The Language of Traffic The ability to understand the Language of Traffic is necessary for those who wish to engage in rigorous, productive discussions of transportation impacts and policies. For purposes of this article, the Language of Traffic is the terms and definitions that transportation professionals use to analyze, project and describe traffic. At times, this technical terminology can seem like a totally different language. Read more…
CDA – Comprehensive Development Agreement, public –private partnerships that amount to selling ownership of our public assets to private, even foreign, companies for up to 50 years (perhaps longer based on news reports). Private companies negotiate for the control of toll rates and the non-toll lanes(to slow speed limits or increase time at traffic signals) to ensure they make enough profit from the toll roads. It isn’t enough for these highway interests to just bid to build the roads, now they want to control them and exclusively profit off of the taxpayers for up to 50 years per contract WITHOUT COMPETITION!
Cintra – A Spanish-based consortium who was awarded the first leg of the Trans Texas Corridor that parallels I-35 and the bid to build the San Antonio toll starter system on 281 and Loop 1604. Partners with Zachry. Cintra recently purchased a Houston-based construction company, Webber Group, in order to appear more “American” for future highway bids.
Macquarie – Bidder on San Antonio toll starter system and 121 in Collin/Denton Counties. They are partners with Cintra on the Ontario Toll Project disaster up in Canada. Read about their standard operating procedures using secret public-private partnerships like Cintra to gain a monopoly on our public highways for up to 99 years here.
MPO – Metropolitan Planning Organization – established by the federal government to guide where federal gas tax dollars get allocated locally. The Federal Transportation Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) and its predecessor [Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA)], established the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for San Antonio-Bexar County. TEA-21 states that the MPO should have local elected officials, representatives of major transit authorities, airports, rail and ports and appropriate state officials.
Pass Through Financing – Also known as shadow tolling in the toll road industry. A local entity, like a city and/or county, pays for the road project and the Department of Transportation pays the local entities back based on the number of cars that “pass through” equipment which counts the number of cars (basically like tolling). The problem with this approach is that local gvernment has to use its tax money, like property tax, to pay for improvements to STATE highways. We already pay numerous fees for highways, not the least of which is the gas tax. This is another way the State is abdicating its role and responsibility to build and maintain our State highways.
Prop 15 – Mobility Fund/Toll Equity Act of 2001 that appeared on the November 6, 2001 ballot: “The constitutional amendment creating the Texas Mobility Fund and authorizing grants and loans of money and issuance of obligations for financing the construction, reconstruction, acquisition, operation, and expansion of state highways, turnpikes, toll roads, toll bridges, and other mobility projects.” The voters passed this with 67% of the vote, and it was sold to them as allowing TxDOT to borrow future gas tax revenues in order to speed up highway projects (versus simply pay as you go funding). Nowhere is a toll only mandate mentioned in that proposition.
Prop 1- PASSED Nov 8, 2005 – Prop 1 passed on November 8. We need to be alert and watching the Legislature for selling bonds to subsidize profitable private rail companies at our expense. The Prop 1 rail fund was the same voter trick as Prop 15 from 2001, except this time it’s about the public subsidizing rail.__Prop 1 allows an open ended corporate subsidy. Taxpayers will pay unlimited tax dollars to move private corporation rail lines into the Trans Texas Corridor after Gov. Perry promised no public funds would be used.__The state DEBT commitment would also be open-ended, with no limit on the amount of state bonds that could be issued from this new fund. By amending the Constitution to authorize the creation of this fund, the state will commit itself to massive debt for generations. Private corporations will profit from this taxpayer giveaway that help the controversial Trans Texas Corridor move forward. See TxDOT’s own admission that their rail plan includes the Trans Texas Corridor (see page 3 of actual document, page 7 of PDF).The railroad industry no longer is state-regulated, and state government should not involve itself in that industry’s investment decisions.__The ballot language does not advise the voter of the that it’s a special interest fund that the taxpayer pays for and private corporations profit from. It is a blank check and unlimited debt. We’ll be monitoring this in the Legislature!
Prop 9 – DEFEATED on Nov 8 ballot – Proposition 9 would have allowed unelected, unaccountable Tolling Authority board members to have extended term limits. Current 2 year term limits would have expanded to 6 years for Regional Mobility Authorities. These appointed people are allowed to privatize and toll our freeways – they will set the toll rates for roads we’ve already paid for.__A two-year term of office requires more frequent assessments of the board members job performance. Six-year terms are not necessary to carry out the functions of the authority since the staff or employees of an authority would do so regardless of the length of the directors’ terms.__Comptroller of Texas has reported the RMAs create “Double taxation without accountability”, and that the RMA’s loose management practices cost all Texans more. NOT surprisingly, Comptroller also found favoritism and self-enrichment as board members gave contracts (without bids) to their friends and their own companies. RMA boards will now be required to abide by the standard provided in the Constitution that limits the terms of members of such boards to two years.
RMA – Regional Mobility Authorities, unelected mini-TxDOT’s established by the Legislature in HB 3588. Each county commissioner appoints one member, the county judge appoints 3 members, and the Governor appoints the Chair. The essentially manage toll projects, collect tolls, and arrange for the sale of bonds for road projects.
HB 3588 passed in the 2003 legislative session – Law that established the Trans Texas Corridor, proliferation of toll roads, RMAs, and the transfer of highway funds from the general revenue fund into a mobility fund that TxDOT can allocate at will for useless things like “reviewing” a private contract (or CDA) for a year. The Alamo RMA took advantage of these funds to do just that to the tune of $1 million! So much for tolls speeding up highway projects!
HB 2702 Omnibus Highway Bill from 2005 legislative session – Elected officials hide behind this saying, “it prohibits the conversion of existing highways into tollways without a vote of the people.” But it has so many loopholes, it’s useless against highway robbery, and, in fact, empowers the Transportation Commission with sole discretion over converting existing highways into tollways.
SB 792 Private Toll Moratorium Bill/Replaces traditional turnpikes with “market valuation” – A SELL OUT!
SB 792 began as a county powers bill allowing local tolling entities to have primacy on all toll projects (taking the reins from TxDOT). It was then used as a vehicle to move a private toll moratorium past the House Transportation Committee whose Chairman bottled-up the moratorium bill. The Governor vetoed the PEOPLE’S moratorium bill, HB 1892, and instead got enough senators to “cave” to move a “compromise” bill using SB 792. Not only did the bill severely gut the moratorium allowing too many exceptions, it slipped in “market valuation” which never even had a public debate.
This never before heard of approach to tolling will change the face of our public highway system into an oppressively high, unbridled new toll tax system segregating those who cannot afford tolls from the efficient travel they enjoy today. Market-based tolls through our PUBLIC tolling entities gives government and bond buyers the pot of money and taking out what they view as the greatest obstacle, the foreign management of our public assets. By allowing the public toll entities to, in effect, do the same kind of financing as the private partner AND keep the pot of money, this new shift to market-based tolls will be difficult to strip away from tax and spend governments.
UNLEASHING “MARKET-BASED” TOLL ROADS
SB 792 passed by the Texas Legislature in 2007 replaced ALL traditional turnpikes and unleashed the highest possible tolls under a new model called, “market valuation.” Market values cannot be applied ot a monopoly, so the term on its face is misleading. Nonetheless, the Governor and Legislature figured out a way to apply the same controversial financing to PUBLIC tolling entities as is used in a private equity model; it’s called “market-based” tolls. The law requires ALL toll projects to undergo an “independent” third party appraisal (by a Goldman Sachs, for instance) to determine the “market value” of a proposed tollway, then have the toll authority float bonds for that pre-determined up front fee (just like the concession fees in private equity deals), and lastly, the tolling entity will charge a toll rate that is no longer based on what it costs to actually build the road, but on “whatever the market will bear.”
This means the highest possible taxation and, essentially, toll rates without limit. We’re already seeing toll rates as high as $1.50 a mile on 183 in Austin! So, in effect, we’ll be charged the same oppressively high tolls as if a company like Cintra were doing it! Surely this unbridled taxation will become a model nationwide. Read more here.
Zachry American Infrastructure – San Antonio-based construction company who was awarded the first leg of the Trans Texas Corridor that parallels I-35 and the bid to build the San Antonio toll starter system on 281 and Loop 1604. Partners with Cintra.
Portion of HB 2702 that addresses converting existing highways into toll roads –
SECTION 2.36. Chapter 228, Transportation Code, is amended
by adding Subchapter E to read as follows: SUBCHAPTER E. LIMITATION ON TOLL FACILITY DETERMINATION;
CONVERSION OF NONTOLLED STATE HIGHWAY Sec. 228.201. LIMITATION ON TOLL FACILITY DESIGNATION.
Except as provided by Section 228.2015, the department may not
operate a nontolled state highway or a segment of a nontolled state
highway as a toll project, and may not transfer a highway or segment
to another entity for operation as a toll project, unless: (1) the commission by order designated the highway or
segment as a toll project before the contract to construct the
highway or segment was awarded; (2) the highway or segment was open to traffic as a
turnpike project on or before September 1, 2005; (3) the project was designated as a toll project in a
plan or program of a metropolitan planning organization on or
before September 1, 2005; (4) the highway or segment is reconstructed so that
the number of nontolled lanes on the highway or segment is greater
than or equal to the number in existence before the reconstruction; (5) a facility is constructed adjacent to the highway
or segment so that the number of nontolled lanes on the converted
highway or segment and the adjacent facility together is greater
than or equal to the number in existence on the converted highway or
segment before the conversion; or (6) the commission converts the highway or segment to
a toll facility by: (A) making the determination required by Section
228.202; (B) conducting the hearing required by Section
228.203; and (C) obtaining county and voter approval as
required by Sections 228.207 and 228.208. Sec. 228.2015. LIMITATION TRANSITION. (a) Notwithstanding
Section 228.201, the department may operate a nontolled state
highway or a segment of a nontolled state highway as a toll project
if: (1) a construction contract was awarded for the
highway or segment before September 1, 2005; (2) the highway or segment had not at any time before
September 1, 2005, been open to traffic; and (3) the commission designated the highway or segment
as a toll project before the earlier of: (A) the date the highway or segment is opened to
traffic; or (B) September 1, 2005. (b) This section expires September 1, 2006. SECTION 2.37. Section 362.0041, Transportation Code, is
transferred to Subchapter E, Chapter 228, Transportation Code,
redesignated as Sections 228.202-228.208, and amended to read as
Sec. 228.202 [362.0041 ]. COMMISSION DETERMINATION [CONVERSION OF PROJECTS ]. The [(a) Except as provided in
Subsections (d) and (g), the ] commission may by order convert a nontolled state highway or a segment of a nontolled state highway [the free state highway system ] to a toll project [facility ] if it
determines that the conversion will improve overall mobility in the
region or is the most feasible and economic means to accomplish
necessary expansion, improvements, or extensions to that segment of
the state highway system. Sec. 228.203. PUBLIC HEARING. [(b) ] Prior to converting a state highway or a segment of a[the ] state highway [ system ] under
this subchapter [section ], the commission shall conduct a public
hearing for the purpose of receiving comments from interested
persons concerning the proposed conversion [transfer ]. Notice of
the hearing shall be published in the Texas Register, one or more
newspapers of general circulation, and a newspaper, if any,
published in the county or counties in which the involved highway is
located. Sec. 228.204. RULES. [(c) ] The commission shall adopt
rules implementing this subchapter [section ], including criteria
and guidelines for the approval of a conversion of a highway. Sec. 228.205. QUEEN ISABELLA CAUSEWAY. [(d) ] The
commission may not convert the Queen Isabella Causeway in Cameron
County to a toll project [facility ]. Sec. 228.206. TOLL REVENUE. [(e) Subchapter G, Chapter
361, applies to a highway converted to a toll facility under this
section. [(f) ] Toll revenue collected under this section:
(1) shall be deposited in the state highway fund;
(2) may be used by the department to finance the
improvement, extension, expansion, or operation of the converted
segment of highway and may not be collected except for those
(3) is exempt from the application of Section 403.095,
Government Code. Sec. 228.207. COUNTY AND VOTER APPROVAL. [(g) ] The
commission may only convert a state highway or a segment of a[the ]
state highway [ system ] under this subchapter [section ] if the
conversion is approved by : (1) the commissioners court of each county within
which the highway or segment is located ; and (2) the qualified voters who vote in an election under
Section 228.208 and who reside in the limits of: (A) a county if any part of the highway or segment
to be converted is located in an unincorporated area of the county;
or (B) a municipality in which the highway or
segment to be converted is wholly located .Sec. 228.208. ELECTION TO APPROVE CONVERSION. (a) If
notified by the department of the proposed conversion of a highway
or segment under this subchapter, and after approval of the
conversion by the appropriate commissioners courts as required by
Section 228.207(1), the commissioners court of each county
described by Section 228.207(2)(A) or the governing body of a
municipality described by Section 228.207(2)(B), as applicable,
shall call an election for the approval or disapproval of the
conversion. (b) If a county or municipality orders an election, the
county or municipality shall publish notice of the election in a
newspaper of general circulation published in the county or
municipality at least once each week for three consecutive weeks,
with the first publication occurring at least 21 days before the
date of the election. (c) An order or resolution ordering an election and the
election notice required by Subsection (b) must show, in addition
to the requirements of the Election Code, the location of each
polling place and the hours that the polls will be open. (d) The proposition submitted in the election must
distinctly state the highway or segment proposed to be converted
and the limits of that highway or segment. (e) At an election ordered under this section, the ballots
shall be printed to permit voting for or against the proposition:
“The conversion of (highway) from (beginning location) to (ending
location) to a toll project.” (f) A proposed conversion is approved only if it is approved
by a majority of the votes cast. (g) A notice of the election and a certified copy of the
order canvassing the election results shall be sent to the