Peters now hired hand of Zachry, Cornyn calls for toll roads & gas taxes

Link to article here.

No further evidence is needed for former Transportation Secretary Mary Peters’ motivation for her statement below. She’s lobbying lawmakers to end the moratorium on private toll road contracts (called CDAs or PPPs) that sell our Texas roads to the highest bidder on Wall Street and grant monopolies to private corporations because she’s the hired hand of Zachry, a major beneficiary of these contracts!

Then, there are other articles below that report on the comments of other players at the Texas Transportation Forum held in DFW, primarily addressing transportation funding issues. Of course, it was stacked with politicians, like John Cornyn, who echo Peters and want to sell our TX roads to their friends on Wall Street. This is the MOST expensive way to fund roads (coming from so-called fiscal conservatives): it fleeces taxpayers (75 cents PER MILE in toll taxes), grants monopolies, and limits expansion of free roads surrounding toll roads, to name a few. Cornyn also wants to raise the gas tax. So he wants a double whammy…

Bush transportation secretary urges Texas to re-authorize private toll roads

By Michael Lindenbarger
January 7, 2010
Dallas Morning News

Texas lawmakers should reauthorize private toll roads in the Lone Star State when they return to Austin in 2011, former U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters told Texans Thursday.

With little likelihood that Congress will pass meaningful transportation reform, or find long-term funding solutions, in 2010, Peters said states will do well to send strong messages that they are doing their part to solve their transportation challenges. Toll roads, and the ability to attract private investors to pay for them, are one way many states, including Texas, have used to do just that, she said.

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

“That moratorium on public private partnerships should be removed,” she said. “The state of Texas should put that in abeyance. Restoring (private toll roads) here in Texas could show the federal government that you are really serious about tackling your own transportation problems.”
Zachry American Infrastructure, in partnership with ACS, was chosen by TxDOT as the Master Developer for Interstate 69 in Texas. Zachry American Infrastructure partnered with Cintra to form SH 130 Concession Company, which is developing SH 130 segments 5 and 6.

Peters is now a paid consultant — or “senior adviser” — to Zachry American Infrastructure, a private toll road (and other infrastructure) developer affiliated with Zachry Construction, a Texas construction company founded in 1924. TxDOT tapped the infrasture development firm to provide a master plan for Interstate 69 in Texas, and the company joined with Cintra to develop SH 130 in Austin. (Note: this paragraph was changed to remove an inaccurate reference to Zachry being a Spanish firm. It is headquartered in San Antonio. -ML)

Peters spoke at the annual Texas Transportation Forum, a talk fest sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation involving hundreds of engineers, local officials, financiers and others.

The issue of private toll roads will return when the 2011 session of the Texas Legislature begins. Both candidates for governor — Perry, the incumbent, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison — have said they support private toll roads, though Hutchison has said Perry has placed too much emphasis on tolls in general as governor.Congress has been struggling with transportation financing for more than a year, as the 2005 authorization bill formally expired last year. It has been extended by a series of emergency spending measures, but states like Texas have faced uncertainty about whether they can count on the federal government to provide the funding needed for projects currently under construction.She said rather than bite the bullet and pass the massive reauthorization bill — one version of which, introduced in the House last year, would cost $500 billion — Congress will opt instead to pass the Jobs for Main Street bill as a kind of second stimulus, make a few changes to keep the highway trust fund solvent and put off the tougher questions about transportation funding until 2011, she said.The jobs bill, lampooned by Republicans as “son of stimulus,” totals $154 billion, she said.

“I do think the Jobs for Main Street bill will pass this year, in some form, but I think it will be passed at the expense of a long-term reauthorization bill,” she said. “I just don’t think the political will is there (to pass transportation reauthorization).

If the jobs act does become law — and it faces opposition in the Senate — it would mean nearly $40 billion more for American highways, perhaps as soon as later this year. That’s almost as much as the states received for roads and bridges in 2009 as part of the first — (and much larger) stimulus package.

Texas would receive about $2.5 billion, about the same it received in 2009.


Link to article here.
Cornyn, Pickett to speak this morning; Meanwhile: Is ‘transportation crisis’ real?
Fri, Jan 08, 2010 | By Michael Lindenberger/Reporter
Dallas Morning News
Probably the most interesting thing that former Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said yesterday was that the reason efforts to convince Congress and Texas lawmakers alike to get serious about providing long-term solutions to transportation is that lawmakers, like voters, have not yet accepted as true claims that we are in the midst of a transportation crisis.

Until they do, she said, no serious change — and that includes no serious discussion of new revenues or taxes — will take place. And lawmakers won’t believe it’s a crisis until voters do.

That we’re in the midst of a transportation — and other infrastructure — crisis is an article of faith among most of the folks at this annual Transportation Forum, as it is for leaders of the Texas Department of Transportation, local officials that lead the Regional Transportation Council in North Texas, and crusading lawmakers like Texas Sen. John Carona.

There is some room for debate about just how bad the crisis is, but the figures that tout our need versus our available funds usually reach in the scores of billions, if not hundreds of billions, over the next 20 years. (The Society of American Civil Engineers says when all our aging infrastructure is taken into account, the bill reaches into the trillions.)

The problem is, most folks get to where they want to go just fine: The roads are more or less smooth, the bridges don’t collapse (other than that one in Minneapolis) and the water comes on when you turn on your faucet. Where’s the crisis?

Truth is, most people experience the transportation crisis as a commuter irked by traffic jams — but most of us even get use to those over time, and as long as they are steadily worse, and not suddenly worse, we don’t get crazed about it.

Instead, the more immediate “crisis” for most Texas drivers is the one affecting their wallets — the higher tolls and sometimes higher gas prices.

None of this is to suggest that Carona and the other folks urging real solutions — and higher taxes — for transportation are wrong. They’ve certainly got the big picture down of how a city and state continues to grow and attract business and jobs, and clean its air — and all of that stuff is going to take money, or it will cost us money down the road if we don’t act.

I get that. But Peters, who believes that we do have a crisis, is right to say that the challenge the planners, politicians and engineers face when trying to make change is that so far, most folks simply don’t believe them. And even when in their heart of hearts they think something needs to change, they don’t trust the system to get it right.

I’ll write more this afternoon, after we hear from a series of federal lawmakers — most of whom we can expect will tell us we’re in a crisis. Texas House transportation chairman Joe Pickett will speak — he’s one of the guys pushing for a gas tax increase in 2011 — and so will Sen. Robert Nichols, who knows his way around transportation, too.

At noon, Sen. John Cornyn speaks and I’m interested to see if he takes on transportation seriously as he prepares for a likely future as the state’s senior U.S. Senator. He’s not been big on transportation on the past, but it’s interesting to see him on the line up with a keynote address.

More on that, and much else, later right here, on the transportation blog.


Link to article here.

Cornyn: Private tolls should be part of the answer, but only part
Fri, January 8, 2010, By Michael Lindenberger
Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN — Sen. John Cornyn said today that private toll roads should be part of the solution as government leaders in Texas and in Washington struggle to pay for new roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure.

They just shouldn’t be the only solution, he added in a speech the closed a half-week of transportation chit-chat among hundreds gathered for the fifth annual Texas Transportation Forum.

“The first solution many people point to is say, ‘We can solve this with more money.’ Certainly, money can solve a lot of the problems but it can’t solve all of them,” Cornyn said.

If government leaders did a better job of explaining the choices Texans face when it comes to paying for roads, they might be more supportive of not just new toll roads but even other expenses, like higher gas tax rates. But for now, he said, government has done too poor a job in discussing those realities — as evidenced, he said, by the voter pushback that led lawmakers in Austin to end the state’s authority to enter into new private toll road deals.

“To quote Milton Friedman, there is no free lunch,” he said. Voters know that, but they resent seeing “solutions” pushed on them from above. “I have always believed that leadership entails communication. You can’t just call in a room full of smart people and take the best ideas and impose them on people. Not in a democracy.”

He stopped short of explicitly calling on Texas lawmakers to restore the authority for private toll roads in 2011, as former Transportation Secretary Mary Peters did on Thursday.

When asked after his speech if he would flatly rule out a higher federal gas tax, he declined to do so. Instead, he said that he’d leave it up to voters to decide what they are willing to support after their leaders have done a better job of explaining the trade offs involved. If drivers felt they could get a quicker ride to work for a reasonable increase in tolls or other fees, they might sign on, he said.

Earlier Friday, Texas House transportation chairman Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, told the same audience that the 2011 session will be extremely tough for any efforts, including his own, to raise taxes or even to shift funds away from other items to spend more on transportation, as Gov. Rick Perry has said is a better approach than raising taxes.”We’re already being told behind the scenes that his is going to be very tough budget session,” Pickett said. Add to that, he said, the forced politicization that will come about as a result of redistricting — and it means 2011 is going to be a very difficult session to reach compromises over transportation funding.

“Politically, this is the time when the zealots in both parties come out and fight for every little bit of ground, and will make people like Sen. Nichols and Rep. Pickett not speak to each other.”

In that climate, he said, even something as widely supported in principle as ending the gas tax diversions — the practice of diverting gas taxes to pay for non-transportation related items — gets complicated. “The first thing that happens when you say, ‘let’s end these diversions,’ which everyone rushes to say they support, is you go to the budget-writers and say let’s find $1.2 billion in general revenue. That’s when I go to Sen. Nichols, and ask for help, he tells me ‘No, and I hate you.'”

He got a laughs for the I hate you line, but his point is that real compromise across party lines will be tough in 2011. And in a year when budget writers will be worrying about every penny, he said support for ending the diversions will be hard to find.

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