Austin's toll revenue projections cut in HALF

Link to article here.

Note how Austin’s toll revenue projections are cut by more than HALF in their long-range plan. Also of note is the acknowledgment that selling our highways to foreign companies in “concession” deals has fallen out of favor with the legislature. That’s due to the grassroots’ blowback over the last 4-5 years. Stay vigilant so we can keep it that way!

Regional transportation plan nears approval
CAMPO 2035 plan includes reduced road spending and much more for rail, other transit.

Published: 8:12 p.m. Sunday, May 9, 2010

Think of a blueprint, one written in chalk.

In the case of Central Texas’ official transportation plan for the next 25 years, which a committee of local leaders probably will approve later this month, what goes into that blueprint to a great degree depends on who gets to hold the chalk. The proposed CAMPO 2035 plan is several hundred pages long with several hundred road, rail, bicycle and pedestrian projects in it that add up to $26.8 billion.

That’s almost $4 billion more than the last version of the 25-year plan, approved in 2005 by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board. But that money might not all materialize. Those numbers assume a much higher rate of Capital Metro sales tax revenue than in recent years, as well as aggressive road bonding in Williamson County.

The new plan includes a much higher percentage of rail and other transit spending than its predecessor and a sharply reduced amount for maintaining highways. In the introduction, the plan claims to embrace a new philosophy of transportation planning based on encouraging dense centers of development rather than continuing suburban sprawl willy-nilly.

But even those working on the plan say the focus on centers — not an emphasis of previous plans — will make little real-world difference. The plan is only as accurate as its assumptions about the future, they said, and making predictions about the next quarter-century is inevitably an exercise in guesswork.

“To borrow a Hemingway phrase, it’s pretty to think we can plan 25 years in advance,” said Hays County Commissioner Jeff Barton , a Democrat who serves on the CAMPO board. “There’s value in the exercise, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves.”

What’s in the plan matters, however, because under federal law a transportation project can’t get federal dollars — almost all highway and transit projects are at least partially funded by the federal government — unless the project is in the long-range plan. But the 19-member CAMPO board, made up mostly of local elected officials from Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties, can amend the plan at any time. And there will be another wholesale rewrite five years from now, five years after that, and so on.

The CAMPO board, recipient of more than 4,000 public comments submitted on the draft plan in recent months, will take one last listen in a public hearing today. The meeting will start at 6 p.m. in Ballroom B of the Austin Convention Center.

The board probably will vote on the plan May 24, officials said.

If it is approved as written in draft form — and some CAMPO members still intend to push for changes — the plan would include:

• $2 billion for more passenger rail, including $857 million for the City of Austin’s proposed streetcar initiative, $467 million for a segment of a commuter line from Austin to San Antonio, $327 million for an Elgin-to-downtown Austin commuter line on Capital Metro’s railroad and $149 million for expansion of the MetroRail Red Line.

Rail and bus operations account for $10.3 billion of the plan, almost double from the 2030 plan. The money for this includes an estimated $6.6 billion from Capital Metro’s 1 percent sale tax, a $3 billion increase over the last plan’s 25-year estimate. The plan assumes, based on numbers from Capital Metro, that the agency’s sales tax revenue will increase 5.3 percent a year for the next quarter-century, more than double the average increase over the past decade.

• $10.9 billion for highway and road expansion, a 6.5 percent decrease from the 2030 plan. And the drop would be much greater but for an aggressive forecast by Williamson County — some CAMPO members from other counties say unrealistically aggressive — that it will spend $4.3 billion on new roads. The plan assumes that Williamson County voters will approve $425 million in road bonds every other year from 2011 to 2027.

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, chairman of the CAMPO board, said having all that money in the plan, along with dozens of projects tied to it, would give Williamson County an unfair advantage in getting federal funds in future years. Travis County, by contrast, estimates it would have $1.1 billion for new or expanded roads over the next 25 years.

“We have to increase ours, or Williamson County has to reduce theirs,” Biscoe said. “I expect that to be discussed on May 24.”

Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long, vice chairwoman of the CAMPO board, said it’s a matter of need.

“What we’ve seen is very low tolerance among our citizens for congestion, and we are responding to that,” Long said. “Rather than asking why Williamson County’s number is so high, I would ask why Travis County’s number is so low.”

• $5 billion of state, federal and toll revenue for roads, down almost 56 percent from the $11.3 billion in the 2030 plan. That reflects the diminishing power of gas taxes to pay for new roads, a trend made worse in Texas because the state Department of Transportation in recent years has borrowed heavily against future gas tax revenue to pay for projects now completed. And the estimate of surplus toll revenue (what’s available after paying debt service and operations costs) from Central Texas turnpikes is down sharply, from $3.2 billion in the past plan to $1.3 billion.

As a result, local governments would contribute a greater portion of road spending, including state highways that historically were exclusively TxDOT’s province.

“That’s something we’re going to have to address at the state level,” Barton said. “And soon.”

• No spending over the next 25 years to expand the capacity of either Interstate 35 through Central Texas or Loop 360 (Capital of Texas Highway) in West Austin, two of the area’s most congested highways. Joe Cantalupo , CAMPO’s executive director, said that TxDOT is studying what to do about I-35 and that the plan would be amended as plans coalesce.

“We’re not looking at it and saying, ‘Oh, there’s no problem, with 2009” Cantalupo said.

The 2030 plan envisioned making Loop 360 a toll road, with frontage roads alongside, and doing so by leasing the road to a private company. Such “concession” agreements fell out of favor with the Legislature, and new ones are no longer legal under state law. Given that and the looming cash crunch at TxDOT, Cantalupo said, Loop 360 expansion fell out of the new plan.

Privatized Toll Road Letdown

Link to article here.

Published: April 27, 2010 3:00 a.m.

Toll Road letdown

Journal Gazette

Opponents predicted this would happen.

When Gov. Mitch Daniels sold his plan to lease the Indiana Toll Road for 75 years, some opponents said the financial projections were too rosy, that the $3.8 billion proceeds and interest would not fully fund the lease’s share of a much-touted 10-year highway construction plan.

Now, as Niki Kelly’s Sunday story explained, the Indiana Department of Transportation has begun to take projects off the 10-year plan while delaying others. In all, projected spending for new highway construction in the 10-year plan has dropped from $6.4 billion to $5.5 billion.

Some of the reduction is because of other forces – a drop in gasoline tax revenue, lower estimated construction costs. But a significant portion is because of lower-than-expected interest income from the lease proceeds. Two years ago, in the most recent update, the state said the shortfall was $220 million and counting.

“I think this is absolutely predictable,” said state Rep. Win Moses, whose Democratic Party was in the minority of both chambers of the General Assembly when lawmakers approved the lease in 2006. “It was always oversold.”

If so, it isn’t the first time supporters of a big, controversial government program used overly optimistic projections to help sell the program. Nor is it that unusual for financial projections to be revised, particularly during and after the economic changes of the past three years.

But uncertainty about the future was a primary reason to question a proposed 75-year lease. Of course the finances will change dramatically.

While a few forward-thinking lawmakers such as Moses examined and challenged the finances of the lease, the focus of the opposition was more on the philosophical decision to lease such an enormous state asset to a private, foreign company. Proponents won, largely because it meant a lot of money to finance numerous highway projects over the following decade.

Now that some projects are falling off the list doesn’t mean that Toll Road drivers pay any less. The cost for a passenger car to traverse the 157-mile length of the Toll Road was $4.65 before the lease was signed. Today it is $8 for those without electronic tolling devices, and the price will continue to rise.

Costs are even higher for truckers; the $14.55 cost for a five-axle truck just before the lease was signed has now jumped to $32. Ever-higher tolls could well force some truck drivers off the interstate onto highways such as Indiana 20, raising the cost of maintaining those roads.

Great improvements promised by lease supporters aren’t apparent either. Construction lingers on portions of the road near Chicago, causing backups and dangerous driving conditions. Occasional Toll Road drivers who don’t use the road enough to buy the electronic tolling device are finding longer lines at the cash toll booths.

Tellingly, four years after Daniels and other lease proponents sold the privatization deal as the “next big thing” for cash-strapped states, few – if any – have followed the model.

Perhaps one of the most troubling aspects of the lease isn’t that the 10-year plan is falling short but that it was designed to finance a highway plan for only 10 years – while a private company will continue to bring in revenue for 65 years after that plan is over.

Goldman Sachs accused of defrauding investors

Link to article here.

Goldman Sachs has been a key player in advising governments as well as private investors on infrastructure/toll road deals called public private partnerships. They’re instrumental in many deals in Texas and have swarmed our highway department, infecting them with their fraudulent schemes that exploit taxpayers. Perhaps if justice is truly served in this case, we may rid ourselves of at least one major canker in this fight.

SEC accuses Goldman Sachs of defrauding investors
Posted Friday, Apr. 16, 2010
AP Business Writer

WASHINGTON — The government on Friday accused Wall Street’s most powerful firm of fraud, saying Goldman Sachs & Co. sold mortgage investments without telling the buyers that the securities were crafted with input from a client who was betting on them to fail.And fail they did. The securities cost investors close to $1 billion while helping Goldman client Paulson & Co., a hedge fund, capitalize on the housing bust. The Goldman executive accused of shepherding the deal allegedly boasted about the “exotic trades” he created “without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstrosities!!!”

The civil charges filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission are the government’s most significant legal action related to the mortgage meltdown that ignited the financial crisis and helped plunge the country into recession.

The news sent Goldman Sachs shares and the stock market reeling as the SEC said other financial deals related to the meltdown continue to be investigated. It was a blow to the reputation of a financial giant that had emerged relatively unscathed from the economic crisis.

Goldman Sachs denied the allegations. In a statement, it called the SEC’s charges “completely unfounded in law and fact” and said it will contest them.

The SEC is seeking to recoup the money lost by investors and impose unspecified civil fines against Goldman Sachs and the executive, Fabrice Tourre. The SEC could enter into settlement negotiations over the amount if Goldman changed its stance and decided not to fight the charges in a trial.

The SEC said Paulson paid Goldman roughly $15 million in 2007 to devise an investment tied to mortgage-related securities that the hedge fund viewed as likely to decline in value. Separately, Paulson took out a form of insurance that allowed it to make a huge profit when those securities’ value plunged.

The fraud allegations focus on how Goldman sold the securities. Goldman told investors that a third party, ACA Management LLC, had selected the pools of subprime mortgages it used to create the securities. The securities are known as synthetic collateralized debt obligations.

The SEC alleges that Goldman misled investors by failing to disclose that Paulson & Co. also played a role in selecting the mortgage pools and stood to profit from their decline in value. Two European banks that bought the securities lost nearly $1 billion, the SEC said.

“Goldman wrongly permitted a client that was betting against the mortgage market to heavily influence which mortgage securities to include in an investment portfolio, while telling other investors that the securities were selected by an independent, objective third party,” SEC Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami said in a statement.

But Goldman said in a statement that it never mischaracterized Paulson’s strategy in the transaction. It added that it wasn’t obliged to “disclose the identities of a buyer to a seller and vice versa.”

The charges name only Goldman Sachs and Tourre, who was a vice president in his late 20s when the alleged fraud was orchestrated in 2007. Tourre, the SEC said, boasted to a friend that he was able to put such deals together as the mortgage market was unraveling in early 2007.

In an e-mail to the friend, he described himself as “the fabulous Fab standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstrosities!!!”

Tourre, 31, has since been promoted to executive director of Goldman Sachs International in London.

Stanford University spokeswoman Elaine Ray said a student by the name of Fabrice Tourre received a master’s degree in management science and engineering from the school in 2001.

A call to a lawyer for Tourre, Pamela Chepiga at Allen & Overy LLP, wasn’t returned.

Asked why the SEC did not also pursue a case against Paulson, Khuzami said: “It was Goldman that made the representations to investors. Paulson did not.”

Paulson & Co. is run by John Paulson, who reaped billions by betting against subprime mortgage securities. He is not related to former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a former Goldman CEO.

John Paulson was among the first on Wall Street to bet heavily against subprime mortgages. His firm earned more than $15 billion in 2007, and he pocketed $3.7 billion. He has since earned billions more, largely by betting against bank stocks and then buying them back after their shares plunged.

In a statement, Paulson & Co. said: “As the SEC said at its press conference, Paulson is not the subject of this complaint, made no misrepresentations and is not the subject of any charges.”

Goldman, founded more than 140 years ago, built a reputation as a trusted adviser to investment banking clients and for sending top executives into presidential Cabinet posts.

In recent years, it shifted toward taking more risks with its clients’ money and its own. Goldman’s trading allowed the firm to weather the financial crisis better than most other big banks. It earned a record $4.79 billion in the last quarter of 2009.

The complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan “undermines their brand,” said Simon Johnson, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Goldman critic. “It undermines their political clout. I don’t think anybody really values being connected to Goldman at this point.”

He continued: “There are many people who – until this morning – thought Goldman Sachs was well-run.”

The SEC’s enforcement chief said the agency is investigating a wide range of practices related to the crisis. The prospect of possible legal jeopardy for other major financial players roiled the stock market.

Goldman Sachs shares fell more than 12 percent Goldman and lost $14.2 billion in market capitalization. The Dow Jones industrial average finished down more than 125 points.

The SEC appears to be taking a particularly aggressive approach with Goldman. Typically, cases are resolved by firms agreeing to a settlement before the charges are made public, said John Coffee, a securities law professor at Columbia University.

“The SEC has changed its style,” Coffee said. “They wanted to tell the world what they thought Goldman had done wrong.”

The charges come as lawmakers seek to crack down on Wall Street practices that helped cause the financial crisis. Congress is considering tougher rules for complex investments like those involved in the alleged Goldman fraud.

President Barack Obama vowed Friday to veto a financial overhaul bill that doesn’t regulate mortgage-backed securities and other so-called derivatives. Legislation in Congress would for the first time regulate derivatives, whose value depends on an underlying asset, such as mortgages or stocks. Senate Republicans oppose the bill.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, is “pleased that the SEC is departing from the lax enforcement of the Bush administration and is returning to the SEC’s proper role of protecting investors in the marketplace,” spokesman Steven Adamske said.

The biggest loser in the alleged fraud was ABN Amro, a major Dutch bank, and the Royal Bank of Scotland, which acquired major portions of it in 2007. The SEC said the Royal Bank of Scotland paid Goldman $841 million to unwind ABN transactions.

IKB Deutsche Industriebank AG, a German commercial bank, lost nearly all its $150 million investment, the agency said. Most of the money the banks lost went to Paulson in a series of transactions between Goldman and the hedge fund, the SEC said.

IKB was an early casualty of the financial crisis. It issued a profit warning in 2007 saying it had been hurt by U.S. subprime mortgage investments. IKB was sold in 2008 to Dallas-based Lone Star Funds.

Ed Trissel, a spokesman for Lone Star Funds, declined to comment on the case.

The SEC charges come after Goldman Sachs denied last week it that bet against clients by selling them mortgage-backed securities while reducing its own exposure to them.

In an annual letter to shareholders, Goldman said it began reducing its exposure to the U.S. mortgage market in late 2006.

AP Business Writers Alan Zibel in Washington, Stevenson Jacobs in New York and Ashley M. Heher in Chicago contributed to this report.

PPP planned for Oregon bypass through farmland

Link to article here.

It shouldn’t surprise that the pro-toll crowd sees farmland as fair game fro condemnation for toll roads and preferable to residential and commercial property. With this attitude, how will we feed America if we continue to pave over our country’s farmland to make way for urban “congestion relief”? The Trans Texas Corridor is a perfect case in point. Studies showed that a bypass through rural Texas would do NOTHING to relieve urban congestion.

It was too out of the way, plus the fact that people would have top pay a toll to access it, made traffic volumes too low to be toll viable. Yet to listen to this industry article, they live in a world of their own reality. One that promises rosy traffic projections but will likely end in massive taxpayer bailouts when the road goes belly-up as the South Bay Expressway PPP contract just did in San Diego.

Oregon businessman, engineer developing P3 for I-5 to 99W connector
Fri, 2010-04-09
Toll Road News

A group of local businessmen, engineers and roadbuilders in Oregon are developing an approximate 20km (12 mile) $350m to $400m tollroad project designed to improve connections between Portland and the coast. Called the Coastal Parkway the project would provide a high quality connection between I-5 and the 99W or Southwest Pacific Highway near Dayton. They hope to get a toll concession from the state under its Public Private Partnerships law of 2009.

Principals of the group Coastal Parkway LLC are Bob Youngman, a developer based in Newberg and Phil Martinson PE, a consulting engineer. Also involved are some local construction companies.

We had a long talk with Youngman this afternoon.He says the new P3 law in the state is a great improvement on previous law, and he has been encouraged by support offered for the project by state and local officials.

He says the project is sorely needed but state and local officials say there is no prospect for financing the project with tax revenues.

They also have no stomach for taking it on as a public toll project.

Oregon is one of the few states in the union without any toll road or crossing.

Previous studies

The 99W corridor has been studied several times in the past for upgrades.

It is currently a 4-lane surface arterial with little access control and no grade separations. Previous planning for upgrades has focussed on sticking close to the southwest-northeast axis of 99W and bypassing the towns of Tualatin, Sherwood, Newberg and Dundee. The bypasses have been studied right on their fringes, and sticking to the north side of the Williamette River.

This is a corridor about 40km (25 miles) long but quite heavily developed and the improvement to expressway standard was costed at close to $1 billion for the length of the corridor.

Concession with Macquarie only generated study

Macquarie and Bechtel competed for a toll concession for this route (and for two others around Portland area) in 2005 and Macquarie won.

But Macquarie concluded in 2007 the traffic and revenue wouldn’t support the cost of the 99W bypass upgrade. The project languished.

More economical than the fringe bypassing

Youngman says his group’s proposal is far more economical because rather than attempt the fringe bypasses along 99W, it makes use of some 22km (14 miles) of I-5 south to the Donald/Aurora area and involves a much shorter new east-west tolled link through rural land to meet 99W in Dayton.

That proposed east-west link is being called the Coastal Parkway.

Five alternative alignments are being shown at meetings. They range in length between 18km (11.3mi) and 23km (14mi). The longer alternates take off from I-5 further north but make for a slightly shorter run Portland to the coast, although because of the dogleg of using I-5 all are a few miles longer than the old plan for hugging the towns of the 99W corridor.

An advantage however is that they involve almost no resumption of residential or commercial properties like the fringe bypass plans, since the routes for the Coastal Parkway go through farmland.

Williamette River bridge

They do involve a decent sized bridge over the Williamette River. This has to have a span of around 180m (600ft) so it would probably be a cable-stay bridge. However the river is not used by major ships and the Coast Guard only requires a clearance of 15m (50ft).

Otherwise the Coastal Parkway involve three interchanges, one at each end, I-5 and 99W and another at River Road NE serving the small town of St Paul. They also propose a recreational bike/hike trail along the river.

With just one intermediate interchange there would be just two toll points and all-electronic tolling sounds the likely choice.

Youngman says they estimate project cost will be in the range $350m to $400m – less than half the cost of previous schemes in the 99W corridor itself.

The route should attract 99W car travelers between the Portland area and the coast plus a lot of lumber, chip, plant nursery, and produce trucks as well as motor coaches. Indian reservations at Grand Ronde to the southwest have tourism and casino activities swerved by coaches.

Traffic volume

As for traffic volume they are confident that the tollroad can attract more than the 24k vehicles/day they estimate is the break-even traffic for the project.

Youngman, who was born and raised and is still based in the Newberg area, says the congestion is so bad through the small towns along 99W that economic opportunities are limited. He says the project is gaining support with the promise of traffic relief and improved travel for the cities and towns of Newberg, Dundee, McMinnvile, Dayton, StPaul, Lafayette and Donald.

He is interested in partnering with larger companies.

pdf of a powerpoint presentation by Coastal Parkway LLC:

Contacts Youngman Martinson

Privatized toll road goes bankrupt using taxpayer money

San Diego’s South Bay Expressway foreign-owned toll road has become the new poster child for the failed policy of road privatization. Up until now, most “conservative” and libertarian think tanks have promoted PPPs (public private partnerships) as the “free market” solution to road building. I’ve said all along it’s no such thing. They’re government-sanctioned monopolies and the Editorial Board of a leading conservative national newspaper, the Washington Times, agrees.

The editorial also notes the flaw in raising toll rates when traffic drops, which is the exact opposite of a free market response to fewer customers. To increase demand they need to lower not increase toll rates. Yet what did the North Texas Toll Authority, a publicly run toll entity (so this problem isn’t just isolated to privatized toll roads), do when its toll road system experienced a decline in traffic? Raised its rates by 32%!

The new generation of toll roads that have relied on “innovative financing” (ie – taxpayer subsidized toll roads, often co-mingled with private money) find themselves consistently upside down on their debt despite the taxpayer bailouts that help front the construction costs. The foreign toll operator of the South Bay Expressway was one of the first to snag a federal, taxpayer-backed, low interest loan called a TIFIA loan (think public money for private profits). Now that the toll road went bankrupt, will the taxpayers EVER be paid back? The taxpayers long, sordid history of being fleeced by politicos who are nothing more than putty in the hands of special interests gives us the answer.

Taxpayer-funded lobbying for Wall Street’s sweetheart deals

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has twice directly lobbied Congress for PPPs, but also to relax any federal restrictions on them. Their latest lobbying push (see pages 5 & 6 here, draft only available, the final was adopted by the Commission but has not been posted on TxDOT’s web site) tells Congress not to mess with Texas (let us do whatever we want, even if it means fleece our own citizens without their consent), yet it also asks them to aggressively fund the TIFIA loan program and other means to maximize the use of taxpayer money to subsidize private profits using these PPP toll roads.

Our insolent, taxpayer-funded highway department has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Chamber of Commerce, PPP crowd, particularly when Texas law specifically prohibits state agencies from using public money to lobby. TURF still has a pending lawsuit to stop TxDOT’s illegal lobbying. Perry vetoed the bill the Texas Legislature passed last year, HB 2142, to close TxDOT’s perceived loophole it exploited to wage PR campaigns to persuade the public to accept PPPs and the Trans Texas Corridor. However, the bill only sought to clarify that advertising toll roads to seek to change public opinion against toll roads was indeed illegal. The law still very clearly prohibits lobbying, yet onward TxDOT marches with impunity.

Our sold-out politicians are creating an infrastructure bubble that will be deemed “too big to fail” requiring even greater taxpayer bailouts if we allow this tax raid to continue. I have yet to see any data that shows increasing the cost of transportation (toll taxes on top of high gas prices) is good for the economy. All available data shows the opposite is true. When the cost of transportation goes up, driving and, subsequently, gas tax revenues go down, a principle that translates to toll roads. When the price of gas and or tolls go up, the usage of toll roads goes down.

Bogus traffic projections the norm with toll roads

Also, the Washington Times piece mentions a study TxDOT did that admits toll roads are based on FLAWED traffic projections (that are kept secret until after the contracts are signed). The foreign toll operator, Macquarie, based in Australia, was off by nearly 40,000 vehicles per day! Such overblown traffic forecasts are the norm with this new generation of toll roads, so much so that the bond investors and toll operators are suing the traffic modelers when the traffic projections are so obviously akin to a fairytale than reality.

The Editorial sums up why politicians like Rick Perry and his fellow so-called fiscal conservatives in the Texas Legislature support these deals — outsourcing the tax hikes: “Bureaucrats and politicians turn to public-private partnerships because they, in effect, outsource unpleasant revenue-raising duties to private companies. As we see from the South Bay Expressway, the deals governments strike with companies to perform this task frequently are based on faulty, unsustainable assumptions.”

Second mortgage on our highway system

Yep, government gets quick cash up front to build yet more toll projects in exchange for generations of debt and sky-high toll taxes in the hands of private companies to whom they defer all blame for the draconian tax hikes. This is precisely what we tried to stop in a bill that passed the Texas Legislature (SB 792) in 2007. SB 792 was the counterfeit PPP moratorium, which replaced a genuine moratorium, HB 1892 that was vetoed by Rick Perry, with the Governor’s version that grandfathered the Trans Texas Corridor contracts along with close to a dozen others.

A provision known as market valuation also forced public toll entities to jack-up toll rates as high as the private ones using toll rates as high as the “market” will bear in order to suck some speculative future “surplus revenue” out of the deal up front so they could go spend the money, today, building more toll roads (leveraging these projects to the hilt, never mind that surplus revenue has yet to show-up using “innovative finance” techniques). It’s like taking out a second mortgage on our public highway system using the worst and most costly financing schemes.

Housing bubble turned infrastructure bubble

Essentially politicians, at Perry and the banksters behest, enshrined in law known risky multi-leveraged debt financing schemes using OPM (other people’s money)…YOURS AND MINE! It’s the very same financial scheme (monetizing the debt and spreading its toxicity to the far corners of the markets) that brought down the housing bubble and required massive taxpayer bailouts of the banksters and brokers who orchestrated the thievery.

SB 792 allowed these traffic and revenue studies (toll viability studies that give the traffic estimates) to stay secret until AFTER the contract is signed. We tried to get lawmakers to remove this provision from the bill, and the amendment only got 19 votes (so much for OPEN GOVERNMENT, especially the kind that saves taxpayers money). This must be changed. We’ve long held that it violates federal law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), that requires the public and decision makers to be fully informed of the financial impacts of ALL the alternatives of a roadway project so it can properly weigh them and determine the preferred alternative.

Revealing these flawed traffic projections BEFORE going to contract will help taxpayers ferret out the truly viable (and sensible) toll projects from those that aren’t, which are being propped up by HEAPS of taxpayer subsidies (gas taxes, Texas Mobility Funds, Prop 14, Prop 12, stimulus money, TIFIA loans, PABs, etc., up front) that end up going bankrupt anyway.

The failure of the San Diego South Bay Expressway PPP toll road in less than three years exposes the mythical “free market” concept of public private partnerships (called CDAs in Texas). It’s a fad whose time has ended.

Proposed toll road through prime farmland in Oregon draws ire

Link to article here.

Sounds eerily familiar…the Trans Texas Corridor would also eat-up prime Texas farmland, the Blackland Prairie, and just one corridor would displace $1 million people. Wait till the Oregonians find out about non-compete agreements and guaranteed profits for these private toll road operators…

Proposed toll road south of Portland runs into opposition
By Dana Tims, The Oregonian
April 05, 2010

PARKWAY.jpgView full sizeA proposal to build Oregon’s only privately financed and operated toll road, almost all of it crossing prime farmland south of Portland, is running into stiff opposition from local residents, farmers and elected officials.

Backers of the Coastal Parkway — a proposed 11.77-mile four-lane highway linking Interstate 5 near Woodburn with Dayton in Yamhill County — have been meeting quietly since last fall with landowners and officials in potentially affected towns.

But their apparent goal of building grass-roots support, one willing seller at a time, doesn’t seem to be working.

“I’m a little fascinated by their assertion that there is any support for this at all,” Marion County Commissioner Patti Milne said. “We don’t need a bypass here that does nothing but solve Yamhill County’s traffic problems.”

Milne and fellow commissioners Sam Brentano and Janet Carlson are scheduled to meet with parkway promoters April 15, “just to hear first-hand where things stand,” she said.

tollroad.jpgView full sizeWhen the idea of establishing toll roads came up in 2006 as a way to relieve traffic congestion in the Dundee area, the reaction from residents in the area was swift and clear. A new toll-road proposal also faces an uphill battle.Newberg businessman Robert Youngman, president of Royal Chinook Development Co., has, to date, been the parkway’s most visible public spokesman. He met with Donald-area farmers at a local cafe March 13 and has made recent presentations to city councils and planners in Dundee and Newberg. Similar talks are set for later in April with councilors in St. Paul and Donald.

Reached at his Newberg office this week, Youngman declined to comment on a project that, if completed, would be only the third or fourth privately operated toll road west of the Mississippi River.

“We appreciate your call,” he said. “We’ll be in touch.”

Phil Martinson, a West Linn civil engineer who has attended many of the same meetings with Youngman, said it’s too early to say much about the project. “Hopefully, within a few weeks, I can give you something more,” he said.

Youngman, according to meeting minutes, told Dundee City Council members in October that the Coastal Parkway’s financial backers want to proceed because they don’t believe the long-planned and publicly financed Newberg-Dundee Bypass will ever be built.

He tagged the Coastal Parkway’s estimated cost at $260 million and said the limited-access roadway’s preferred option would have only three interchanges — at Interstate 5, at Oregon 219 north of St. Paul and at Oregon 18 near Dayton. The route crosses prime farmland in the French Prairie area of northern Marion County.

Without one or the other projects, he said, commercial and commuter traffic on Oregon 99W through Dundee will continue to remain hopelessly gridlocked.

Asked to identify the Coastal Parkway’s financial supporters, Youngman listed Hampton Lumber, Evergreen Aviation, Cascade Steel Rolling Mills, the Oregon Trucking Associations and the Business Transportation Group.

Steve Zika, Hampton Lumber’s CEO, said he wasn’t familiar with details of the Coastal Parkway proposal, but said any alternative to the current congestion jamming Yamhill County’s main highways would be welcome.

Bob Russell, executive director of the Oregon Trucking Assocations, said his organization “has not indicated its support for any alternative to the Newberg-Dundee Bypass, “nor have we provided any financial backing.”

None of the other groups cited by Youngman as backers immediately returned calls.

Sterling Anderson, Marion County’s planning manager, said that even if sufficient funding is found, the Coastal Parkway will run into significant legal and regulatory obstacles.

State requirements mandating that exclusive farmland remain in parcels of at least 80 acres, for instance, would have to be addressed, since a new road running through the middle of that land would create two parcels of 40 acres each, he said.

In addition, the need to build a new bridge crossing the Willamette River, and perhaps the Yamhill River, would present huge hurdles for developers.

“This would be the biggest, most significant land-use case the county has dealt with in my 26 years here,” Anderson said. “And the biggest road project since I-5 was built.”

State Transportation Department officials have sat in on several of Youngman’s presentations, but said it’s too early to assess the project’s chances of success.

“We’re treating it as if it were a private development,” said Tim Potter, ODOT’s Area 3 Region 2 manager. “When it’s to the point they want to talk seriously about traffic impacts and the exact locations of tying into our road system, we’ll roll up our sleeves and get serious.”

Local residents, meanwhile, say that French Prairie farmland is not for sale, certainly not for a new highway.

“Farmers here are united,” said Marcie Garritt, a St. Paul resident and member of the town’s planning commission. “Whether the route would cross their land or not, they all agree — you don’t do this to farmland.”

Dana Tims

San Diego privatized toll road goes bankrupt using taxpayer money

The South Bay Expressway foreign-owned toll road is the new poster child for the failed policy of road privatization. Up until now, most “conservative” and libertarian think tanks have promoted PPPs (public private partnership) as the “free market” solution to transportation finance. I’ve said all along it’s no such thing. They’re government sanctioned monopolies and this editorial states it.

It also notes the flaw in raising toll rates when traffic drops, which is the exact opposite of a free market response to fewer customers. To increase demand they need to lower not increase toll rates. Yet what did the North Texas Toll Authority, a publicly run toll entity (so this problem isn’t just with privatized toll roads), do when its toll road system experienced a decline in traffic? Raised its rates by 32%! The new generation of toll roads that have relied on “innovative financing” (ie – taxpayer subsidized toll roads, often co-mingled with private money) find themselves consistently upside down on their debt despite the taxpayer bailouts that help front the construction costs. We’re creating an infrastructure bubble that will be deemed too big to fail that will require even greater taxpayer bailouts if we allow this tax raid to continue. I have yet to see any data that shows increasing the cost of transportation (toll taxes on top of high gas prices) helps the economy either.

Also, this article mentions a study TxDOT did that admits toll roads are based on FLAWED traffic projections (that are kept secret until after the contracts are signed). This is precisely what we tried to stop in SB 792 from 2007 (the counterfeit CDA moratorium) that allowed these traffic and revenue studies (toll viability studies that give the traffic estimates) to stay secret until AFTER the contract is signed. We tried to remove this provision from the bill, and only got 19 votes (so much for a conservative majority that should be for OPEN GOVERNMENT, especially the kind that saves taxpayers money). This must be changed. We’ve long held that it violates federal law, NEPA, anyway. Revealing these flawed traffic projections BEFORE going to contract will help us ferret out the truly viable (and sensible) toll projects from those that aren’t which are being propped up by HEAPS of taxpayer subsidies (gas taxes, Texas Mobility Funds, Prop 14, Prop 12, stimulus money, TIFIA loans, PABs, etc., up front) that end up going bankrupt anyway.

We’re going to continue to work against this mythical “free market” concept of public private partnerships (called CDAs in Texas). It’s a fad whose time has ended!
Link to article here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010
EDITORIAL: The trouble with tolls

A toll-road project in San Diego, once held up as a model of the “innovative” public-private partnerships, collapsed last week.

The South Bay Expressway filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after being open for business less than three years. Proponents of the tolling fad insist that allowing private companies to charge motorists to drive on roads represents the free-market solution to all of our transportation funding woes. The South Bay Expressway failure shows that plan is a road to nowhere.

Thanks to gasoline prices around $3 a gallon and the ongoing recession, hard-pressed consumers weren’t interested in shelling out an additional $4.50 to drive 10 miles. Macquarie Infrastructure Group, the Australian firm that owns the expressway, assured federal highway officials that 60,000 paying customers would use the road daily. In fact, only 22,600 did so, leaving the project without enough revenue to sustain its debt obligations.

It turns out that estimates based on rosy scenarios are the norm in the world of tolling schemes. A Texas Department of Transportation study completed last year found that a majority of toll-road projects overestimated traffic levels in the first five years by at least 20 percent to 30 percent. Because public transportation agencies generally cut deals with private tolling companies behind closed doors, such detailed forecasts are not available for public review until long after the contract is signed.

Plunging traffic is also the norm nationwide. The Pocahontas Parkway in Richmond reported a 12 percent drop in traffic last year. Transurban, the Australian company that owns the road, responded by raising prices every year since 2008 and is scheduled to continue doing so until 2016. Dulles Greenway traffic is similarly down 7.2 percent, and Macquarie has put in motion a series of regular price hikes.

In a true free-market environment, the projects would follow the law of supply and demand, dropping rates to attract new customers. Instead, the foreign companies operating these roads are hiking tolls as fast as they possibly can – the opposite of what one would expect in a truly competitive marketplace.

Toll roads get away with this conduct because they are state-sanctioned monopolies, not free-market operations. Bureaucrats and politicians turn to public-private partnerships because they, in effect, outsource unpleasant revenue-raising duties to private companies. As we see from the South Bay Expressway, the deals governments strike with companies to perform this task frequently are based on faulty, unsustainable assumptions.

We hope Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell heeds this lesson and drops his support for the foolhardy plan to impose tolls on the Interstate 95/395 high-occupancy vehicle lanes.


Link to article here.

PFI – First US TIFIA road files for protection
Reuters – Thursday, March 25NEW YORK, March 24 – South Bay Expressway, the first US toll road to tap the federally subsidized TIFIA loan program, has filed for bankruptcy protection. The 9.3-mile electronic tollroad is located in southern California.

Toll collections have been dramatically under projections since the road opened in late 2007. The road is owned by Macquarie funds – 50% by Macquarie Infrastructure Partners, the US fund owned by large institutional investors and 50% by the Australian listed Macquarie Atlas Roads.

South Bay Expressway currently has US$340m outstanding of a US$400m construction loan converted into a term loan facility according to bankruptcy filings. The term loan was arranged in 2003 with BBVA as admin agent and Depfa as co-lead, and matures in 2021. Other lenders to the project include Allied Irish, Bank of Ireland, BNP Paribas , Commonwealth Bank, DVB Bank, DZ Bank and HSH Nordbank.

In addition, South Bay took out a US$140m, 35-year TIFIA loan, under which the first mandatory interest payment was due in 2011. That facility now totals US$170m after the capitalization of US$30m in interest.

South Bay sought bankruptcy protection after attempts to negotiate a settlement with ORC, a contractor to the tollroad, failed to result in a settlement. ORC has made claims totaling US$600m, which is disputed by South Bay Expressway.


Link to article here.

Toll road builder files for Chapter 11
March 24, 2010
Toll increases were not enough to save the company that built the South Bay Expressway from bankruptcy.

The 10-mile toll road in San Diego was built in 2007 by California Transportation Ventures, a group that eventually became South Bay Expressway Ltd. The group is a subsidiary of toll operator Macquarie Infrastructure Group of Australia, the same Macquarie that holds stakes in the Indiana Toll Road, Chicago Skyway and Dulles Greenway.

South Bay Expressway Ltd. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in recent days according to the San Diego Union Tribune.

Company officials had projected 60,000 vehicles per day using the roadway, but daily traffic in 2009 averaged just 22,600.

The roadway will remain open as the company restructures $510 million in debts.

Land Line Magazine reported throughout 2009 that the South Bay Expressway was falling behind in traffic counts and that the company would have lost money if it had not raised tolls.

“Apart from the toll increases, traffic volumes on South Bay Expressway continue to be impacted by the weak regional housing market and a slowdown in economic activity which has also led to a decline in Mexican border crossings,” company officials stated in a 2009 financial report.

Macquarie-operated roadways have relied on toll increases – most of which have been guaranteed in contracts with state entities – to stave off financial losses.

South Bay Expressway Ltd. is less than three years into its 35-year agreement to operate the tollway. Caltrans is scheduled to take over operations in 2042.

The $635 million expressway was one of the first toll roads in the U.S. to use federal tax dollars under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act – or TIFIA – program developed by the Federal Highway Administration.

– By David Tanner, associate editor

Trans Texas Corridor still alive

Trans Texas Corridor routes moving at freight train speed
By Terri Hall, City Brights Blogger
Mar 20, 2010
San Antonio Express News
After Rick Perry’s highway department announced the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) route known as TTC-35 was “dead” in 2009, we find out post-election in 2010 that it, along with free trade, is very much alive and well. Canadian officials have shown renewed interest in a multi-modal trade corridor along I-35. Winnipeg recently announced its intention to build an inland port similar to those in San Antonio and Dallas. One such inland port in Kansas City has ceded sovereign United States territory to Canada and Mexico with the flags of all three countries flying over it. Officials in Winnipeg said it also intends to run a logistics and trade corridor to include rail and high speed highways all the way to Mexico as an Asia-Pacific gateway connecting to Toronto and Montreal.

It should surprise no one that former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger and tolling authority (Alamo RMA) Chairman Bill Thornton took a trip to Toronto in 2006, partially at taxpayer expense, to promote Trans Texas Corridor-style trade connections and to be certain it includes the Port of San Antonio.

Norris Pettis, Canadian Consul General in Dallas, notes in the latest San Antonio Business Journal that “of all the urban centers I deal with, San Antonio is right up there in preaching free trade.” The article also said Canadian officials observe an anti-trade sentiment in the U.S. as a whole, but see an open door in Texas, which they say doesn’t share “protectionist policies.”

Read the rest of the story here.

London tube line's public private partnership in the hole

Link to article here.

This is another example of how a so-called “public private partnership” (PPP) actually means PUBLIC money for PRIVATE profits rather than the “partnership” taxpayers were promised, one where the private entities put up the money and take all the risk. A legal ruling deemed that the private contractor, Ferrovial (parent company to Cintra, the Spain-based company involved in several PPPs in Texas), does not have to upgrade the system, taxpayers do. Even worse, this also demonstrates that once the government gives away control of our infrastructure to private corporations, it has little recourse to protect the public interest. The private entities write these iron clad contracts to protect their interests, leaving taxpayers holding the bag. We have yet to see one PPP deal that worked out well for the taxpayers in any country. PPPs are just one more scam to give private corporations free access to taxpayers’ wallets using government-sanctioned monopolies in the name of “free market.”

Boris Johnson told he must plug £460m tube funding gap
Arbiter of public-private partnership rules that London Underground contractor Tube Lines should not have to make up shortfall in budget
By Dan Milmo
Wednesday 10, March 2010Boris Johnson must make cuts to London‘s public transport network or postpone improvements to one of the capital’s busiest underground lines after he was told to plug a £460m funding gap in a controversial public-private partnership.

The London mayor said taxpayers were being asked to “write a blank cheque” to fund Tube Lines, the last surviving PPP contractor responsible for maintenance and upgrades on three tube routes: the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines.

In a final ruling today, the arbiter of the PPP contracts, Chris Bolt, said Tube Lines’s work programme over the next seven and a half years should cost £4.46bn. The publicly owned London Underground, which still runs the tube network on a day-to-day basis, must fund the work and has budgeted only £4bn for it – leaving a shortfall of £460m on its already stretched balance sheet.

Johnson, who ultimately controls LU and its parent Transport for London, said he would consider taking legal action against Bolt, who rejected demands that Tube Lines fund the difference by raising debt privately. Instead, Bolt said TfL should either cut back on an upgrade to the Piccadilly line – the only tube link to Heathrow airport – or find cost cuts elsewhere in its £9bn annual budget.

“Londoners will also be outraged that the tube upgrades promised to them are now threatened,” said Johnson. The mayor claimed that Tube Lines’s co-owners, Ferrovial, the Spanish owner of Heathrow airport, and Bechtel, the US project management specialist, would be paid £400m in management secondment fees by 2017.

“In other countries this would be called looting, here it is called the PPP,” he said.

But Bolt rejected the management fees argument, saying that Ferrovial and Bechtel managers were helping to keep down overall costs and, without them, the maintenance and upgrade work could cost more than £4.46bn.

Andrew Cleaves, Tube Lines’s acting chief executive, said delaying an upgrade to the Piccadilly line was one option for closing the funding gap. Bolt has already asked the Department for Transport whether funding set aside for purchasing new Piccadilly line trains, believed to be about £500m, could be used to plug the gap.

“There are many different variations around timing that we can work through with London Underground, including the timing of the fleet and the upgrade. That’s the sort of thing I want to sit down with London Underground about and discuss,” said Cleaves.

The Piccadilly upgrade is due to deliver faster and more frequent trains on the route by 2014 and failure to deliver it on time raises the threat of overcrowding on an already busy line.

The Tube Lines boss also denied that the ruling would threaten the company’s viability. Tube Lines had originally argued that the work should cost £5.75bn and faced an even greater funding shortfall than LU, which prompted Tube Lines directors to discuss whether the company is a going concern at a recent board meeting.

Johnson’s funding options are becoming increasingly limited after the DfT said it would not reopen a 2007 funding settlement that awarded TfL £40bn until 2017. Lord Adonis, the transport secretary, is adamant that TfL cannot increase its borrowing to fund the £460m gap.

Trans Texas Corridor TTC-35 resurrected post-election

Link to article here.

The good news is, the section of I-35 where there is a 391 local government commission (TURF co-sponsored events to help spread this method to fight the Trans Texas Corridor for TTC-69), I-35 will be expanded and kept toll-free.

However, right after the election, Perry’s TxDOT announced its intention to extend the SH 130 toll road north of the 391 commission’s jurisdiction. SH 130 from Georgetown around Austin extending south to San Antonio has been referred to as the first leg of the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-35. So as we predicted, if Rick Perry were re-elected, he would continue his plans to push the TTC piece by piece all the way up to Red River. This new TTC segment from Waco to Hillsboro, filling the gaps of “free” lane I-35 expansion, is also likely to become some form  of foreign-owned toll road.

Relieving traffic on Interstate 35 through Waco remains priority for state officials
By Michael W. Shapiro, Waco Tribune-Herald staff writer
Wednesday March 10, 2010
Plans to relieve traffic on Interstate 35 with the Trans-Texas Corridor were put to bed last year in the face of a chorus of public criticism that centered around the use of eminent domain to make way for the ill-fated project.

But if the population in Texas continues to grow, state officials think congestion will only get worse on I-35 if nothing is done.

The Texas Department of Transportation is studying a series of potential traffic solutions.

Drivers navigate through traffic on Interstate 35.
Drivers navigate through traffic on Interstate 35.
Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune-Herald

TxDOT held a meeting Tuesday in Waco to discuss the situation with local officials representing the Central Texas stretch of the highway.

The department will present ideas next month to four advisory committees trying to come up with plans to ease I-35 traffic.

Finding solutions

State transportation staffers said they will present traffic data on several proposed solutions in April.

Ideas under consideration include:

*  Extending State Highway 130, a toll road that runs parallel to I-35 in the Greater Austin area.

Transportation officials said they would look at the traffic relief that would result from extending the road to Temple, and possibly through the Waco area to Hillsboro.

The committee recommended that the extension run on the east side of I-35 within five miles of the highway.

* Building the so-called Texas T-Bone — a high-speed passenger rail system that would connect Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston.

The proposal envisions using the Killeen-Temple area as a central hub.

The plan has been promoted heavily by Temple Mayor Bill Jones, who sits on the local I-35 committee and delivered a presentation at the meeting.

TxDOT is trying to implement a bottom-up approach — taking recommendations at the local level, then consolidating those ideas into a plan.

It was clear at the session that officials still were working out the kinks.

A few area residents showed up at the three-hour meeting but left early without a chance to address committee members or state officials.

Officials continue to search for ways to relieve current and future traffic congestion on I-35. Ideas proposed during a Tuesday meeting called by the Texas Department of Transportation include expandi
Officials continue to search for ways to relieve current and future traffic congestion on I-35. Ideas proposed during a Tuesday meeting called by the Texas Department of Transportation include expanding toll roads and a high-speed rail system.
Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald

Members agreed later to change the rules to ensure that the public will be able to comment at future meetings.

There’s a “need to give everybody an opportunity to speak, to the point where we have to bend over backwards to display that there’s trust and transparency,” said Russell Devorsky, who represents the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization on the committee.

A lack of transparency led to suspicions about the Trans-Texas Corridor, he said.

Other members complained they hadn’t received detailed traffic statistics for I-35 or guidelines showing the financial limitations for traffic-relief projects.

State officials said they wanted to start with how to tackle congestion, and detailed traffic modeling of several local projects were in the works.

The local committee consists of three members representing Bell County (all attended the Tuesday meeting in Waco); two members representing McLennan County (one of whom attended); members from Hill County and the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce (both in attendance); as well as two members each from Dallas, Ellis and Tarrant counties; and one each from Falls, Hood, Johnson, Kaufman, Limestone, Navarro and Parker counties.

The Texas Farm Bureau also has a member on the local committee.