit, state law says they must figure out how fast traffic actually moves. It's called a speed study. But, on large stretches of the tollway and all of the Bush, the North Texas Tollway Authority skipped that key step.
"The speed was set based on certain facts," said NTTA Chief Engineer Mark Bouma.
"[A] speed study should be one of those aspects," he said when asked if that was one of the "certain facts." "We need to go back and research our files and find that information."
They couldn't find it because they never did one.
Bennett Cunningham Reporting
Vienna, AUSTRIA (CBS 11 News) ― While you were stuck in rush hour traffic, some North Texas Tollway Authority officials were flying first class to another continent, sampling fine foods and wine in the crown jewel of Europe.
Just one week after the NTTA raised the toll rates, it sent 5 representatives to the 75th Annual International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association conference in Vienna, Austria.
"We did not raise rates for our travel budget," said the newly hired NTTA Executive Director Jorge Figueredo.
The price tag for the IBTTA conference: $42,500, of your toll money to learn how to build more toll roads.
A CBS 11 News crew followed the NTTA representatives to see if consumers were getting their money's worth.
Several of the NTTA representatives were able to stretch out on the long flight to Vienna, enjoying first and business class seats at a cost of more than $7,000 a ticket. Those representatives were NTTA CFO Susan Buse, Director of Project Evaluation Department Jerry Shelton and Governor Appointed Board Member Robert Shepard.
Good news for the McKinney airport. Bad news for nearby residents in McKinney and Fairview, whose complaints about noise and traffic fall on deaf ears.
Collin County Regional Airport will receive more than $5 million in federal funding to design and engineer an additional runway and a new control tower after years of lobbying and discussing the issue with federal and state representatives.
The Texas Transportation Commission approved the funding Thursday at its regular meeting in Austin as part of a minute order that granted a total of $24,906,780 in federal funds to 16 Texas airports, according to TTC records.
Shown is an artist’s rendering of the new control tower Collin County Regional Airport hopes to start building next year.
CCRA will receive $5,655,556 for the runway and tower projects, the second-largest chunk of federal funding in the minute order behind the $8,233,094 approved for the Hereford Municipal Airport for pavement, lighting and electrical improvements. CCRA will also have to match 10 percent of the funding, according to the minute order.
Ken Wiegand, CCRA director, said about $4.91 million will go to the replacement runway project and the remaining $180,000 will go to the tower project for the initial design and engineering phases.
Wiegand said he hopes TTC’s grant will be the first in a series of grants for the airport’s planned projects. He estimated both projects could cost a total of $56 million over the next six to seven years.
If the North Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) and its Regional Transportation Council (RTC) get their way, (and it looks like they will) not only will all new highways in the region be tolled, but existing freeways will not be quite so free. As a matter of fact, they're going to get very expensive for some drivers. "Managed Lanes", or "Lexus Lanes" as I call them are the next generation of tolled "cash cows" from TxDOT and our own Regional Transportation Commission(RTC).
The RTC's Lexus Lanes are a radical departure from the old policy of building HOV lanes to encourage conservation and traffic reduction through carpooling and mass transit. Instead, these lanes are designed to raise revenue.
The RTC's has approved its "Managed Lane Policies". A reading of these policies clearly shows that the emphasis is on raising cash - a lot of cash, from you the driver.
There are 19 policies, or the new "Rules of the Road". #18 states that the contract with the developer should have a duration to "maximize potential revenue"; #19 says that the tolls will never end.
Most of the other policies define the pricing structure...hang on folks it's complicated AND expensive.
According to the RTC policies, he tolls will begin at $.75/mile and the price will be adjusted every month for the first 6 months. After that the tolls will enter the "dynamic pricing" phase.
The RTC defines dynamic pricing as a base toll that is "market-based". (We can assume that that will be at least, and probably much higher than the $.75/mile base rate). The toll rate will be "established to maintain a minimum average speed of 50 mph". In other words, as the average speeds in the lanes slow due to congestion, the toll price will automatically rise until it prices out enough people to relieve the back-up. The road will use the Law of supply and demand... let the prices rise until demand falls.
Rebates are given if the average speed drops below 35 mph. City buses pay no tolls. Car pools and van pools pay 1/2 rate during rush hour, and full rate at all other times. Trucks pay a higher rate than cars, and motorcycles are considered the same as car pools. There will be no discounts for "green vehicles".
That's how you build Lexus Lanes! The rich can go fast, because they will be able to afford the lanes no matter how high the price is jacked up. Rather than try to move the MOST traffic efficiently, these Lexus Lanes are designed to price commuters off the road, while allowing the elite rapid access.
In a few years, a one way trip from McKinney to Northwest Dallas could easily cost $40 in tolls alone.
The RTC is planning to use the revenue to build new roads in the region, but on these major corridors (Central Expressway and LBJ Freeway) the expansion will be Lexus Lanes - not new public lanes, not increased capacity, not mass transit - but Lexus Lanes for the privileged few.
Early this week I will post Part 3 of "Lexus Lanes". Part 3 will discuss the rationale of tolling, and the failure of the Federal, State and local government policy that has allowed the birth of these Lexus Lanes
Who represents Collin County on the RTC:
Now I know SH 161 isn't Collin County, but Michael Morris at NCTCOG is threatening to take the SH 121 toll revenue, and use it to build the Tarrant County SH 161 if NTTA and TxDOT don't come to an agreement.
What are they disagreeing about?
The disagreement is over how much money TxDOT and the RTC can extort from NTTA and ultimately Texas drivers. TxDOT wants to maximize its "upfront" payment from NTTA. The larger the up front payment is, the more dollars the State and local governments get to spend before the road is even built. But just like taking a second mortgage on your house, the more money you get up front, the more you have to leverage your assets for debt.
In other words, the fight is over how much we want to pawn another highway for. The stakes are almost $1 billion.
TxDOT says there are no state funds to build any new roads, it makes me wonder what they're going to do with that $5 billion in transportation bands the voters approved last week.
State threatens to cancel Highway 161 toll project
TxDOT, NTTA must reach deal in 5 weeks or region could face bill
Friday, November 16, 2007
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN – Plans to expand State Highway 161 into Tarrant County as a toll road could collapse over the next five weeks, taking with them hundreds of millions of dollars for Dallas County highways.
The highly anticipated highway – running 11.5 miles through Irving, Arlington and Grand Prairie – has been touted for years as probably the second-richest toll project in North Texas, after the controversial State Highway 121 toll project.
But on Thursday, Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said if the Texas Department of Transportation's local engineers and the North Texas Tollway Authority can't reach an agreement on basic terms for the toll project by Dec. 21, the state will cancel it.
"If you can reach agreement by Dec. 21, and bring us a Christmas present, then great," Mr. Williamson said Thursday during the commission's monthly meeting in Austin. "If not, then Highway 161 won't be a toll road, and we'll move on to other projects."
If the North Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) and its Regional Transportation Council (RTC) get their way, (and it looks like they will) not only will all new highways in the region be tolled, but existing freeways will not be quite so free. As a matter of fact, they're going to get very expensive for some drivers.
We already have the Dallas North Tollway, The Bush Turnpike, and soon a tolled SH121. But that's not enough for the RTC. Well before the tolled Outer Loop is built, we will become the beneficiaries of the RTC's latest driver's extortion scheme - Managed Lanes.
Both LBJ Freeway and Central Expressway are slated to be fitted with these new lanes. But, what are managed lanes?
I call them "Lexus Lanes", because they are only for the rich. At $.75 per mile or more, they are designed for those willing and able to pay $20 or more each day to drive across town. Can't afford it?
Too bad! The RTC believes the rest of us should just sit in traffic jams, burning $3 a gallon gas.
The RTC's Lexus Lanes are a radical departure from the policy of building HOV lanes to encourage conservation and traffic reduction through carpooling and mass transit. This new paradigm seeks to reduce traffic by making it too expensive for poorer citizens to drive on their roads, at times charging vanpoolers the same toll as single occupant luxury cars.
Current plans call for the entire length of Central Expressway, from Melissa to the Bush Turnpike and all of LBJ freeway from Mesquite to Irving to be fitted with Lexus (managed) Lanes.
The lanes would be leased to NTTA or a private company on long-term (50 year) contracts.
Note: This is the first of a 3 part series on Managed Lanes. Saturday I will publish Part 2 on the RTC's toll policies and how much you will pay to drive on Managed Lanes.
Who represents Collin County on the RTC:
The November issue of the RTC's newsletter, Legislative Directions printed an article on local experiences with red light cameras that should lay to rest any idea that red-light cameras are not meant to be a profit center for cities.
Now remember, the RTC (Regional Transportation Council) is the local board that approves transportation projects in the North Texas region. These guys see roads, not as a public necessity, but as an opportunity for profit. They've yet to meet a toll road they didn't love or a highway they didn't want to pawn to the highest bidder.
"The city is planning to scale back the project just to break even. In the future, the project might be canceled all together if it begins to lose money."
When was the last time you heard that a cop had to write enough tickets to make his shift profitable? Or that fire trucks had to recoup their own costs? Cities provide police and fire departments for public safety.
They deploy red light cameras for profit.
From Legislative Directions -
Red-Light Cameras: Victims of Their Own Success
"As many as 20 North Texas cities have approved red-light camera programs and many have already begun to install cameras at select intersections.
The goals of these programs are two fold:
1) increase safety by reducing the number of red light violations, especially at the most dangerous intersections, and
2) raise money to fund the programs making them at least revenue neutral.
The City of Garland, which was the first Texas city to install cameras four years ago, has learned that success with one of these goals can lead to problems with the other. Garland’s program generated about $1.3 million in 2004, the program’s first full year.
Drivers soon became used to the cameras and violations declined. This victory for safety has become a problem for a program that costs the city around half a million dollars per year to operate. In 2006 the program only generated $546,599. The city is planning to scale back the project just to break even. In the future, the project might be canceled all together if it begins to lose money."
The San Antonio Express-News reports that a bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers are leading the effort to restrict the tolling of every darn road in Texas.
Sadly, our national highway policy, pushed by Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, is trying to privatize all roads. In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry and TxDOT Chair Ric Williamson are leading the charge to sell our highways to the highest bidder. They have been lobbying in Washington for more toll roads, and to convert federal highways to tolled roads.
Republican Sen. Kay Baily Hutchison and the bipartisan group of Texas congressmen who are working to protect Texans from the double taxation of toll roads are to be commended for putting Texans ahead of politics. I hope our legislature in Austin will learn from their example
Texas lawmakers thwart bid to strip tolling ban from bill
11/09/2007 11:48 PM CST
Gary Martin / San Antonio Express-News
WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers were instrumental in an effort to keep an amendment in the transportation bill that bans tolling existing federal highways, officials said Friday.
"We are one step closer to protecting Texas taxpayers from paying twice for a highway," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.
Hutchison and House members, including Reps. Ciro Rodriguez and Charlie Gonzalez, both San Antonio Democrats, have sponsored legislation to prohibit the tolling of existing federal highways.
Opponents of the ban sought to strip the language out of a House-Senate conference spending bill for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.
Texas lawmakers, including Reps. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, Nick Lampson, D-Stafford and Chet Edwards, D-Waco, helped muster the votes to keep the ban.
The legislation now goes to full the House and Senate for a vote.
"We put progress over politics for the benefit of Texas"
Ciro Rodriguez, D-Tx
"We put progress over politics for the benefit of Texas," said Rodriguez, a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation and a member of the conference committee that put together the final bill.
Rodriguez said "using toll roads to double-tax Texans is just plain wrong."
The agreement transfers the highway to the NTTA toll road system for 50 years.
The NTTA Board approved selling $3.75 billion in short-term, high-interest notes. The proceeds of the notes will be used to pay the $3.33 billion up-front money. The balance of the money from the notes will be used for bond expenses and to pay for completing the construction of the highway.
The Dallas Morning News reports, "NTTA will refinance that debt (the short-term notes) within 12 months, when it sells bonds backed by the future tolls on State Highway 121, and on its network of other toll roads."
The Final Project Agreement enumerates the toll rates that will be collected by the NTTA.
Toll Schedule 2006 to 2012
(1.5 mile minimum toll)
|Year||Max Toll Rate|
The Agreement allows the NTTA to adjust tolls every other year and in 2012 to begin adjusting rates based on peak use hours. Under the "peak use hours" provision, the tolls could increase up to 30% for peak hours and decrease up to 20% for the lowest use hours.
|County||Revenue from Concession ($millions)|
That's one less public highway, one more toll road.
Get used to it folks, unless the mindset in Washington and Austin change, there will be no more new "freeways" built in Texas...and many old freeways will become tollways.
I hope the TollTags? come in a heavy-duty version - they're going to get lots of use.
Anna approves continued sale of liquor
Anna voters overwhelmingly endorsed the continued sales of liquor. With a 48% turnout, and a 77% "yes" vote, voters have hopefully ended the see-saw series of referendums on the off-premises sale of liquor, beer and wine.
From the McKinney Courier-Gazette -
Voters were kind to area school districts on Tuesday, approving bond packages in the Prosper and Lovejoy ISDs, and granting permission for the Prosper and Blue Ridge ISDs to raise their tax rates 13 cents per $100 valuation above the state maximum.
Prosper ISD voters passed the district’s $710 million bond package with an 879-221 vote, and the 13-cent tax hike by an 879-223 margin. The bond package will pay for a flurry of school construction through 2015, when the district could have two Class 4A high schools.
The package will also pay for construction of four new elementary schools, a new middle school, phases 2 and 3 of the new high school and a second high school. The additional tax money will fund the staff and operations of the new school.
“Obviously, I’m excited,” Superintendent Drew Watkins said. “I was hopeful for this kind of turnout.”
Watkins said the passing of the bond package and tax hike was an example of how much Prosper residents support the district.
“This is my sixth year here and my experience so far is they want a quality education for their children,” Watkins said. “Everybody takes a lot of pride in our community.” Meanwhile, Blue Ridge ISD voters passed their 13-cent raise, 115-83. The money will be used in the maintenance and operations budget to help fund growth.
“I’m just tickled to death,” Blue Ridge ISD school board president Greg Douglas said. “That is probably one of the best things that could happen for our district at this point in time.”
Douglas said the tax hike would bring in about $440,000 more to Blue Ridge ISD. He said the additional funds would be used in different capacities.
“What we got the money earmarked for, we’re going to improve our technology department,” Douglas said. “We’re going to give teachers a raise. We’ve been losing quite a few teachers to other districts because they pay more.”
Overall, Douglas said most people he talked to were in favor of passing the tax hike.
“I really think they like what they see at our schools and our grades are starting to come up and they want to support us in every way that they can,” Douglas said. “I’m really proud of the people in our district who did get out and vote. This will help every student in our district.”
Tuesday evening also saw the passage of a $78.5 million bond proposal for Lovejoy ISD.
According to Lovejoy ISD Superintendent Ted Moore, the package passed, 1,545-420 (78.63 percent to 21.37 percent). In all, 1,965 ballots were cast, of which 1,278 were cast as early ballots. Moore said almost 25 percent of the registered voters for the district turned out.
The citizens of Princeton voted against a proposal to give their city home-rule status, while Melissa voters approved a bond package that will provide millions to road construction and renovation projects.
The city of Melissa approved a $19.1 million road and streets bond package by a vote of 283 to 155, while the city of Princeton turned down a home-rule proposition by a vote of 149-117, according to Collin County election results.
Princeton Mayor Steve Deffibaugh said he was pleased with the overall voter turnout, but disappointed with the results. About 12 percent of Princeton voters cast ballots.
“I am disappointed but not upset,” Deffibaugh said. “People got out and voted, and I asked lot of people to get out and vote and vote their conscience and vote the way they wanted to vote, whether it was for or against ... I am glad we had this many people come out and vote.”
Deffibaugh said he believes the home-rule proposal faced heavy opposition from outside citizens who feared the city would incorporate their property into it.
“They were so afraid we would run out and start annexing everyone,” Deffibaugh said. “That’s not the case. As the city grows, we’re going to annex naturally.” He also said he hoped the city would be able to establish a charter that would expand its city council and separate the seats into precincts or places instead of at-large seats in the hopes it would give citizens centralized representation across the city limits and increase citizen participation.
Deffibaugh said he hopes the city council will put the home-rule proposal on a future ballot.
“We’ll try again,” Deffibaugh said. “We can do it again as early as May. Whether or not we’ll do it is up to the council.”
Meanwhile in Melissa, voters approved a bond package that will be used to construct, repair or extend roads within Melissa city limits.
Buried near the bottom of this article is the following:
"One example will begin taking shape early next year. Private firms will bid for the right to build six new lanes on LBJ Freeway – and then have decades to collect high-priced tolls from drivers. The rates could be as high as 75 cents a mile during peak times, but the existing lanes will remain free."
DMN- Other states watching to see how Texas pays for roads
1Sunday, November 4, 2007
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
WASHINGTON – The fierce arguments in Texas over toll roads are being watched, and increasingly duplicated, in many other states, where construction needs are fast outstripping available funds.
Across the country, existing highways are growing more costly to maintain as they age, even as population growth increases pressure for new roads and added lanes.
Construction costs have soared – 62 percent over the past five years in Texas, for instance – as massive building campaigns in China and India gobble up raw materials.
Meanwhile, state and federal gas taxes that pay for construction and maintenance have remained flat since the early 1990s.
Congress last raised the gas tax – by 3 cents a gallon – in 1993, and the Democrats were promptly voted out the following year. In Texas, the rate has been 20 cents per gallon since 1991.
Taken together, the trends suggest that governments at every level soon will have to reduce spending on new construction and spend more to maintain the roads and bridges they already have.
That shift could begin at the federal level as soon as late next year, when revenue from the Federal Highway Trust Fund won't cover projected expenses.
In Texas, it probably will begin next month, Texas Transportation Commission member Ted Houghton told an audience last week at an American Road and Transportation Builders Association conference.
Texas has plenty of company. States across America are scrambling to keep their growing traffic moving and their aging roads and bridges safe – often with fewer and fewer resources.
"It's a crisis, we all agree on that," said Jack Schenendorf, vice chairman of a 12-person bipartisan commission led by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters that is charged with completely rethinking America's highway construction. "The fundamental problem is we're simply not spending enough money on our infrastructure. At the federal level, there is a lack of vision and no mission."
But few people seem to agree on who should pay for increased spending on infrastructure.
The Texas Transportation Commission has once again defied the wishes of Texans by proposing the sale of a North Texas highway to a private company.
The 5 members of the TTC, all appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, haven't learned from the public outcry over the Trans-Texas corridor, or from the attempted sale of Highway 121 to Citras. Instead, as the Dallas Morning News reported today, the TTC has decided to solicit bids to sell the "Grapevine Funnel" (SH 114). The winning bidder would aquire the rights to set toll booths on yet another North Texas freeway.
Taking their lead from USDOT Secretary Mary Peters, Rick Perry's TTC seems determined to toll every road in Texas.
The Dallas Morning News article -
State to solicit private bids for Grapevine Funnel road project
06:37 PM CDT on Thursday, October 25, 2007
By THEODORE KIM / The Dallas Morning News
State transportation officials on Thursday agreed to solicit bids from private companies to expand, and possibly collect toll revenues on, a busy stretch of highway just north of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
The unanimous action by the Texas Transportation Commission marks the latest step in a years-long effort to overhaul the so-called DFW Connector, a congested segment where State Highways 114 and 121 come together.
Known previously as the Grapevine Funnel, the 16.2-mile project involves adding express toll lanes to State Highway 114 and overhauling five interchanges along the route.
More broadly, the effort represents the latest example of the state’s new and controversial approach of tapping private capital to expand or build new roads.
CITY SEEKING INPUT FOR PUBLIC TRANSIT STUDY;
PUBLIC MEETING SET FOR OCTOBER 30
As a starting point for a public transit study, the City of Frisco
Planning and Development Services Department and the consultant team of
McDonald? Transit Associates, Inc. will hold a public meeting. City staff
and the consultant team want to gather input on public transportation
needs, provide background on the environment of public transit in and
around Frisco, and explain the purpose behind conducting a public transit
The public meeting is planned for Tuesday, October 30. The meeting will
begin at 6:30 p.m. inside the City Council Chamber at the George A.
Purefoy Municipal Center, 6101 Frisco Square Blvd.
The North Texas Tollway Authority’s State Highway 121 proposal cleared its final hurdle with the Federal Highway Administration last week, so the Texas Department of Transportation put its final signature on its agreement with the NTTA.
NTTA and TxDOT? officials confirmed both sides reached an agreement on the SH 121 project after Amadeo Saenz, TxDOT’s new executive director, signed the agreement on Oct. 18. Now, the NTTA has until Dec. 1, or 45 days from the date of the signature, to come up with about $3.3 billion it promised the Regional Transportation Council — a figure that won it the SH 121 project over Spanish-based Cintra.
Sam Lopez, NTTA spokesman, said the NTTA is confident it will be able to meet the timeline set by the Texas Transportation Commission.
“We’re ready to proceed full steam ahead,” Lopez said. “The bulk of what we’re trying to achieve through the financial close is the $3.3 billion for the upfront payment. There will be some other parts to that, but at this moment, we don’t know how much more it will be.”
The FHWA, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, gave its final approval to the SH 121 proposal from Farm-to-Market Road 423 to U.S. 75 on Oct. 12, according to a letter sent to TxDOT? from Salvador Deocampo, FHWA district engineer.
The re-evaluation of the proposal looked at 17 direct and indirect impacts of the implemented project, including social, economic and environmental effects such as air quality, traffic noise, methods of toll collection and traffic redistribution, according to a document sent to TxDOT? by FHWA along with the Oct. 12 letter. The re-evaluation found that “the project modifications needed to toll the proposed facility will not result in impacts significantly different than those considered in the previously approved studies, implementation of the changes to toll the facility will not appreciably increase the potential for impacts beyond those considered in the previously approved assessments, and no further environmental documentation will be required for the tolling action,” according to the re-evaluation’s conclusions.
The RTC has already made plans for the funding it will receive for accepting NTTA’s SH 121 proposal. The RTC approved a proposal on Oct. 11 that splits the funding between four counties. Collin County will receive about $1.5 billion for its stretch of SH 121 and other transportation projects, $600 million of which will go toward the Collin County stretch of SH 121. Denton County will receive the largest slice of the funding at about $1.7 billion. Dallas County will receive $538 million and Tarrant County will receive $89 million, according to RTC records.
Highway 121 project receives federal environmental clearance
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
The federal government issued an environmental clearance Wednesday for the controversial -- and much delayed -- State Highway 121 toll road project. That clearance was required before the Texas Department of Transportation could sign the project agreement already negotiated and agreed to by the North Texas Tollway Authority.
Mark Ball, a spokesman for TxDOT's Dallas district, said it was not immediately clear how soon the department's executive director would sign the project agreement.
NTTA, which has promised to pay $3.3 billion for the road contract, has already signed the agreement and has been waiting for weeks for TxDOT's signature. The latter was delayed, however, until final federal environmental clearance was achieved.
Here are a few:
DFW Funding Shortfall
According to the most recently approved regional mobility plan, the Dallas-Fort Worth area is facing a $59 billion shortfall in transportation spending through 2030. Rising costs of construction, growing rehabilitation needs, and insufficient State and federal funding are all factors contributing to this financial crisis.
Proposed Conversion of Interstate Highways to Tollways Sparks Controversy
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has asked Congress to pass legislation that would allow the State to reimburse the federal government for portions of Interstate Highways in order to make them eligible to be converted into toll roads. Currently, lanes funded with federal dollars cannot be tolled. Facing a funding crisis, TxDOT? officials are looking for innovative ways to raise revenue. In response, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison has introduced legislation, including an amendment to next year’s appropriations bill, that would prohibit the conversion of existing Interstate lanes to tolled
Secretary Peters on the Federal Gas Tax
In both an August 25 Washington Post editorial and in testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on September 5, Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters made clear her views on the prospect of raising the federal gas tax.
Arguing that raising gas taxes only guarantees “higher prices [and] more congestion,” Secretary Peters named four reasons the nation should avoid becoming more dependent on gas tax:
• Currently, gas taxes are allocated based on political will, not need.
• Gas taxes create the misperception that highways are free, encouraging overuse of roads.
• Gas taxes are incapable of balancing supply and demand for roads during periods of congestion.
• Reliance on gas taxes conflict with the goal of reducing the nation’s consumption of oil.
“The Success of one policy would by definition mean the failure of the other,” says Secretary Peters.
Secretary Peters instead recommends expanding use of direct pricing for road use. This includes tolls, congestion pricing, and vehicle-miles traveled taxes.
I never thought I'd see the day - a Republican administration attempting to repeal the 'Law of Supply and Demand.'
ARLINGTON – After years of arm-twisting over the sale of the State Highway 121 toll road, the payoff is finally here.
And while nobody got exactly what they wanted, forgive Denton County for smiling a little more than its neighbor to the east.
On Thursday, the Regional Transportation Council approved the division of the roughly $3 billion payout from the sale of the toll road to surrounding counties.
The decision came despite the grumbling of leaders in Collin County, who said the divisions will shortchange their county out of millions.
At stake is billions of dollars that will be generated almost immediately under the state's deal to sell tolling rights on Highway 121.
Earlier this year, the North Texas Tollway Authority agreed to pay the state $2.5 billion up front and $833 million in additional revenue for the right to collect tolls on the road for the next 50 years.
The council, a 40-member panel of local officials that sets transportation policy, was tasked with dividing that payout among area counties.
Under the plan, the majority of the money was set aside for Denton County, which will receive $1.56 billion, and Collin County, which will get $1.18 billion. The proposal was based in large part on estimates of how many vehicles will use the highway in each county in the future.
Equipment glitch causes double-billing on Austin toll roads
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN - About 50,000 vehicles have been double-billed on Austin-area tollways because of faulty equipment, Texas Department of Transportation officials said.
The agency said Monday that the problem has occurred about one out of every 600 times a car passed one of the tolling points since charging began in January.
The agency has adjusted its equipment and software in the past few weeks to stop the problem, although it could still occur at a less-frequent rate, like once every 2,000 toll transactions.
Officials said the charges will be reversed for any customers who have been double-billed.
"We will reverse all of them," said David Powell, the department's director of turnpike information technology and toll operations.
Powell said the problem occurred at tolling plazas where the overhead flat-panel antennae were out of adjustment, causing faulty communication with electronic toll tags on car windshields.
Commissioner Jaynes has issued the following press release -
On November 6th, voters have an opportunity to increase transportation funding within Collin County to over $1 billion with passage of the county’s bond program. “It’s simple,” County Commissioner Joe Jaynes said, “We will be receiving over $600 million in projects funded from SH 121. Our county bond proposition for transportation is $235 million. By partnering with our cities, that amount will be over $400 million. With our 121 money plus our partnerships through the bond package we will be looking at over $1 billion that can be used for much needed road expansion—all without a tax rate increase.”
The SH 121 tolling project has been awarded to the North Texas Tollway Authority and is projected to produce approximately $900 million for Collin County over the next 50 years. Collin will receive $608 million upfront in projects funded and the remaining $290 million will be paid out over the life of the project.
“This is great news,” stated Commissioner Phyllis Cole. “Collin County’s future is now. With over $1 billion in road funding we will be able to address both our city thoroughfares and our major highways”
Commissioner Jack Hatchell stated, “In my 48 years as a traffic engineer, I have never seen such a windfall for any county or city. This will take our infrastructure to a new level as Collin County continues its rapid growth.
Also on the county bond election are two additional propositions asking for $76 million for county facilities and $17 million for open space projects. “All three propositions are sorely needed and we can pass all three without a tax rate increase,” Commissioner Jerry Hoagland stated. “Every other county in America would love to be in our position. All we need is for voters to approve the bonds on November 6.”
State Senator Florence Shapiro endorsed the county bond election saying, “I applaud the partnerships between Collin County, the NTTA and our local cities in bringing about this much needed road funding. I also look forward to the next legislative session as we work together to bring even more funding to Collin County.”
01:14 PM CDT on Thursday, September 27, 2007
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
– TxDOT? is fast going broke.
State transportation officials announced today that rising costs, dwindling federal funds, and lawmakers' opposition to private-sector investment in toll projects have combined to force it to sharply scale back construction plans.
"The people of Texas need to understand that within a very short period of time, there will be no money for mobility projects," said Texas Transportation Commission member Ned Holmes of Houston.
The affected projects will be those designed to build new roads, or add lanes to existing roads. Projects already under contract and those designed to maintain or rehabilitate existing roads won't be affected.
The reductions will begin later this fiscal year, and by 2010 the state will essentially have no money for new roads, said Commission Chairman Ric Williamson.
The department is reducing its construction projects even as experts are warning that Texas needs to spend more to fight a worsening traffic and air quality.
A national study by the Texas Transportation Institute released last week revealed that rush-hour congestion in the Dallas and Houston areas are each among the worst in the nation – and not likely to improve.
But Mr. Williamson said the money is simply not there.
The federal government – whose highway trust fund is expected to begin running a deficit by 2009 – continues to reduce its funding for new construction, he said. In addition, Texas lawmakers have steadily increased the amount of state gas tax revenues that are diverted to pay for other expenses – totaling more than $1 billion in the current budget.
But the commissioners saved their strongest criticism for moratorium imposed on private financing for toll projects throughout most of Texas. Mr. Williamson said the decision will cost the state billions of dollars in annual construction money beginning almost immediately.
Bill comments -
So, if TxDOT? doesn't have any money, then where does Judge Self think the Pass-Through dollars are going to come from? Pass-Through is a risky scheme - we should not be betting our bonds on its continuation.
Reposted, with permission from Joe Jaynes' blog , The County Line Blog
On November 6, Collin County will seek voter approval for approximately $329 million in bonds. The bond proposal will focus on transportation, facilities and open space. This email will address the transportation aspect of the bond package. Facilities and open space will be discussed in future emails.
Last year Collin County added 88 people per day. Yet we also added 94 cars per day. We are literally adding more cars then people! Our transportation bond committee, comprised of local citizens, recommended that we set the transportation portion of the bond amount at $235.6 million to fund 113 road projects countywide. Most of these projects are 50-50 partnerships with local cities to upgrade older roads or construct new thoroughfares.
Through these partnerships we will be able to complete approximately $420 million in road projects -- all without a tax rate increase. Collin County will also maintain its AAA bond rating as well. A detailed list of the projects and their costs can be found at my website, www.joejaynes.com.
The proposed bond does not fully address state and federally funded thoroughfares such as U.S. 75 and state highways. Those roadways are not county responsibilities. They fall under the purview of the state and federal government, and the costs of these projects are enormous. While I support working with state and federal agencies to the best of our ability, I believe that applying county bond funds to major highways exclusively would not bring about immediate action and would ultimately be cost-prohibitive to Collin County taxpayers.
For example, applying all the $235.6 million to U.S. 75 would bring about expansion from S.H. 121 to Virginia Parkway -- maybe. A bond election that focused its transportation dollars on such a small area would, I believe, fail due to a lack of support from other cities within Collin County.
In a bond election everyone needs something; if not, there will not be enough support for the election. To have voter approval of a bond election for state and U.S. highways almost all of them (U.S. 75, S.H. 121N, S.H. 289, S.H. 78 and numerous Farm-to-Market roads) would have to be addressed for the election to be successful. Considering the scope of these projects, $235.6 million would have to be spread so thin that it would probably not even cover the annual inflation rates for these projects much less their costs.
This approach would take Collin County years, if not decades, and numerous bond elections to get these projects started. In the meantime, expanding our major thoroughfares would be left entirely to the cities who, without the partnerships with Collin County, would have to drastically increase city taxes to build these much needed roadways at a slower rate.
What should be done about the state and U.S. highways in Collin County? First of all, we are working hard to net approximately $600 million in upfront revenue from the S.H. 121 toll project. This money will go a long way toward leveraging funds for our highways. Secondly, as Commissioner Jerry Hoagland has stated, we need to meet with our state legislative and congressional delegations and let them know how imperative it is that they assist us in attaining more funding at the state and federal level. It is only through their assistance and the funding from S.H. 121 that we will be successful in expanding our state and U.S. highways.
We also must again approach the legislature to allow cities the option of joining DART. Though we had remarkable success this last session, this particular legislation did not pass. DART already owns the line up to Denison and it is estimated that one rail line equals two lanes of traffic. These rail lines would go a long way toward mitigating congestion and, in addition, bring about quality development.
In the end, Collin County cannot afford to abandon our cities and focus our limited resources on state and U.S. highways only. If we do so our road construction will basically come to a halt while our population and tax rates dramatically increase.
I'm thinking of printing some t-shirts that read, "I live in Collin County and all I have to show for it are these damn toll roads."
If County Judge Keith Self successfully torpedoes the Transportation Bond issue, the SH 121 toll road and the Dallas Tollway extension will be among the very few major road projects built in the upcoming years.
Judge Self believes that we should not use county bond money (or any county money) to construct local roads. Instead he states, "The 2007 transportation bond proposal does not relieve congestion on our major highways. The Pass-Through-Financing reimbursement program DOES relieve our congestion, but is effectively abandoned if the transportation bond proposal passes."
Pass-Through-Financing is a scheme by TxDOT? to reimburse local government for highway construction - over time and based on the actual traffic on the road. It's kinda like tolls, except the State pays them, not the drivers.
Judge Self would have us shift the burden of expanding local roads to the cities and towns, while the county uses its money to fix the major highways like Central Expressway and US 380. Self then hopes that the State will reimburse the County using Pass-Through-Financing.
There are several fatal flaws in Self's plan.
First, the State of Texas, and TxDOT? are unreliable guarantors of our bond debt. Our bonds, once sold, are our debt - we the citizens of Collin County have the sole obligation to pay them off. The State can and does change its priorities every time the Legislature is in session. Every single state-financed local program I can think of has had its promised funding cut year to year.
A good example is community college funding. Collin County built its district after the legislature promised to assume the costs of running the schools if the locals built the schools. We did, they don't! That promise has been whittled away, until now the State pays less than half of the costs of running the CCCCD.
Relying on the Texas Legislature to reimburse us for our bond issue is like co-signing a note on a car for your drunk uncle.
Second, pushing down the financing of roads to the local cities would put a huge strain on their ability to raise funds. Local taxes would go up. Collin County has the financial muscle to attract bond investors at favorable rates and still maintain the current tax rate. (Or even cut taxes)
The real problem
I live in Wylie; I commute to Dallas every day. I know how bad traffic is and I know it will only get worse unless a lot more money is spent on local roads, major highways and public transportation.
The real root causes of our traffic congestion are two. One, we are growing faster than we are building roads and rail lines. And two, Collin County is getting screwed by the Federal and State governments with highway tax dollars.
Last year, the federal government took over $6 billion in Texas gas and excise taxes more than was returned in federal highway dollars. According to the Environmental Working Group, only 75 cents is returned to the DFW area for every dollar of gas tax money that goes to Washington.
TxDOT? delighted in referring to Collin County as its biggest "cash cow" in demanding that SH 121 be a toll road, and that the tolls be distributed out of county.
Collin County has elected senior Congressmen, State Representatives and State Senators. We need to hold them responsible for seeing that their constituents get a fair share of transportation dollars. If they can't or won't protect us, we need to elect new representatives who will.
The costs to rebuilt Central Expressway and other major roads will run into the billions of dollars. We can't raise that much in bonds, and we can't rely on a nebulous Pass-Through scheme. As it is, the State is already running out of "Pass-Through" dollars. Future funds will have to come from state bond elections or the Legislature. Neither can be trusted with our future.
We need to do what we can do - build the local, feeder roads, and then we need to demand that our Congressmen and Legislators do their part to bring our fair share of state and federal dollars to this rapidly growing region.
Our future depends on it.
Dallas North Tollway to open new segment in Frisco
09:20 PM CDT on Thursday, September 20, 2007
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
Frisco residents will find it much easier to get to the Dallas North Tollway beginning Sept. 28.
The North Texas Tollway Authority announced Thursday that the newest segment of the tollway will run 9.6 miles between State Highway 121 and U.S. 380.
Frisco residents will find it much easier to get to the Dallas North Tollway beginning Sept. 28.
The North Texas Tollway Authority announced Thursday that the newest segment of the tollway will run 9.6 miles between State Highway 121 and U.S. 380.
Frontage roads along the new toll lanes are already open – and heavily used, said Frisco Mayor Mike Simpson, who welcomed the news. As many as 50,000 vehicles a day travel the frontage roads, Mr. Simpson said.
"It's going to relieve a lot of congestion and improve their travel times," Mr. Simpson said. "Commuters are going to get to work faster and get home earlier."
The $264 million construction project began nearly three years ago and will continue after the segment's Sept. 28 opening. Even so, officials said all three lanes in both directions will open that day.
Collin County Commissioner Phyllis Cole said in a written statement released by the NTTA that the road comes just in time to help relieve congestion caused by rapid development in western Collin County.
"This is welcome relief for those who live, work and commute through this fast-growing end of the county," she said.
The new tollway segment should help thin out traffic in other parts of Frisco, too.
That's good news, said Mr. Simpson, who added that the city has spent a lot on building new roads to keep up with population growth. By 2008, he said, the city will have spent more than $300 million on local roads and roads Frisco has taken over from the state.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Frisco's population has more than doubled since 2000, jumping from 33,000 to 88,000 in 2006. That spike followed even more spectacular growth in the previous decade, when the city's population soared about 450 percent.
Key to that growth was a previous extension of the Dallas North Tollway, which opened in 1994 and brought the road to Highway 121. Now that the road will pass through Frisco, Mr. Simpson said, northern parts of the county stand to make similar gains.
"The population here just continues to grow, even in the area north of Frisco," he said.
The NTTA is planning a fourth phase of the Dallas North Tollway, one that would stretch from U.S. 381 to the Grayson County line.
Link to new toll rates, effective September 29, 2007 is here
In response to: The Bridges of Collin County
Comment from: Jon Kleinheksel,Director of Collin County Public Works
With regards to Bridges of Collin County: I was a bit surprised to find so many bridges listed as "structurally deficient" in your August 18 posting, especially since 5 of those bridges mentioned have been completely replaced within the last 18 months.
In fact, when your Bridges of Collin County was posted last month, only 2 bridges were actually still classified as structurally deficient.
To be fair, please post this with your article so your readers can have a more focused picture of the condition of these bridges: One of the bridges listed in the report - CR 117 (El Dorado Parkway) over Rowlett Creek - was replaced in 2006, more than a year before the July 2007 TxDOT? report was published.
We have no idea why it is still listed as structurally deficient, but I assure you it is not.
Four other bridges on the list have also been completely replaced, with final work completed last month. All of these bridges are open to through traffic right now: CR476 over Sister Grove Creek *CR 631 over Pot Rack Creek *CR534 over Pilot Grove Creek *CR475 over Sister Gove Creek.
Of the remaining 3 bridges, the bridge on Independence Pkwy over Pitman Creek in Plano has also been deemed functionally obsolete due to design standards that have changed since it was built in 1973. However, TxDOT? engineers have rated it 70.9 and we are told it will be removed from the structurally deficient list.
The bridge at FM1378 over North White Rock Creek has been deemed functionally obsolete, and TxDOT? and the federal government have granted funds to replace it. That leaves the bridge on Dickerson St. over the East Fork of the McKinney? Branch in the southeast corner of the county. Because it lies within the Dallas City Limits, the only information we have on the span is from TxDOT? officials, who tell us it was built in 1935. We have no information on what Dallas plans to do abut its rating.
Thanks for helping us set the record straight, and if you ever have the need to check the status of any of our Road and Bridge projects, we will be glad to help you out.
Jon Kleinheksel, Director of Collin County Public Works
Comment from: bill
Thank you for setting the record straight.
I really appreciate you pointing out the errors in the report and in my post - I am happy to post the correction.
I'm beginning to think that TxDOT? can create confusion a whole lot quicker than it can build roads.
Thank you again,
Last week, Dallas County Judge Jim Foster spoke out against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's (TCEQ) clean air plan for the DFW area. Judge Foster joins a growing chorus of local officials, including Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, who are condemning the TCEQ's "toothless" plan as totally inadequate.
Noticeably silent on the issue is our own County Judge Keith Self, and our commissioners court.
Up until last January, a local regional committee led by ex-county judges Keliher of Dallas and Harris of Collin County, had pushed for stronger measures, including halting the permitting of the TXU coal-fired plants. Other recomendations included more stringent controls on the cement kilns in Midlothian.
The last TCEQ plan, similar to the current one, was rejected by the EPA. The DFW area, including Collin County is already paying the price for our pollution - in higher medical costs, and lost economic opportunities. (Both Boeing and Toyota cited our air quality as one reason not to move to the Dallas area)
As the Dallas Morning News reported, "Judge Foster asked Gov. Perry to:
•Appoint a North Texan to the vacant seat on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
•Convene a summit to strengthen the clean-air plan for this region.
•Tell the TCEQ to include recommendations from the North Texas Clean Air Steering Committee in the new proposal."
Judge Self and the commissioners need to join in with other North Texas counties in petitioning the Governor, the EPA and the TCEQ to work with our local citizens to seek a real, community driven plan to clean our air.
Ineffective mandates from Austin are not the answer.
In other business, the RTC also heard the latest on efforts by the North Texas Tollway Authority to reach final agreement with the state to build Highway 121. Mr. Morris told members that as soon as the project received environmental clearance from the federal government, the state will sign a contract with NTTA. He said the clearance – which has been awaited for months – is expected before the end of October.
In the article, the News made no mention of the negotiations for the distribution of the $2.9 billion NTTA concession fee.
The RTC did however vote to oppose the Dallas referendum to stop the construction of the Trinity Parkway toll road in Dallas. It stands to reason, the NCTCOG and the RTC have never to my knowledge met a toll road they didn't love. The News reports that Mr. Morris "said he and his staff will begin efforts to convince voters to keep the high-speed highway as part of the Trinity River Project.".
The North Central Texas Council of Governments, supported by fees paid for with tax dollars, was originally founded to be a technical resource for smaller local governments. It has evolved over the last few decades to become, as its website states, "a voluntary association of, by and for local governments, established to assist local governments in planning for common needs, cooperating for mutual benefit, and coordinating for sound regional development."
In other words it has taken on an activist role as an advocate for, among other things, the tolling of local North Texas roads.
The Collin County members of the RTC are, Commissioner Joe Jaynes, Councilwoman Loretta Ellerbe of Plano, and McKinney? Mayor Bill Whitfield.
The Collin County Commissioners Court is not presenting its typical unified front for the Nov. 6 bond election as County Judge Keith Self is asking people to vote against all three proposals.
The bond election includes $235.6 million in transportation projects, $17 million in open space projects and $76.3 million in county facilities.
The four commissioners voted for all three bond proposals to be included in the election. However, Self voted against the proposals because he wanted the majority of the money spent on federal and state highways in the county.
“The entire $328.9 million bond amount is $60 million above what we can afford. It’s either going to take our debt service payment from 5.5 percent, which is the traditional level we set our bonds, to increase, cause us to pull money out of the surplus maintenance and operating funds, or raise taxes,” Self said.
He would rather substitute pass-through financing for U.S. 75 for the transportation bond proposal, Self said.
If the bond election fails and the cities have to raise taxes to pay for the proposed road projects, Self said that would be a city issue as his job as county judge is to look over the county issues. “That’s up to the cities. I’m not going to get into city policies. I need to focus on county issues,” Self said.
Commissioner Jerry Hoagland said he and Commissioner Joe Jaynes will meet with mayors of cities who presented projects for the transportation bond proposal at 3 p.m. Friday and at 7 p.m. Monday at the Collin County Association of Realtors office in Plano to discuss promoting the bond proposals. Commissioner Jack Hatchell and Commissioner Phyllis Cole have been asked to attend the Monday meeting. Hoagland said only two commissioners or less may attend the meetings so there is not a quorum of commissioners present. He wishes Self had not asked people to vote against the bond election, Hoagland said.
“I wish he hadn’t done that, but that’s certainly his prerogative. He’s going to have some impact on the bond package. For him to say that eight cities are not represented in the bond election is deceptive. He knows better than that. The eight cities were sent letters asking for them to submit proposals, but their tax base is not significant enough in their cities for them to participate,” Hoagland said.
On Thursday, the Regional Transportation Council (RTC) is to hear a NCTCOG staff proposal on how to divide the NTTA's SH 121 concession fee. The concession fee is a $2.5 billion "up-front" fee paid by the North Texas Tollway Authority for the rights to construct, operate and collect tolls from SH 121. This fee is to be divided up among local governments.
Thursday's RTC meeting agenda contains the following item:
Revenue Allocation from S.H. 121 Toll Road Implementation
Presenter: Michael Morris and Christie Jestis, NCTCOG
Item Summary: Staff will brief the Council on the distribution methodology and county allocations of the S.H. 121 proceeds. Background: The 2007 Regional Toll Revenue Funding Initiative was announced in April 2007 making $2.5 billion in S.H. 121 toll proceeds available to fund transportation projects. Before project selection decisions can be made, the RTC must determine how these proceeds are to be allocated to Collin, Dallas, Denton, and Tarrant counties. The Council will be briefed on the distribution methodology recommended by staff, along with any comments and/or consensus achieved during the RTC workshop on this topic prior to the meeting. The RTC will be asked to approve the proposed county funding allocation in October 2007. Electronic Item 9 contains the draft distribution methodology and county allocations
In the proposal, the concession fee is first divided 5% for the western counties of Johnson, Parker and Tarrant, and 95% for the eastern counties of Collin, Dallas and Denton. After set asides and including toll revenue, and Collin County construction costs ($565 million) the eastern region's $2.9 billion are allocated as shown below:
Eastern Region Share by County (in $millions)
Collin County (41%) $1,192.24
Dallas County (7%) $203.55
Denton County (52%) $1,512.11
But then only Collin County has $565 million deducted from its share to be used for the construction of SH 121.
The final allocation of funds then becomes:
Eastern Region Share by County (in $millions)
Collin County (22%) $627.24
Dallas County (7%) $203.55
Denton County (52%) $1,512.11
SH 121 constr. (19%) $565
(Note: At a meeting on August 27, NCTCOG told another committee that the $565 million construction cost was a "holding figure" and should really be closer to $698 million. If true, that would further reduce Collin County's portion to $548 million)
Perhaps a fairer method would be to deduct the construction costs first leaving an allocation of:
Eastern Region Share by County (in $millions)
Collin County (41%) $960.59
Dallas County (7%) $164
Denton County (52%) $1,218.31
SH 121 constr. $565
Big difference, eh? We shall see how much influence our County leaders have as the numbers are finalized.
Posted: Monday, 10 September 2007 5:52PM
KRLD News Radio 1080
Dividing Up Billions Of Dollars
We now have an idea how the Regional Transportation Council would like to divide the billions of dollars in up-front money from the State Highway 121 project.
The 2.5-billion dollars is money the North Texas Tollway Authority promised to win the lucrative contract to run the State Highway 121 toll road. In documents filed by the RTC there are two options the staff is recommending for dividing that money. As part of those options Mike Morris of the Council of Governments says Collin County gets as part of this agreement the completion of 121, the DNT 121 interchange and the 75 121 interchange.
And because of that Collin County is already raising concerns. Judge Keith Self tells KRLD the construction costs of 121 in Collin County do not come out of the concession fee even though those are the figures NTCOG is using. They are over and above the concession fee.
These are options that are subject to change. The Regional Transportation Council will take it up Thursday.
Tuesday, September 11, at 9:00 AM the Collin County Commissioners Court is scheduled to vote final approval on -
The 2008 Tax hike
2008 Elected Officials' 6% salary increase
This is your last opportunity to be heard before the Budget is approved.
Also on the agenda is to discuss and act on 2007 Longevity pay increases, and 2007 merit increases.
The Court is also scheduled to hear a report on the 2007 Regional Transportation Commission's "Comprehensive Development Funding Initiative". (How the tolls from Hwy 121 will be spent)
Legislators in Austin and Washington are questioning a Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) plan to enact a federal law allowing the state agency to “buy back” interstate highways and then convert them to toll roads.
The plan was first introduced by TxDOT? in a February “Forward Momentum” report.
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said Friday she will file a bill preventing such a plan.
“I intend to immediately introduce as free-standing legislation my amendment that the Senate passed in 2005 to specifically prohibit states from tolling existing interstate highways,” said Hutchison in a press statement.
Tuesday, Texas senators and representatives called the plan “ridiculous” and said they are losing confidence in TxDOT, suggesting the department is in need of legislative oversight.
By Brandi Hart, McKinney Courier-Gazette
Wednesday, August 29, 2007 2:04 AM CDT
The Nov. 6 proposed bond election amount remained unchanged Tuesday as county commissioners took no action on County Judge Keith Self’s proposal to change it from $328.9 million to $271 million.
Self proposed setting a maximum of $271 million for all bond projects and having a moratorium on bond elections for the next nine years. He asked the court to develop criteria to accelerate major highway environmental studies, engineering, design, approval and construction. Self suggested making the congestion of major highways the primary criteria for county funding, with 70 percent devoted to current highway congestion and 30 percent to future congestion.
Commissioner Jerry Hoagland said he did not think it was the county’s responsibility to fund major highways.
“I don’t think the voters would vote for it because they want to see something in their back yards, so to speak. I think we need to hold our local politicians’ feet to the fire,” Hoagland said.
Hoagland also asked Self which nine cities he stated in the last court meeting are not included in the transportation proposal for the Nov. 6 bond. Self said Weston, Blue Ridge, Josephine, Nevada, New Hope, Lowry Crossing, St. Paul, and Royse City, which is partially in Collin County, Hunt County and Rockwall County, are not included. The county asked all cities in the county to submit transportation proposals to be reviewed by the transportation bond committee, and did not receive requests from those cities, according to County Engineer Ruben Delgado.
Commissioner Joe Jaynes agreed with Hoagland. He thought voters would not support a bond election that would fund improvements for highways but not major roadways in their cities. If the county diverted funding for the cities’ street projects, that would increase the cities’ tax rates, Jaynes said. “I think we’re putting the cities in a position to where they have to raise the tax rate. I just don’t see where you’re going to get people to vote for that. The voters will want to see us complete some projects. I just see it as a tax increase for our cities and nothing getting done at first.”
Self also said he included Westminster, but the community is no longer an incorporated city.
Self said he respectfully disagreed with Hoagland as he feels funding state and federal highways is the county’s responsibility.
The commissioners discussed the policy and took no action on it.
McKinney Courier Gazette
Created: Saturday, August 18, 2007 1:18 AM CDT
Collin County voters will determine the fate of a three-proposition, $328.9 million bond package in November. Projects on the bond list include some much-needed thoroughfares, expansion of the new courthouse that was dedicated on Tuesday and additional detention facilities.
All of these items go hand-in-hand with explosive growth, which is why County Judge Keith Self’s “no” votes on all three propositions are so curious.
The disturbing thing is not Self’s negative vote, in and among itself. He has every right to vote as he believes, and his position does likely reflect the views of more than a few Collin County residents who don’t want higher taxes for any reason whatsoever. The Nov. 6 vote will be nowhere near unanimous.
What is disturbing is some of the reasoning behind Self’s dissenting votes. His comments betray a lack of understanding about what is actually going on in the county and about the functioning of county government.
After the tragic collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, much attention has been focused on the deteriorating infrastructure of our nations roads and bridges.
Friday, TxDOT?, the Texas Department of Transportation released a report detailing the number and condition of bridges in Texas. It might not surprise you to learn that Collin County has its share of "structurally deficient" bridges, all in much worse condition than the I-35W bridge.
The US Department of Transportation rates bridges on a scale of 0% to 100%. A score of 80 percent or less indicates some rehabilitation may be needed; a 50 percent score or less indicates replacement may be in order.
The Minneapolis bridge had a score of 70%.
TxDOT? has identified 8 Collin County bridges as deficient. Only four have repairs under construction. Three are described by TxDOT? as scheduled for rehabilitation sometime in the next 10 years, if money becomes available.
One county bridge, with a rating of only 31%, (less than half the grade of the I-35W) has no plans or funds for replacement nor for repair.
The 8 substandard are:
1. 22.8% CR(County Road) 476 over Sister Grove Creek. (It is under construction)
2. 31% CR 117 over Rowlett Creek. (No plans to repair or replace.)
3. 31% CR 631 over Pot Rack Creek. (Under construction.)
4. 31% Dickerson St. over the East Fork of McKamy? Branch. (Repair scheduled in the next 10 years)
5. 32% CR 534 over Pilot Grove Creek.(It is under construction)
6. 42.2% CR 475 over Sister Grove Creek. (It is under construction)
7. 48.2% FM 1378 over North White Rock Creek. (Repair scheduled in the next 10 years)
8. 70.9% Independence Parkway over Pitman Creek Tributary. (Repair scheduled in the next 10 years)
1 is "Structurally Deficient" (now 8 in 2007)
83 are "Functionally Obsolete"
3 are "Substandard"
Collin County is in the Dallas TxDOT? region which has 27% of its bridges in poor condition - the highest percentage of any region in the state.
Tuesday, County Judge Keith Self took on the commissioners court by stating that he could not support any of the county's 2007 bond propositions.
Declaring that he "was standing with the taxpayers", Mr. Self instead alienated the commissioners and for that matter virtually every mayor and city council person in the county.
The best quote after Self's vote came from Precinct 3 Commissioner Joe Jaynes, who said (of Self), I don't know if he's truly that far off the reservation or if he's posturing for future political office.".
Self told the Dallas Morning News that the bonds would drive up the county's debt and possibly force a tax increase. Smoke-screen arguments about budget busting aside, his main issue is he believes the County should be using bond money to help solve congestion on major highways, instead of local roads.
Self posted on his website,
"I voted against the bond package today, as I previously stated I would. All elements of the package passed 4-1.
The transportation bond proposal does not address the #1 issue among Collin County citizens - congestion on our major highways. You will hear many reasons why this bond election should not address the congestion on our major highways, but I believe that addressing congestion on major highways is the correct use of the county taxes that you pay. $235 million will go a long way to influencing our congestion through strategic spending on timely environmental studies, engineering and design, targeted acquisition of right of way, and yes, even contributing to construction costs. It is widely known that state and federal highway funds are decreasing, which makes our participation even more imperative."
What Judge Self does not mention is that the cities in Collin County rely heavily on the county's bond package to finance their infrastructure. Almost all of the bond proceeds are distributed to approved local projects as a 50% participation with city governments in paying for roads and parks.
By taking on the financing of highways that the State and Federal government traditionally pay, Self would force the local cities and towns to raise their taxes to pay for much needed local streets, or do without.
This writer believes it's a shame that Judge Self would hold hostage the entire $329 million bond package for a moment of political grandstanding.
Collin commissioners call $328.9 million bond election; Self votes 'no' on all proposals
By Brandi Hart, McKinney? Courier-Gazette
Tuesday, August 14, 2007 1:59 PM CDT
Collin County commissioners on Tuesday called a three-proposition, $328.9 million bond election for Nov. 6 that comprises $235.6 million for transportation, $17 million in open space projects, and $76.3 million in county facilities.
County Judge Keith Self voted against all of the bond proposals, which were compiled by committees of county residents. Self voted against the transportation proposal because he wanted to see the money used for state and federal highways, rather than spread out among city and county road projects, he said.
"By us approving the transportation bond proposal, we leave $160 million on the table for pass-through financing that we have no construction money for", Self said at Tuesday's Commissioners Court meeting.
Self's comments did not sit well with the commissioners, and caused Commissioner Jerry Hoagland to ask Self not to campaign against the package. Hoagland disagreed with Self's idea that the "backbone" of the transportation funds should be used to support state and federal highways, and called it highly inappropriate.
"These major arterials do not begin and end in Collin County, and forcing us to take on the responsibility of these roads is inappropriate because it's too much for the cities to take on", Hoagland said. "When we appointed the committee members, they had a direction and then you got elected and had a different idea on what they should be focusing on. I think it would be highly inappropriate that we not support their recommendations. I want to publicly ask you to not go out and get this bond election defeated", Hoagland said.
Hoagland said he has been a commissioner since 1983 and this is the way the county has always conducted bond elections.
Self told the commissioners three times that nine cities in the county do not have transportation projects in the bond proposal.
Commissioner Joe Jaynes said those nine cities choose not to be included. All cities in Collin County were asked to submit road and transportation projects to the county. Each city included in the transportation bond proposal must pay for half the cost of the road project, with the county contributing the other half, if voters approve the bond. The cities choosing not to be included in the bond are Blue Ridge, Weston, Nevada, Lavon, Josephine, New Hope, Lowry Crossing, Saint Paul, and Royse City, which lies in Collin County, Hunt County and Rockwall County.
"If we don't partner with the cities, then they will have to take it on themselves to fix the roads. I don't want to do to the cities what I think the state is doing to us", Jaynes said.
Commissioner Phyllis Cole said she respectfully disagreed with Self's opinion about the transportation proposal, as the county has a close working relationship with the cities.
Commissioner Jack Hatchell said commissioners are essential to helping cities fund transportation projects. Hatchell also said he appreciated the committee members' work on the proposals.
Self said he heard what the commissioners were saying, but the pass through financing is vitally important for the county to get reimbursement for monies paid for the expansion of federal and state highways.
A proposal to build a juvenile justice facility was tabled for two years.
The open space bond money would be used to for various open space and park projects, such as improvements to the Collin County Adventure Camp in Westminster that is affiliated with the YMCA and Myers Park.
Self also voted against the open space and park bond proposal and the facility bond proposal because he said it did not make sense to vote against the more expensive transportation bond proposal and support the other proposals as they are all part of the same bond.
Voters will be able to vote on each proposition separately on the ballot this fall.
After my complaint to the County Judge (see below), Collin County posted the presentations and proposals from the Bond Committee and from the coalition supporting the Family Justice Center.
I have uploaded these documents. You can view or download them by looking on the lists of files on the right hand side of this page. Look for "2007 Bond Election" near the bottom of the page, and click to view or download.
I will continue to post relevant files and links as they become available.
Major Highways or local roads?
Tuesday, the commissioners are to vote on the 2007 Bond Package. In Sunday's Dallas Morning News, Judge Self and Commissioner Jaynes sparred over the transportation bonds.
Keith Self stated he will vote against the bond issue because it does not address the major highways, which he believes are critical to accommodate the growth in traffic. Jaynes supports the bonds, believing that the County must take care of what it can, while the state and feds have the responsibility for major highways.
Judge Self is also locking horns with Commissioner Phyllis Cole over a bond proposal to fund a Family Justice Center. She wants it, he doesn't.
With this much controversy before the bonds are even presented to the voters, the county will have to mount a real PR campaign to get the voters to agree on any new bonds.
10:34 PM CDT on Thursday, August 9, 2007
By MICHAEL LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News
Windfall for transportation
Amount requested: $2.231 billion
Anticipated amount available: $529 million
Amount requested: $3.84 billion
Anticipated amount available: $944.65 million
Amount requested: $1.65 billion
Anticipated amount available: $201.55 million
Amount requested: $949.59 million
Anticipated amount available: $61.52 million
Note: An additional $70.71 million has been requested by other counties or for multicounty projects
The North Texas Tollway Authority remains several days away from signing an agreement with the state to build and operate the State Highway 121 toll road, but local governments already have submitted hundreds of proposals for how best to spend the billions of dollars NTTA has promised to pay.
More than 50 North Texas entities – including cities, counties and transit authorities – have submitted more than 550 proposals to regional transportation planners. All hope to get their share of the $3.33 billion advance payment NTTA will make as part of its 50-year deal to build the road and collect its tolls.
Those requests include money for 95 highway projects, 17 traffic signal improvements, and 41 hike-and-bike projects, as well as hundreds of other ideas.
Together they would cost nearly $9 billion – a reality that did not dampen enthusiasm among Regional Transportation Council members ready to begin spending the money. The RTC, composed mostly of local elected officials, sets transportation policy in North Texas.
"One way or another, we're going to get a big check for a lot of money, and we need to make plans for how we're going to spend it," said John Heiman, an RTC member and Mesquite City Council member.
At its meeting Thursday, the RTC also expressed relief that U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has won a promise from federal transportation officials that they won't punish Texas for selecting NTTA to build Highway 121 over Spanish firm Cintra.
As recently as Tuesday afternoon, the Federal Highway Administration had said it was considering demanding that the state repay more than $200 million in federal funds already spent on Highway 121 because the selection of NTTA had violated its bidding rules.
On Thursday, Ms. Hutchison told a crowd of local officials and others in Irving that U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters promised her that Texas "would not lose a dime" in federal funding over its decision to go with NTTA.
Meanwhile, NTTA and RTC officials have said a project agreement giving final go-ahead to the NTTA could be signed as soon as Monday. All of the major terms have been agreed to – including how much NTTA will pay for collecting the Highway 121 tolls for the next 50 years, both sides said.
About $700 million of the $3.33 billion in payments by the NTTA has already been designated for projects subject to existing agreements. In addition, the RTC will probably set aside $833 million for future use, leaving only about $1.74 billion that will be available to pay for the hundreds of projects submitted by cities and counties last week.
Of those funds, the majority – $945 million – will pay for Denton County projects, since it will have most of the Highway 121 toll road within its borders. Collin County is tentatively set to receive about $529 million for projects.
Dallas County's hope
Only a tiny portion of the toll road will run through Dallas County, but it still stands to receive about $202 million for roadwork and other projects. With $1.6 billion in requests, officials in Dallas County – like their counterparts in the other counties – were anything but shy in seeking their share of the money. Tarrant County expects about $62 million for projects.
"We've been working for four or more years to get to this point, and now we are here," said Michael Morris, the RTC director.
The NTTA money has made possible the largest call for projects in North Texas history, but Mr. Morris said its significance goes beyond that. The region is emerging, he said, as one of the nation's best examples of how creative financing – like aggressively priced toll roads – can provide local governments funding without relying solely on state or federal dollars.
• The RTC announced that contracts could be let as soon as January for a 9.9-mile extension of the Bush Turnpike. The new segment would run from Interstate 30 to State Highway 78, and include a bridge over Lake Ray Hubbard. In return for about $320 million in local and state tax dollars used for the project, NTTA has agreed to return about 20 percent of the tolls it collects on the new portion of the road. Mr. Morris said total returns to revenue split could bring as much as $500 million for use in future North Texas road projects.
• The RTC announced it is in discussions with the NTTA to make all toll rates on any new toll roads consistent with the rates scheduled to be set for Highway 121. Those rates will start in 2010 at about 14 cents a mile and be raised every two years by about 2.75 percent. NTTA vice chairman Jack Miller said those plans would affect only Highway 121 and toll projects not yet completed. There has been no discussion about whether to increase rates on the Dallas North Tollway or the Bush Turnpike, Mr. Miller said.
The Collin County Commissioners Court has scheduled 2 public hearings to get citizen input into the fiscal 2008 county budget.
9:00 AM Tuesday, August 28
7:00 PM Tuesday, September 4
I'll be there.
Denton County consultant says Collin to seek larger share of toll proceeds
By Kevin Bowen, McKinney? Courier-Gazette
(Created: Sunday, August 5, 2007 10:11 PM CDT)
Expect Collin County to try to change an agreement on the division of State Highway 121 proceeds and move money to Collin County, the Denton County Commission’s transportation consultant told the Denton County Commission at a meeting this week.
John Polster, the county’s transportation consultant, said he expects Collin County officials to make a “full-court press” to change the agreement on the division of SH 121 funds at a Regional Transportation Committee meeting set for Thursday.
Denton County is expected to receive $1.5 billion of $3.3 billion generated by the tollway. Polster told the commission that new proposals from the Collin County delegation would re-divide that money and send it eastward.
Polster said the current proposal is based on a calculation of vehicle-miles traveled. Polster said the Collin County officials would try to point out demographics, the amount of road construction needed in a county, and to suggest dividing the funds by the county of origin for toll tags.
Polster said Denton County will generate the majority of revenue, because SH 121 is more critical to Denton County transportation than to Collin County, which has many alternative roadway options.
“It’s a very captive audience,” he said, of Denton County SH121 users. He said he has seen some movement toward the Collin County position in recent days, particularly cities in Collin County that had been in support of the previous agreement. He asked commissioners to contact officials in the area to shore up support for the vehicle-miles formula. Collin County officials could not be reached by press time.
City manager will recommend resolution on SH121 tolling instead of lawsuit
By Penny Rathbun, Frisco Enterprise
(Created: Friday, July 27, 2007 12:29 PM CDT
The Frisco City Council has been considering filing a lawsuit to try to block the tolling of State Highway 121, but no decision has been made on that action yet.
On Thursday Frisco City Manager George Purefoy said it would be his recommendation to council to enact a resolution supporting an agreement between the North Texas Tollway Authority and the Texas Department of Transportation and the Regional Transportation Council that would put constraints on the amount of tolls that could be charged.
He said TxDOT? had a complex method of determining the amount of the toll on State Highway 121. If TxDOT? sets the inflation factor at 2.75 percent and raises tolls only in small increments, Purefoy said he will recommend a resolution to the council instead of filing a lawsuit.
If the council did file a lawsuit it would probably go to mediation and eventually the compromise would be something that would look similar to the resolution he is going to recommend to council.
“I think with those two things we probably have done as good as we can do in trying to protect the public from runaway tolls,” said Purefoy. “I don’t think there is any doubt that Frisco has changed the course of this to the citizens’ benefit,” he added
Collin County commissioners unanimously agreed to apply to the Texas Department of Transportation for pass-through financing for the expansion of U.S. Highway 75 from State Highway 121 on Tuesday.
The Commissioners Court approved to apply to TxDOT? for pass-through financing for Tier 1 of the county's pass-through projects, which include at least nine roads in McKinney?, Plano and Allen for an estimated $158.5 million for the completion of the roads.
Melissa Mayor David Dorman was in the audience and told the commissioners that it would be incumbent upon them to vote on the issue while the commissioners were debating on taking action on it at Tuesday's Commissioners Court meeting. The northern part of the U.S. 75 expansion is near Melissa.
The pass-through projects include the expansion of Custer Road in McKinney? from two to six lanes from U.S. 380 to Stonebridge Drive. The estimated construction cost is $14.4 million and the estimated total project cost is $21.24 million.
City of McKinney? Transportation Manager Rich Larkens said 60 percent of the engineering for the expansion of Custer Road is complete, and the environmental study has been completed. The city is currently working with property owners to acquire right of way along Custer Road, Larkens said.
“We should be contacting property owners in the next couple of months and hope to have the right of way completed by March 2008,” Larkens said. “We would like to have the utilities relocated by summer of 2008.”
Construction along Custer Road is expected to last 14 to 18 months, Larkens said.
The city of McKinney? has hired the Dallas engineering firm Turner, Collie and Braden for the Custer expansion, Larkens said.
Other Tier 1 county pass-through projects include:
€ The expansion of S.H. 78 from Spring Creek Parkway to S.H. 205 from two to four lanes. The projected construction cost is $12 million and the estimated total project cost is $17.70 million;
€ The expansion of Preston Road, or S.H. 289 from U.S. 380 to Farm-to-Market Road 455 to six lanes for an estimated total of $63.58 million;
€ The expansion of S.H. 121to four lanes from S.H. 5 to F.M. 455 in Melissa and near Anna for an estimated total cost of $47.46 million;
€ The expansion of Stacy Road from S.H. 5 to F.M. 1378 in Allen for an estimated total cost of $11.8 million;
€ A single diamond interchange of U.S. 75 at Parker Road in Plano for an estimated total cost of $20.15 million; and
€ The expansion of Parker Road, or F.M. 2514, from two to four lanes from F.M. 2551 to F.M. 1378 for an estimated total cost at $15.93 million.
After much discussion, the court voted to discuss the possibility of hiring one attorney and one secretary and creating a civil section in the District Attorney's Office. The commissioners will discuss the issue at a workshop meeting Feb. 5.
District Attorney John Roach presented information about the proposed new department. He originally suggested the court hire two attorneys and two secretaries for the department.
Commissioner Jack Hatchell said he was not sure he could support the hiring of two attorneys.
Commissioner Joe Jaynes voted against the motion to discuss the issue Feb. 5 as he did not want to further expand the county government.
“I have a big issue with expanding government rather than privatizing it,” Jaynes said.
Collin County Sheriff Terry Box asked how the civil section would operate, such as how the chain of command would work and who could call the attorney, if one were hired. He also reminded the court that if hired, the attorney would be accessible to numerous county employees rather than just the Commissioners Court.
In other news, the court:
€ Voted to hire the Dallas law firm Fish and Richardson for mediation services about former county employee Barbara Ingram's litigation with the county and its Human Resources Department; and
€ Appointed Self to the Plano Economic Development Board of Directors.
Outer Loop route gets a green light
Collin County: Concerns voiced, but commissioners stress that highway project in early stages
12:00 AM CST on Thursday, December 14, 2006
By TONY HARTZEL / The Dallas Morning News
McKINNEY? – After years of discussion, Collin County commissioners decided this week where the Outer Loop highway project will be built.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the county's preferred route for the 45-mile project at a special public hearing Tuesday night. About 300 people attended the hearing, which lasted about 90 minutes.
Some residents at the hearing were concerned about the project's effect on the county's rural atmosphere, while others worried about the highway taking their property.
But the county needs to do something with 102 people moving into Collin County each day and 102 vehicles being registered each day, Commissioner Joe Jaynes said.
"We need to be planning ahead for the growth," he said, adding that the number of vehicles in the county will double in 20 years. "We have had four years of meetings on this, and people need to know where we are going with it."
As planned, the loop will start just south of Nevada at the Rockwall County line. It will run north to an area east of Blue Ridge. It will then veer to the west and run east-west across much of the northern part of the county, including Anna, Melissa, Weston and Celina. It eventually will connect to a Denton County road that will reach I-35E.
Although the highway won't be built for many years, choosing a route now allows the county and cities to regulate development along the path of the highway. It also helps them preserve the 500-foot-wide swath of land needed for the ultimate six-lane highway and six lanes of frontage roads. The swath also includes 100 feet for a future rail line.
The path still can – and probably will – have some minor changes.
After hearing from about 20 speakers concerned about the highway going right through their homes, commissioners encouraged county staffers to consider slightly shifting the route around some areas. Some speakers also warned that the project would lessen the rural feel of northern and eastern Collin County.
"I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles. This is not suburban LA, and I don't want it to be that way," Blue Ridge-area resident David Canfield told commissioners.
Commissioners tried to reassure concerned residents that the project is still a decade or two away from the first major phases of construction. It could take even longer before it becomes a major highway, they said.
"A lot of people think we are going to build another LBJ Freeway as soon as possible," Mr. Jaynes said. "That's not the case."
Able to negotiate
Commissioners likened the Outer Loop to the Bush Turnpike, which sat on the drawing board for decades before it was built. With the decision, the county is able to start negotiating with landowners.
Some dirt could be flying relatively soon. The first possible project – a two-lane road between U.S. Highway 75 and State Highway 121 – could be built in about five years, Mr. Jaynes said.
In addition, the state could speed up the project if it makes the Outer Loop part of the Trans-Texas Corridor, a toll road that will stretch from the Red River south to San Antonio.
That project calls for up to a 1,200-foot-wide swath to provide room for truck lanes, utility lines and rail lines.
"This may become a part of the Trans-Texas Corridor, but it is not going to have 1,200 feet of right of way," Commissioner Jack Hatchell said.
The decision shows that the commissioners continue to ignore the northeast section of Collin County, said Blue Ridge resident Leona Richardson. The third-generation Collin County resident said she's upset that she may eventually have to move.
"I hate that I have to give up my part of the county so that others can profit," she said.
Others at the meeting said they were happy with the decision because it will make their property more valuable. Seven years ago, Bill and Yvonne Stewart bought 15 acres on the east side of Highway 75 in Anna as an investment.
"It's going to make our land more valuable than it ever would have been with farming," Mr. Stewart said.