June 26, 2008

Developer selected for TxDOT contract that will push Trans Texas Corridor forward

Document: Map of proposed route of Interstate 69

Link: Details on the winning bid

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

AUSTIN — The Transportation Commission has selected a master developer of the Interstate 69 segment of the Trans Texas Corridor. The winning bid was submitted by a team consisting of a Texas-based construction company, Zachry American Infrastructure, and ACS Infrastructure, a subsidiary of a Spanish firm that is one of the largest toll road operators in the world.

The action allows TxDOT staff to negotiate a $5 million development contract with the team that will lead the way building the 650-mile network of super-highways.

"This proposal gives us the best path to developing the long-awaited upgrades to U.S. 77 in South Texas and ultimately the I-69/TTC project," said TxDOT executive director Amadeo Saenz. "The ZAI/ACS team's proposal would use existing road alignments and engage local leaders to help direct this project with minimal cost to the state."

The other bidder was led in part by Cintra, the Spanish firm that is developing the other segment of the Trans Texas Corridor, running the length of Texas roughly parallel to Interstate 35.

The contract approved today does not directly authorize the winning consortium to build any part of the super highway. But it gives the group a position of power for winning the much larger construction contracts -- almost certainly to be worth billions of dollars – for the toll roads that will make up the super highway.

The contract gives the winning team 12 to 18 months to flesh out a master development plan for the project, which is expected to largely follow the path of the proposed southern extension of Interstate 69.

Cintra last year won the design contract for the segment of the corridor that will run north to south, roughly parallel to Interstate 35. It is also the firm that was initially slated to build State Highway 121 in North Texas.

Since winning a $3.5 million design contract, Cintra has been working to develop plans for the massive network of toll roads that will stretch from the northern tip of Texas to Laredo.

Although that deal did not authorize the building of any aspect of the road itself, it did allow the firm to fast-track a proposal to build and operate a toll road on one of the most lucrative segments of the project, the State Highway 130 extension outside of Austin.

The extension of SH 130 had long been planned by state transportation officials as a gas-tax road, and then was considered as a publicly operated toll road. But officials of the Texas Department of Transportation said Wednesday that future toll revenues would not have been high enough to allow the state to borrow the full price of the project -- well over $1 billion -- in order to build it itself. Instead, it would have had to spend $600 million or more of scarce tax dollars on the project, said assistant executive director Phil Russell.

After winning the design contract last year, Cintra focused on that project and offered to pay the state $25 million for the right to build and operate the toll road. It also will cover all construction costs. Private operators are often able to borrow more money against future toll revenues because they accept far more riskier projections than the more conservative projects required by bond markets in which state or other public entities borrow.

Under the terms of its design contract, any proposal to build a toll road that does not require state tax dollars can be negotiated with Texas without competitive bids from other potential toll operators. Mr. Russell said the state accepted the proposal from Cintra because doing so fast-tracked the development of the badly needed toll road and allowed the state to save well over a half billion dollars in tax money.

The same kind of arrangements could flow from the contract announced today. Mr. Russell said, however, that the development agreements do not obligate the state to accept the winning firms' proposals to build the more profitable aspects of the road. It can still reject those proposals, or require that the firms enter a competitive bidding process.


© 2008, The Dallas Morning News: www.dallasnews.com

June 25, 2008

Grimes County GO group claims 391 Commission needed now more than ever

BY ROSEMARY SMITH, Examiner editor
The Navasota Examiner
Copyright 2008

Even after the recent announcement by TxDOT to use existing highways for the Trans-Texas Corridor, Grimes County Get Organized (GCGO) members are continuing to urge local commissioners to form a 391 sub regional planning commission. During Monday’s commissioners court meeting, County Judge Betty Shiflett told GCGO member Reuben Grassl the commissioners are still working on obtaining more information before they make a decision.

Grimes County Attorney Jon C. Fultz told The Examiner, “The matter of the formation of a 391 Commission seems to be a relatively new concept, if not in authorization at least in relevant application. I want to talk to those who have seen the pros and cons of such. While I have talked to several individuals regarding the 391 Commission, there remain a couple of individuals who I have been told may have some insights that ought to be considered.”

Grassl told The Examiner that forming a 391 commission is even more important now, as he is not so sure that Grimes County is out of harm’s way, since Brazos County would like to be connected with the corridor.

“If that happens, it’s just us now. We don’t have the backing of 28,000 people,” he said, referring to the number of comments received from the public during a series of 47 hearings held in recent months.

During the announcement, TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz said, "We're going to be focusing on (U.S.) 59 in Houston. Highway 6 could be a connecting road. We don't know whether it would be in Grimes County or Brazos County. The environmental study will determine that.”

Fellow GCGO member Joyce Floyd added, “As a group, Grimes County Get Organized is elated with the announcement from the Texas Department of Transportation regarding the decision to, at least for now, build the TTC along existing rights-of-way. We won a very important battle, but not the war. It is our contention that had Grimes County had a 391 sub regional planning commission in place, the wishes of the majority of the residents in the county would have been immediately relayed to TxDOT, as well as to any state agency with projects planned for our area.

“Conversation with the TxDOT office in Austin confirmed that they would welcome the input of a 391 sub-regional and work with the commission to become more effective and efficient in the future.

“We will continue to lobby our elected city and county officials to form a 391 sub-regional planning commission to assist Grimes County in planning for its growth now and in the future.”

© 2008, The Navasota Examiner: www.navasotaexaminer.com

June 19, 2008

Caution! Don’t Be Fooled!

Letters to the Editor
The Groveton News
Copyright 2008

Dear Editor,

I would encourage you to ask some tough questions on the TTC-69 project to those politicians who are taking credit for its demise.

I am an associate member of the Trinity-Neches Sub-Regional Planning Commission, which was formed this spring under Texas Local Government Code Chapter 391,

Our commission was formed to prevent TTC-69 or other multi-modal transportation systems from coming through Trinity and Polk Counties. Members include Trinity mayor Lyle Stubbs, Groveton Mayor Troy Jones, Corrigan Mayor Grimes Fortune and local businessman and former elected official Bob Dockens. We are in the process of bringing in associate members from the Trinity ISD, Groveton ISD, Apple Springs ISD and Camden/Corrigan ISD as well as 3 Water Districts. The commission’s jurisdiction includes over 600,000 acres within these two counties.

To fully understand the language contained within the existing Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) specific to TTC/I-69. This is a very important document that is the basis for all “build/no-build” projects within TxDOT. It is federally mandated and trumps all financing issues. Without federal approval, nothing happens.

TxDOT chose to use a “tiered” process to construct the DEIS. In Tier One (the current version that was a basis for public comment) they present only two (2) alternatives for discussion: 1) NO BUILD; or 2) the Preferred Alternative Corridor, which is the path that snakes around Houston to the north and destroys farms, ranches and timberland through some of the most pristine parts of East Texas. At the public meetings this past Winter/Spring everyone had the choice between these two options. As I understand it, some 28,000 comments were submitted with the overwhelming majority choosing the NO BUILD alternative.

TxDOT chose to move ALL DISCUSSION and ANALYSIS of Existing highways (ie—US 59, US 77, etc) to the Tier Two analysis citing that they simply do not have the data available to accurately analyze this alternative. This is interesting, since you would think an existing highway would have volumes of information on costs, environmental considerations, etc. I found quite a bit of cost information on past projects related to widening US 59 north of Humble during a brief internet search.

Many of us, including the Sierra Club, find this prejudicial and not in keeping with the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) guidelines for the administration of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), which sets the guidelines for an acceptable DEIS report.

Approval of the current even if they claim to be using the existing highways “whenever possible” does not preclude the use of the preferred alternative corridor at some point in the future. They can simply dust it off and, when all of the financing is in place and the political election cycle is past us, proceed as planned.

I cite documents from Deputy Director Steve Simmons in last week’s press: “In addition to the main route, the agency also will consider access connections to the regions of the state that want to be connected to TTC-69 through other routes, such as Bryan-College Station.” Simmons then went on to say: "TxDOT intends to secure a consultant contract on TTC-69, just as they did Cintra Zachry on TTC-35. That partner will work with TxDOT to plan the route; determine the phasing based on demands and traffic and explore financing options.”

Wait a minute – they say they were going to use the existing right-of-way on current highway. Why do they need to plan the route? It should be self-evident. And then there is the discussion of the “connectors” to places such as Bryan-College Station; well, if you look at the map of the preferred alternative corridor that everybody opposed in the Tier One Process, we are right back to where we started – only now if the DEIS goes to Final, we won’t have any say where or how they build. All options currently identified in the Tier one Study of the existing DEIS will be fair game.

© 2008, The Groveton News: www.easttexasnews.com
The Bait and Hook Scam

Letters to the Editor
The Groveton News
Copyright 2008

Concerning the Trans-Texas Corridor

By now everyone is East Texas has heard it on the 5 o’clock news or read in some newspaper about TxDOT changing the TTC course and it will not be going through East Texas. And we did this merely by voicing our opposition at the TTC hearings!!!

I cannot tell you how many excited calls I have had saying “We won; they won’t be going through Trinity /County.”

Well, I hate to burst everyone’s bubble, but this is just another ploy to get the counties who have failed to establish a Sub-Regional Planning Commission to quit trying. TxDOT is hoping everyone will take the bait and it seems as though they have.

In my mind, you put it all together and the agencies have set up a scam a bait and hook” –the bait is to get all commissioners to back away with the general public and consider that TxDOT has done the right thing, from public pressure; the hook is when the public and commissioners do that, the prey is trapped. Then, sometime in the next 3 or 4 years, when all financing and plans are ready for construction, Tier 2, which will have begun without scrutiny, will suddenly find why they must go from established routes to a route that destroys the ecosystem, which we’re trying to save. And, then its: “Oh my”, “we tried so hard, but we’re sure the people will understand that we tried and it just didn’t work. Sorry…

The Houston Chronicle on June 11, 2008 reported Amadeo Saenez, TxDOT’s Executive Director as saying: He will recommend to the Texas Transportation Commission, which sets policy for TxDOT, that only existing highways, principally US 59, will be considered for the route. “Anything not on an existing highway will be set aside and not moved forward, adding that in the distant future—perhaps 50 years from now—that may become necessary.”

The Huntsville item wrote on June 11, 2008: 'TxDOT to look at using existing roads for corridor." Saenez was quoted as saying “Any route that was a new location is no longer going to be moved forward—it’s out of the mix. I can’t say it’s never going to happen, because 50 years from now someone might need to build a second or third loop around Houston.”

Quiz: Can you find the loophole at the end of each statement?

This is not a dead issue by any means. The Trinity-Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission and the Piney Woods Sub-Regional Planning Commission are working diligently to ensure that TxDOT does not get to Tier II of the DEIS.

I urge all those counties that have not yet established a Sub-Regional Planning Commission to DO so ASAP. This is the only legal way to have control over whom and what goes through your jurisdiction.

Connie Fogle, member-At-Large,
Trinity–Neches Texas Sub-Regional Planning Commission

© 2008, The Groveton News: www.easttexasnews.com

June 11, 2008

Grassroots Opponents To TTC Not Going Away

by Donna McCollum
Copyright 2008

During Trans Texas Corridor hearings before the Texas Department of Transportation you found ranchers to business owners. There were retirees to school children. And strict conservatives to far left liberals. More than 28,000 of them united in the fight against the Trans Texas Corridor. Their hard work paid off.

Jan Tracy, a landowner and advocate said, " We're thrilled that TxDOT has come to their senses and that they have decided to sue the existing footprint of 59. I mean that is wonderful news, certainly for our school district and for our area. "

We first visited Tracy in her elementary classroom where children wrote letters to state and national leaders. She sees TxDOT's decision as a victory for their future. Tracy said, "Not having a 1200 foot swath coming through here is great news for all of us here."

But no one is removing their 'No TTC' signs just yet. There are still serious concerns regarding this issue.

Larry Shelton, President of the Piney Woods Alliance said, " As long as there is still a highway of this magnitude that is coming through Nacogdoches County we have every reason to stay involved, so the Piney Woods Sub-Regional Planning Commission is not going to go away. We're going to continue to engage the planning process and protect the local interest here. "

A CorridorWatch newsletter criticizes TxDOT for its lack of sincerity writing, " Faced with pressure from state and federal officials, an unhappy Sunset Advisory Commission, and pending report from the state auditor, it was time for TxDOT to find something they could give up. Hello TTC-I 69. " Shelton said, " The decision you see today has not as much to do with listening to the people as it does with election year politics. There are a lot of politicians that are afraid of losing their jobs come November. "

A changed route for TTC is a won battle for East Texas landowners, but they're far from saying the TTC war is over.

© 2008, KTRE-TV www.ktre.com