Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Appraisal total for Austin's SH 45 Toll Road right of way

The spreadsheet total shown below shows that the May 22, 2002 appraisal cost estimates for SH 45 were coming in at $72 million -- far above the $58 million cap approved by the city council for the costs of right of way along SH 45. The document below is from page 2 of a long list of often highly fragmented scraps of land parcels the City of Austin had agreed to buy. These were to be funded out of the $150 million in Proposition 2 transportation bond money approved in November 2000. The SH 45 land totaled about 50 acres. The city ended up paying on the order of a million dollars per acre for the right of way, with additional costs for relocating utilities, etc.

SH 45 is the East-West toll road that incorporated part of SH 130, and that was intended to be part of the CTTP toll road network and cross IH 35 and tie into SH130; it was effectively a northern part of the original "Outer Loop" proposed in the mid-1970's. These toll road roads were in large part planned to serve future growth in travel demand to serve commuters living in Williamson County.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The (Toll Road) Mobility Alternatives Finance Study

[The proposed Dec. 27, 2005 draft text of the Alternatives Contract with CRA International is at the bottom of this post.]

My reading of the alternatives study proposal gives rise to the following questions and issues:
(The next meeting of the alternative study advisory body is Jan. 18, 2006).

We were originally promised at the time of the CAMPO plan approval in June of 2005 an independent study taking one year, done by the Austin city council under the initative of Councilmember Brewster McCracken to look at alternatives to the proposed toll roads.

Yet now we see this same iniative being transformed into a study controlled by others close to the real estate and road conctracting interests, like the CTRMA and CAMPO. And now it seems like we are getting a much prolonged study to look at the much narrower range of policies limited to alternative financing of the same old roads.

It looks like all the alternative planning is pretty much limited to narrow satus quo-based data. status quo assumptions coming out of CAMPO’s 2030 plan, such as the sprawl land use patterns in that plan, the locations od the roads to be built, and using the same exponentially growing traffic projections. In other words, it looks like its going to use most of the same numbers and assumptions as CAMPO’s 2030 plan.

1. What is the major difference between this “Mobility Alternatives Finance Study and the same work behind the 2030 plan? It looks like its going to be a lot more similar than it is different from the previous plan because the financing is the major variable. Is this study going to be frozen into the old 2004 numbers or more current projections and parameters as a basis for its alternatives planning?

2. If the currently deteriorating economics of sprawl, and higher bond interest rates, and higher fuel prices are ignored under the terms of this study, then I suspect its going to result in worthless policy output that will perpetuate the current status quo. Why is that not so and how will this study be made into a meaningful use of public planning money?

3. How will this alternatives planning calculate fuel costs and plug them into the alternatives calculations?

4. What is the time frame of this study, and who is contributing how much, and what are the rules for the body that conducts the study?

5. What are the “related multipliers” on page 4? It looks to me like this may be trying to beg the conclusion that if you build a lot of roads real fast that it will stimulate the economy, no matter what the long range risk to our municipal credit ratings in case the road bonds default.

6. Is this study going to model and predict the frequency and risk associated with travel declines like we have seen in Texas during the last year?

7. This study seems to be limited to a financial study of alternatives that could be used for building the same road network as was in the CAMPO plan. Is it true that the toll road alternative study is limited to examining this one narrow policy issue?

--Roger Baker, 1/9/06


Scope of Work
December 27, 2005

Task 1 - Will the Phase 2 Toll Plan cover its costs and produce surplus revenues that could be used to fund additions to the system approved by CAMPO?
Review the CAMPO model, especially as it relates to managed lanes and toll facilities with parallel frontage roads, as follows:
The model data sets
The model toll forecasting compatibility
The model toll forecasting accuracy
In light of this review, analyze the following:
What usage level assumptions can be made on data currently available and based on the Traffic and Revenue analysis conducted by URS?
What cities and road comparisons exist to compare the proposed facilities and system and the usage/toll rates on existing managed lanes and /or toll facilities with parallel free frontage roads?
How do tolls at these prices affect the projections in the toll feasibility studies?
Based on what other toll agencies have done, what is a reasonable range of toll rates?
How do the toll rates for the roads in the Phase 2 Plan compare to the toll rates for urban toll roads in cities across the U.S.?
In the planning process, when and how are toll rates normally analyzed and then set?

How does the CAMPO area’s percentage of highway lane miles scheduled to be tolled compare to the rate of tolling in other American metropolitan areas?
What are the projected number of lane miles and projected percentage of tolled lanes in the comparison cities?
What is the current and projected congestion index in those cities?
What are the factors in the comparison cities (if any) that may impact this analysis (i.e. history of aggressively pursuing mobility plans and construction, state investment, high levels of public transit, addition of lane miles compared to addition of vehicle miles).

Task 2 - Will each Phase 2 Plan toll facility generate sufficient revenue to cover its costs of bond financing, extra construction costs as a toll facility and operations and maintenance costs?
Will the Phase 2 Plan toll facilities generate sufficient revenue as a system to cover the costs of bond financing, extra construction costs as toll facilities and operations and maintenance costs?"
Detail the assumptions underlying the analysis.

Task 3 - How much surplus revenue, if any, will each of the Phase 2 Plan toll facilities generate after all financing costs, construction costs and operations and maintenance obligations are met?
How much surplus revenue, if any, will the Phase 2 Plan as a system generate after all financing costs, construction costs and operations and maintenance obligations are met?
Detail the assumptions underlying the analysis, including the toll rate(s) for each facility, traffic assumptions, interest rates, construction costs and growth assumptions.

Task 4 – If the Phase 2 Toll Plan is not implemented, what are the alternatives? What are best practices from other cities to finance and implement infrastructure? Why and how are they different?
How does the TxDOT/CTRMA Phase 2 Toll Plan differ from the plans submitted to the Texas Transportation Commission in 2004 by the other seven Texas metropolitan areas?
What approaches are similar metro areas in the United States taking?

Could the capacity in the Phase 2 Plan be built without tolling using the funding described at http://www.ctrma.org/ppt/21.htm ?
What about the Phase 2 Plan, but excluding Loop 360?
What about the Phase 2 Plan, but for Loop 360 doing only the following:
building intersection improvements such as overpasses, underpasses or roundabouts to remove stoplights and
building no extra lanes?
Describe the options for the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board and the costs and benefits of each scenario.
What effect would each scenario have on the creation of a sustainable transportation system?
What is the overall sustainability of the region’s transportation network? Include in this analysis the future costs of local governments building new lane miles as well as maintaining current and future transportation systems? How will the liability be bonded? Can it be sustained?
What alternative financing and traffic management models exist to build this system?
Analyze options including, but not limited to:
A mixture of non-tolled lanes and high occupancy toll lanes.
A mixture of non-tolled lanes and managed lanes.
A mixture of non-tolled lanes and managed lanes with congestion pricing.
Shadow toll support.
Local option gas tax.
Analyze each of these above options under two scenarios:
1ST SCENARIO: TxDOT pays for the operation and maintenance of the entire highway through the region’s distribution of gas tax revenue, and the revenues from the managed lanes stay in the Austin area.
2ND SCENARIO: Any revenues realized from the managed lanes are required to be dedicated first to operations and maintenance.
What are the long-term impacts to the CAMPO 2030 Plan of not utilizing the tolling and system financing options analyzed in Number 4?

How could the strategies analyzed in Number 4 be used to first build the Phase 2 system and then expedite the improvements to Interstate 35 prepared for CAMPO? As part of your analysis, also include consideration of tolling all freight trucks (such as 18-wheelers).

Task 5 – Confirm the funds available for the Phase 2 Toll Plan projects in both tolled and non-tolled scenarios including the following.
That TxDOT/CTRMA will fund the right-of-way and utility relocation costs for tolled projects in lieu of the City of Austin and other local entities and the dollar amounts for each.
Identify the effect, if any, on projected toll rates and financing needs if TxDOT/CTRMA must borrow additional funds to pay for right-of-way and utility relocation costs in lieu of the City of Austin and other local entities contributing these funds.

Task 6 – Utilizing the information and analysis in Tasks 1 through 6, determine the following.
Which model and scenario in Task 4.4 does the most to reduce traffic congestion?
Which model and scenario in Task 4.4 has the best cost/benefit to Central Texas residents?
What is the cost-benefit to Central Texas drivers of the Phase 2 Toll Plan?
By tolling US 183, SH 71 and US 290W and thereby assuming the operation and maintenance costs for these highways and receiving access to toll revenues, will Central Texas residents realize a net gain or loss in total transportation funding, in the costs of mobility and congestion, and in new or additional facilities?
This analysis should be performed from the perspective of tolling’s impact on Central Texas local governments and Central Texas drivers - not from the perspective of the Toll Plan’s impact on the TxDOT budget. This analysis should also assess the ramifications and impact of the Phase 2 Toll Plan on Central Texas local governments, and in particular the ramifications of any loss of State highway funding and transfer of operations obligations to Central Texas local governments and residents.
How does the Phase 2 Toll Plan compare with the preferred options in Task 7.1 and 7.2 above?
What will the economic effects to the Central Texas region be from the construction of the Phase 2 toll plan, from the operations and maintenance of the plan, and from the related multipliers?


The Central Texas region has experienced tremendous growth over the last twenty years. During that same time, local governments and TxDOT did not build adequate transportation infrastructure to keep pace with the increases in traffic. This is evidenced by the fact that the City of Austin has been voted the most congested city for its size in the United States for three years in a row.
Over the next twenty years, the Central Texas region, as defined by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), will double in population. The draft 2030 CAMPO Transportation Plan has identified $18.0 billion dollars in transportation infrastructure (roads, buses, rail) to both catch up and address the future growth.
In 2001, the CAMPO area in partnership with the Texas Turnpike Authority (a division of TxDOT) embarked on a $2.2 billion toll road program called the Central Texas Turnpike Project (CTTP). With local general obligation bond support for right of way, the State now has 72 miles of turnpike under development, including SH 130, Loop 1 North, SH 45 North, and SH 45 Southeast. The Phase I turnpikes, owned and operated by TxDOT, will be open to traffic in late 2007.
In April of 2004, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) and TxDOT presented a proposed Phase 2 Toll Plan. This Plan was prepared with direction from the Texas Transportation Commission regarding toll road development in the eight urban areas of Texas; the availability of additional funding for toll roads from the Texas Mobility Fund; and, a level commitment of construction dollars from TxDOT Administration for the Austin District.
The Phase 2 plan included finishing construction of two major corridors: US 183 from IH 35 to SH 71, and SH 71 (Ben White Blvd.) from east of IH 35 to Austin Bergstrom International Airport. Both of these projects have been in the regional plans and under development and construction since the late 1970’s; however, lack of funding and local political support slowed completion of these projects.
The Phase 2 plan also included the western extension of US 290 from east of William Cannon to FM 1826, including improvements to a segment of SH 71 west and the US 290 West/SH 71 west interchange in Oak Hill. Again, this project has been on the drawing board for a number of years and only partial funding was available for this project. The other major projects in the Phase 2 Plan included the upgrading/expansion of US 290 east from US 183 to SH 130 and the upgrading and expansion of Loop 360 from SH 71 to US 183.
The Phase 2 toll plan proposed $1.8 billion of construction over 5-7 years (not including Loop 360 funding), using a variety of revenue sources including additional State gas tax dollars, Texas Mobility Fund dollars, TxDOT operations and maintenance support, and toll revenue bonds.

There were three major assumptions in the Phase 2 Toll plan. They included:
The CAMPO region could quickly “catch up” on completion of important major infrastructure by tolling and leveraging limited resources;
By tolling major portions of the region’s roadway system, the CAMPO area, through the CTRMA, would have a future revenue stream (surplus toll revenues) to build the rest of the CAMPO 2030 plan (both roads and transit); and,
If all of the available TxDOT revenues forecasted for the next 10-15 years were used to complete only SH 71 and US 183, there would be no way to fund and complete the other major projects in the CAMPO 2030 plan.

Purpose of Study
In 2000, a community-funded Peer Review conducted by Cambridge Systematics compared CAMPO with other large metropolitan planning organizations. The Peer Review addressed policy board composition; the lack of a technical advisory committee; the long-range travel demand model; demographic forecasts; and, lack of a viable financing/funding program to assure implementation of the long-range improvement plan.
A number of the Peer Review recommendations were addressed by CAMPO. However, the Phase 2 Toll Plan continues to point out several deficiencies, including the travel demand model and toll road forecasts; adequate funding; and, a real regional implementation program. While the Phase 2 Toll Plan outlined a specific plan of action, it did not clearly outline the funding and implementation alternatives or the next steps that CAMPO would take to complete the remainder of the road and transit projects in the long-range plan.
The haste with which the State implemented the allocation of the Texas Mobility Fund deprived the community an opportunity to digest the major shift in highway funding. This lack of public discussion on alternatives and the absence of a comparable analysis (with other Texas cities, etc.) raised doubts about the validity of the proposal. These omissions, coupled with the lack of a clear presentation regarding the role of the Phase 2 Toll Plan in the larger implementation of the CAMPO plan, necessitate an independent review and analysis of not only the Phase 2 Toll Plan, but also of analyzing the Plan in the context of CAMPO’s long-range implementation strategies.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Trans Texas Corridor Advisory Committee summaries

Here's what they're saying about toll roads, but thats not getting intro the papers.

I requested, and got, and am here passing on in serial form the summaries prepared by TxDOT for the meetings of the TTC Advisory Committee concerning Perry's $185 billion TTC plan.

(This lacks the summary for the Dec. 2005 meeting, which was not ready yet. A small part of the attachments that showed the participants in boxes did not transfer properly to my rich text format used here). -- Roger


Trans Texas Corridor Advisory Committee
Meeting #1 – Summary**

May 25, 2005/9:00 am – 12:15 pm/Greer Building, Austin

Committee Members Attending:

Part I – Welcome, Introductions and Updates

Welcoming Remarks by Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson

Chairman Ric Williamson, Texas Transportation Commission, addressed members of the Trans-Texas Corridor Advisory Committee.

Problems facing the transportation system in Texas include the following:
Approximately 50% of transportation dollars are spent on maintenance.
The tax system generates the only cash flow for maintenance, expansion, and overhead.
Transfers out of the transportation fund.

Possible responses to the problems could include doing nothing, raising the direct tax, or fostering the alternative of a toll debt paid by toll collections. Governor Perry, looking for a long term answer to the pressing transportation issues, asked for a broad picture concept addressing the needs for the next 100 years which elicited the following:
Size – a maximum width of 1200 feet
Scope – state-wide beginning with TTC-35 running north and south and TTC-69 running SW to NE.

Chairman Williamson charged the committee to address the Trans-Texas Corridor as a vision of “what should be” to meet transportation needs for the next 100 years and to reflect on how the vision becomes a reality. Acknowledging that there are various perspectives of the project (personal, local, state-wide), TxDOT must focus on what is best for the entire state.

**This is a summary of the discussion and remarks made during the meeting. It is not intended to be a transcript.
The role of the committee is to develop a framework and communicate ideas back to TxDOT; pointing out mistakes and putting forth alternatives, identifying those with whom TxDOT should be talking, and bringing suggestions of how the Corridor should look. Additionally, the committee was charged with helping to take the concept of private financing into the community in a way that the concept will be accepted on the local level.

The Chairman opened the floor for questions. Discussion included:
Need to look at regional plans as they relate to the Trans-Texas Corridor balancing regional needs against the state’s needs;
Role of the committee one of developing framework and communicate ideas back to TxDOT;
No deliverables, rather the committee to be ongoing with rolling membership over many years;
Relationship to Mexico
Study findings
Congestion between San Antonio and Dallas Fort Worth not as greatly impacted by freight originating in Mexico as originally thought
Economic impact of activity crossing the border is twice what was thought
Need for careful consideration plans to interface traffic with counterparts in Mexico;
Railroad – Impacted by West Coast port issues
Not viable without public funding-only when built in conjunction with highways

Remarks by Commission Member Ted Houghton

Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton’s remarks included two main topics: the importance of TTC-35 based on the state’s population distribution and the increasing impact of the movement of freight on the transportation system state-wide. Called the “Spine of Texas”, the area 50 miles on either side of IH-35 from north of Dallas to San Antonio is home to 45% of the population of the state. In the next 20 years, that figure is expected to rise to 55%. TTC-35 is vital to providing transportation for that area of Texas.

Another concern is the increasing volume of freight transported within the state. Recently, much of the freight which traditionally entered the country through West Coast ports (Long Beach, LA) now comes ashore at ports on the western coast of Mexico, moving across Mexico to enter the U.S. at El Paso and other Texas/Mexico ports. Freight then is transported over the state’s system to Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston (major distribution centers for the rest of the country) and other destinations within Texas and the rest of the nation. Accommodating the swelling flow of freight within the state necessitates looking at ways to efficiently utilize available resources. Presently, 2% of commerce within the state moves by rail with the rest transported by truck. Attention to ways to boost profitability of the rail roads could encourage a larger percentage rail transport of freight within the state.

Remarks by Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director Mike Behrens

Mike Behrens, Executive Director of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), welcomed the committee and began his remarks with a brief description of the first two projects of the Trans-Texas Corridor, which are:
TTC-35 - from Oklahoma to Mexico and the Gulf coast, and
TTC-69 - from East Texas to Houston to Victoria to Corpus and Laredo.

There are two environmental phases in looking at the projects within the Corridor. The first phase of the environmental study can take between 15 and 24 months. The next phase is the approval of specific routes by TxDOT. All routes must have final approval from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). When an agreement such as the one with Cintra-Zachry is signed, TxDOT maintains control of the project. Agreements for each segment within a project are stand-alone agreements.

Mr. Behrens charged the committee to give input to TxDOT as to how TxDOT can do a better job of marketing the project. He requested that the committee get input from others to pass along to TxDOT. He made a comparison to the Interstate system, which is 50 years old, citing what impact the TTC will have had on Texas transportation 50 years from now.

Mr. Behrens summarized his remarks as: the desired process is to study, to get input, to move forward with the project.

Status Report on the Trans-Texas Corridor by Phil Russell, Director, Texas Turnpike Authority Division, TxDOT

Phil Russell, Director of the Texas Turnpike Authority Division, outlined his expectations that TxDOT will attempt to keep the committee informed regarding CDAs and use the committee as a sounding board. Mr. Russell answered questions from committee members and gave a presentation highlighting the following:
Purpose, needs and development of the corridor
Processes (focusing on TTC-35)
Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA)
Involvement of the Cintra-Zachry Team
Overview of the I-69/TTC project
Regarding concessions fees and revenue to TxDOT, terms of the contracts are anticipated to have different rates and provisions for each CDA. Considerations must include balancing the risk with an appropriate rate of reward. This method of financing brings in new dollars and speeds up the process. Building I-69 would be very difficult with public money. A toll road is the fastest way for stand alone corridor. Ancillary facilities are viewed as service centers more for customer services rather than for revenue production. Although it was pointed out that no laws prevent “unrelated commercial” or “revenue enhancers” from activity on state owned land, Mr. Russell indicated that TxDOT has no interest in selling water from wells located within the Corridor.

Decisions on splits of I-35, I-69 traffic and interfaces at the Texas borders will follow the process of TxDOT looking at historic trade patterns then in Tier 2 level of activity, while working closely with leaders of bordering U.S. states and Mexico to make sure the plans are in sync, assigning specific routes. Mr. Russell ended by highlighting that the committee guidelines are purposely loose to allow the committee to decide how it wants to function and share communication to and from TxDOT.

Part II – Committee Discussions

Bill Stockton, Associate Director of the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) will serve as facilitator for the TTC Advisory Committee and led the committee’s initial discussions.

Roundtable Discussion of Backgrounds
Current and former elected officials from counties and cities
Community leaders
Former members of advisory and oversight boards
Educators, industry leaders, business leaders, association executives, concerned citizens

Discussion of Interests and Concerns (categories selected by facilitator)

Economic Development
Protect regional economic development
Facilitate international trade
Enthused about impact on rural communities
Impact of TTC plans in ongoing inland port planning

Quality of Life
Protect quality of life
Concerned about impacts on rural Texas: livelihoods, landscape
Concerned about impact of ancillary facilities developed by concessionaires, facility operators
Concerned and enthused about local impacts

Facilitate commuter rail
Facilitate multimodal opportunities, especially rail and utilities
Enhance potential for high speed rail
Facilitate efficient port/rail/truck operations
Opportunity to accomplish safety goals by relocating rail into TTC corridors

Committee Role
Concerned about TxDOT accepting and incorporating committee input
Importance of two-way communication with TxDOT
Facilitate providing constructive proactive guidance to TxDOT, not just reaction to decisions made
Committee should serve as information conduit

TTC Network Configuration
Maximize effective use of available funding sources
Facilitate port access and intermodal movements
Support interconnection of TTC-35 and TTC-69
Adamant that TTC extend to the lower RGV
Facilitate economic development of East Texas, especially through implementation of TTC-69
Assure that benefits extend to West Texas (e.g. El Paso)
Facilitate freight movement, especially international trade through West Texas
Facilitate incorporation of Houston interstate in TTC-10

Citizen/Community Input and Information Exchange
Importance of local input and impacts
Importance of smaller cities in urban areas being heard
Importance of two-way communication with citizens
Importance of identifying 5, 10, 15 year goals, not just 50 year
Important to communicate how toll approach will affect citizens daily
Facilitate effective public communication and involvement
Facilitate communication and understanding with legislators
Facilitate giving voice to citizen concerns as means to improve TTC implementation

TTC Corridor Planning
Utilities, use of right-of-way
Enhance mobility
Support maintenance of existing transportation system
Concerned that “devil in the details” of the TTC vision
Concerned that planning be consistent with principles of quality and urban planning
Adamant about taking comprehensive, long view of corridor planning to assure space available
Emphasize importance of partnerships
Maximize economic opportunities
Facilitate coordinated statewide water and TTC planning
Importance of very long range planning
Understanding/communicating link between commerce and connectivity
Importance of providing transportation system to serve the state for the next century
Importance of balance for users and non-users, along with balancing economic development and quality of life

Committee Follow-up
Send request for briefings and background materials to Bill Stockton (bill.stockton@tamu.edu)
Send brief summary of interest in serving as Chair, Vice Chair for distribution prior to next meeting

Facilitator/TxDOT Follow-up
Consolidate lists of issues for committee to select initial briefs
Distribute Texas Transportation Commission agendas in advance
Provide committee with summary reports of statewide public meetings, in advance of next meeting

Committee Decisions
Meeting Times: 10:00 – 3:00, including working lunch
Wednesday before commission meetings
Austin monthly for summer: June 29, July 27, August 24
Standing Briefing on TTC status at each committee meeting
Preferred communication: Email

Items for Next Agenda (no order implied)
Election of Chair and Vice Chair
Legal briefing on Open Records Act and requirements of Committee Members
Discussion of issues from TxDOT’s statewide meetings, including location(s) where issue raised
Consider Committee role vis-à-vis TxDOT and adopt position
Adopt committee organization and rules
Consider provision for proxy and adopt a committee rule
Consider potential subcommittees
Briefing on legislative activity (federal and state) related to TTC


Trans-Texas Corridor Advisory Committee Meeting Summary #2

Wednesday June 29, 2005/10:00 AM – 2:00 PM/200 Riverside, Austin

Committee Attending:

Part I – Welcome, Legislative Overview, and TCC Project Updates

Bill Stockton, Texas Transportation Institute, acting as facilitator, welcomed members of the committee and audience, and reviewed the agenda. As several members of the committee had another commitment at the Greer Building at 2 PM, the agenda was adjusted to work through lunch.

Legislative Overview by Coby Chase, Director, Legislative Affairs Office

HB 2702 is the legislative successor to HB 3588. Some items coming out of this legislation:

Requires TxDOT/TTC to post periodic reports on the website
Requires approval of a method for collecting tolls
The department must provide direct connections to Interstate Highways, U.S. Highways and State Highways, as well as consider direct connections to Farm-to-Market roads
Allows the department to provide for ancillary facilities, but not to conspire against existing facilities. “Ancillary” facilities do not include hotels or restaurants. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, TxDOT cannot condemn for economic development due to state legislation.
Condemnation rules include required payment to landowners for damages to the remainder of their properties (as in severed properties), and the use of “quick-take” procedures when necessary
Requires consideration of groundwater resources
Prohibits conversion of non-toll roadway to toll after 2005, unless the project meets certain restrictions.

The TxDOT Legislative Affairs Office is preparing a summary of the provisions of HB 2702, which will be distributed to the Advisory Committee when it is complete.

Reauthorization of TEA-21 is still in the works, and seems to be making progress. Issues relating to reauthorization were discussed.

Trans Texas Corridor Project Updates – Amadeo Saenz, Assistant Executive Director, TxDOT; Doug Booher, Environmental Manager, Texas Turnpike Authority Division (TTA), TxDOT; Dieter Billek, Project Manager, TTA

An introduction to the TTC Update was provided by Amadeo Saenz, with Doug Booher presenting information on the environmental process for both TTC-35 and I-69, and Dieter Billek providing information on the CDA aspect for TTC-35.

Mr. Booher gave an overview of the progress on the environmental process for the TTC-35 project, including a packet for each committee member. Beginning in spring of 2004, public hearings were held within the proposed areas, with a second round held in fall of 2004. A third round of public meetings was held in spring of 2005, and attendance has increased noticeably with each round.

Fifty-two more public hearings are scheduled for fall of 2005, with the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). These will be actual hearings rather than open house-type meetings.

The initial environmental review is expected to be complete in spring of 2006.

Questions from committee members included:
Will existing infrastructure be given consideration? (Answer – yes)
Can a map be provided at a future meeting showing the potential routes overlayed on a soil map that includes features such as the Balcones Fault?

Mr. Saenz explained how the TTC corridor map evolves after the comments from each set of public meetings are reviewed. Mr. Booher added that the DEIS will be available 30 days prior to the first of the public hearings in the fall, so the public should have about four months to make comments. Meetings will be held in areas that are directly affected, as well as those not directly affected by the proposed routes, particularly those places that were considered earlier but are no longer being considered, so that all the public may comment as desired.

Dieter Billek presented an overview of the TTC-35 CDA progress since December of 2004. The TTA has been meeting with MPOs and other local officials to get a feel for upcoming projects by those authorities so that the projects can be taken into consideration when developing the master financial plan. Looking ahead, the TTA will be working through October of 2006 to create a master plan that will identify potential facilities, facility characteristics, etc. During the same timeframe, TxDOT and Cintra will be creating the master financial plan.

In response to questions from the committee, Mr. Saenz outlined the right-of-way (ROW) acquisition process. All land acquired by developers will be acquired in the name of the State of Texas, and the ROW will be acquired with private money from Cintra, assuming that Cintra agrees to the proposed route. In his words, the master plan “is a living document” which changes based on the determination of technically preferred alternate routes in the environmental process and assumptions made.

Mr. Billek also provided an update on the status of SH130. While the toll road is not currently part of the TTC, it is possible that this could change in the future, depending on which corridors are found to be preferred alternate routes. If certain corridors were selected, it is possible that segments 5 and 6 could become part of the system. Cintra is preparing a proposal to the State that would include those two sections.

It was emphasized that connectors to major cities are very important, which is another reason that there have been meetings with local authorities.

In response to a question regarding tolling problems in other communities, Mr. Saenz explained how the TTA is ensuring that the State will not end up in a financial bind – every contract with Cintra includes a “buy back” clause, for example.

Other question was asked regarding the procedure for selecting the final route, landowner rights, and the determination of facilities (cross section) to be built. Mr. Saenz reiterated how the public is involved in deciding the ultimate alignment of the TTC after the initial determination of the “preferred technical alternative”. He also explained to the committee what happens if ROW is purchased and is ultimately not used, citing buy back options. Facilities types will be determined based upon need, and that will occur during Tier 2 planning.

Doug Booher then provided a quick overview of the I-69 project, noting that the environmental process for that project was much different than for the TTC-35 project, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was able to provide data for them to review up front. Because of the availability of this information, the choice of reasonable corridor alternatives was completed in June 2005. The team is currently trying to whittle down the corridor to a width of no more than 4 miles, with some areas potentially narrowed to half-mile sections. Public meetings regarding the reasonable corridor alternatives will begin July 18th.

Mr. Booher took the time to explain that while there was created a new reasonable corridor alternative for South Texas, all three of the pre-existing possibilities will also move to the Tier 2 planning level. There is an issue with using US 77, as it goes through the King Ranch which is a national historic site. Included in consideration of the alternative routes is planning by Mexican officials, with whom the TTC recently met.

Part II – Committee Business

The committee approved a change in the agenda to move discussion of committee rules ahead of election of the chair and vice-chair. Roy Walthall led the discussion. It was decided to delay determination of the future meeting schedule until the August meeting. After some discussion, the meeting times were determined to generally be 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM. A suggestion was made that the meeting not always be held in Austin. Further discussion on time and location will be tabled until the August meeting.

Roy asked that the committee read over the rules regarding proxies. Grady Smithey suggested that the committee read over all the rules and discuss them in July.

A motion was made and seconded that the committee adopt only the rule regarding selection of the chair and vice-chair at the present time. The motion was unanimously adopted.

A motion was made and seconded that the committee table discussion of all other sections until the July meeting. The motion carried unanimously.

The floor was opened for nominations of the committee chair. Grady Smithey nominated Tim Brown for chair, and the motion was seconded. Alan Johnson nominated Judy Hawley for chair, and the motion was seconded.

A motion carried to close nominations. Voting was conducted by a show of hands. Tim Brown received 11 votes to Judy Hawley’s 8 votes. Tim was elected chair, with Judy becoming vice-chair according to the election rules.

There was discussion of possible subcommittees. Grady Smithey suggested the committee consider subcommittees based on project/geographical location – for example, a TTC-35 subcommittee for the southern section, one for the central section and one for the northern section.

Items for the next agenda include:

Consideration of the remainder of the committee rules
Purpose/workings of subcommittees

Tim Brown asked that members contact him via e-mail with any additional concerns/suggestions.

Meeting adjourned 1:47 PM.


Trans-Texas Corridor Advisory Committee Meeting Summary #3

Wednesday, August 27, 2005/10:00 a.m. – 2:30 PM/200 Riverside, Austin

Committee Attending:


Trans Texas Corridor Project Updates – Phillip Russell, Director, Texas Turnpike Authority Division (TTA), TxDOT

Phillip Russell gave an update on activity since the last meeting.

Public meetings to discuss development plans for a 1 to 4 miles wide band route for I-69, including a meeting in Hempstead, will continue for 3 – 4 weeks.

Mexican plans to connect to I-69 include current autopistas that connect to McAllen and Laredo. Coastal roads are being developed to accommodate shift in traffic from Saltillo and Monterey. Amadeo Saenz, Assistant Executive Director for Engineering Operations, is working with four Mexican states, the Mexican federal government and other entities. A map of truck traffic entering the US from Mexico was in this meeting’s packet of material.

The question was raised, “what are the impacts of a decision for “no action” after Tier 1 process?” Mr. Russell explained that in a traditional project, “no action” would end the process. The magnitude of the I-69 project gives more flexibility allowing for alternatives such as moving the route westward, bowing out, or splitting elements between routes.

TxDOT is working closely with Cintra-Zachry (C-Z) on plans for the first TTC-35 facility, which includes segments 5 & 6 of SH 130. The environmental process includes three sets of meetings. That process, anticipated to begin the first of November, will have 30 to 40 meetings set for discussion of the 10 mile wide band route proposals for the corridor. There will be written and oral testimony from the public hearings. Mr. Russell stressed that input from the committee is welcome and public input is critical.

Committee members asked for clarification of the Development Agreement process.
Cintra-Zachry (C-Z) is guaranteed $3.5 million for a franchise to develop the strategic development plan, which includes the financial plan, development plan, and time frame.
The process, which takes 12-18 months, also includes a recommend priority order for projects. C-Z has first negotiation rights on projects until it (C-Z) has been awarded projects totaling $400 million. TxDOT has no financial obligations to C-Z after the first $400 million. If the C-Z proposal is not accepted, individual segments will be opened up for bidding. Examples of criteria for decision-making, generally already developed, include: non-compete clauses, buy back provisions, toll structure, leverage of state dollars, etc.

Both Lone Star Infrastructure (LSI) and C-Z have submitted proposals for Segments 5 and 6 of SH 130. The LSI proposal is a design-build-maintain proposal, with a cost to TxDOT of $400 million. The C-Z concept would have no cost to TxDOT, with C-Z retaining the right to collect tolls. A TIFIA loan, a federal loan designed to attract private capital, is included in the C-Z proposal.

Plans for the SH 130, Segment 6 project will be submitted to the Transportation Commission for a decision. Both LSI and C-Z have submitted a building plan for this segment. Changes in the segment’s environmental plan include an extra wide median (103 ft) for future elements and an effort to make the corridor “rail friendly,” not merely “rail compatible.”

In response to a question as to how SH 130 and TTC-35 dovetail, Mr. Russell responded that SH 130 is not officially part of TTC. That determination will depend on the TTC-35 strategic plan (10 mile band for Tier 1). Provision for connectivity between TTC-35 and I-35 would be one of the elements in a contractor strategic plan and part of a logical economic/finance plan. To be approved, the project must serve the public good, which would be one element of plans for connectivity.

Several committee members requested information for the TTC-35 project. Copies of the soils map for TTC-35 will be made available. Doug Booher, TxDOT environmental expert, will give a briefing at the next meeting in response to a request for the TTC-35 “squiggly line” map detailing benefits and pitfalls of the project.

The time frame for the C-Z original proposal for some projects south of Dallas in 2007 may not be realistic. In some instances, using existing right-of-way accelerates NEPA process. Committee members expressed a need for an explanation of the NEPA process, and its effect on the coordination and the alignment of TTC with local plans.

Discussion of the impacts of the King Ranch’s National Historic Registry on the TTC alignment with US 77 and US 281 included an explanation that the existing US 77 footprint can be used, but it can not be widened. US 281 could be used with a more western alignment. Alternatives could include: to neck down in certain locations and split elements between corridors.

Questions about environmental concerns regarding the National Forests in east Texas were discussed.

A committee member opined that there is a need for public information to move in the right direction, correcting wide-spread erroneous information, if the public is to have a correct perception of the Trans Texas Corridor. TxDOT communication to the public historically has been limited by the fact that they are not professional communicators, as well as legal limitations regarding lobbying activities. The agency is, however, aware that it will be essential to market toll roads.

Janie Bynum and Mike Carrizales of TxDOT provided freight flow analysis maps reflecting axle counts throughout Texas. TTI will distribute maps to the committee in PDF format.

An observation made was that trucking industry feedback is necessary for realistic projections on corridor utilization. There was a request for a briefing by a representative of the trucking industry regarding factors which should be considered for corridor selection. Specific questions to be answered include: where congestion occurs and what part of the volume is local traffic, what part is long-haul and how these factors should fit into corridor selection. It was one member’s observation that 30% of truck traffic volume is long-haul. Possible enticements for the trucking industry to pay tolls to use the corridor could include: allowing higher speeds (up to 85 mph) and heavier loads on truck-only facilities. Decisions whether or not to use the facility may be driven by the way different segments of the industry are paid, i.e. per mile, time, and volume.

Open Forum Discussion

An open forum among the committee members provided a wide variety of observations and requests.

The purpose of the committee was stated as “to serve as a conduit for communication in both directions – to try to understand, analyze issues, and communicate.” The mechanism to facilitate communication of committee findings/opinions needs to be defined. It was suggested that committee or subcommittee meetings could be scheduled to sit in on public meetings to give and receive input. The difficulty in persuading public and elected officials of the value of Texas Transportation Corridor due to much incorrect information in the public was restated. There is a need for better communication of the “big picture;” information on all modes, and how projects and programs fit together, such as how do 5/10 year state and local projects dovetail with TTC, i.e. San Antonio rail? Answering the question as to the committee’s ability to substantiate and endorse benefits, it was observed that the advisory committee is the only group set up to look at the “big picture.” Objectivity can result from the diversity of the make-up of the group.

One concern expressed was that the committee needs to move quickly to get details on alignment issues and challenges if it is to provide input into TxDOT decisions regarding the defining of a 10 mile band for TTC-35 by November. To expedite the flow of information on this issue and others, briefings could be scheduled for sub-committees to address specific interests.

Several comments related to issues around the southern end of the corridor. One member’s reaction was that he has received good information in the committee meetings. The value of forecasting in decisions regarding the corridor was mentioned. The Center for Transportation Research (CTR) has a project looking at the role of the land bridge across Mexico, forecasting movement of west coast container traffic. Mexico is moving aggressively in the areas of rail and highways, west coast ports of entry, and container movement across land. Mr. Brown will provide information to the committee on North American Superhighway Coalition conferences.

There were several comments regarding freight movement. Specifically expressed was a desire for detailed freight/traffic information briefing by TxDOT on rail and interface with TTC. The question of what incentives are necessary to get rail into TTC corridors was asked. On the north end of TTC-35 there is a need for rail right-of-way that will allow rail to move out of downtown areas. Reports on the impact on infrastructure and safety of speed, overweight trucks, and double trailers were requested.

Financial and other economic issues were discussed. It was expressed that it is disingenuous to say the state does not have money when the public sees diversions from Fund 6. One member stated that many existing financial programs could be incorporated into the Trans Texas Corridor program and asked, “What are TxDOT’s processes to tie to other state agencies, i.e. how state water planning can coordinate with infrastructure?” While one committee member had no concern over blending of different funding sources, another stated that toll roads should be revenue neutral to state highway funds - state funds should not be used for maintenance of interchanges and frontage roads critical to the operation of the toll facility. The need to protect right-of-way for future projects was discussed. Another question raised was how the Trans Texas Corridor will affect tourism.

The question was raised as to whether or not there are international projects for study, or studies showing success and failure to use as guidance? (Mexico had done a piecemeal study.) Concerns raised on the stated process included whether there is a rush to build – the perception that there is no study, justification, proforma?

Discussion on Changes and Adoption of Rules as Discussed

A quorum, majority (12), is required only when a vote is taken, but is not required for a general meeting. A proxy, though not a voting attendee, is a way to get information back and forth between committee members. It is desirable that the committee know in advance if a proxy will be in attendance.

Appointment to Subcommittees of Members Present

Committee: Location
Marc Maxwell
Grady Smithey
Sandy Greyson
Stephen Bonnet
John Thompson
Louis Bronaugh

Committee: Multimodal
Kenneth Barr
Sid Covington
Joe Ramos
Roy Walthall

Committee: Financial
Bill Madden
Roger Hord
Anne O’Ryan

The chair will appoint those not present to subcommittees.

It is advantageous to keep the subcommittee process flexible. It was suggested that the group meet as a whole committee and then meet as subcommittees. The subcommittees would then report back to the committee as a whole. There will be a provision for minority reports.

Other Items

The committee will continue to meet monthly

Agenda items for next meeting include:
Requirements & Mechanisms of NEFA
Discussion of appraisal of right-of-way acquisition process
Discussion of Segments 5 and 6 of SH 130 by Doug Booher, TxDOT
Briefings on trucking and rail industry
Freight flow analysis
Problems encountered with 10 mile band, level of detail

Meeting adjourned at 2:15 pm.


Trans-Texas Corridor Advisory Committee Meeting Summary #4

Wednesday, August 24, 2005/10:00 a.m. – 2:30 PM/200 Riverside, Austin

Committee Attending:

Approval of meeting summary with corrections

Presentation by Doug Booher, TxDOT on National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA)

The purposes and requirements of NEPA were stated, emphasizing that it is a procedural law governing all major Federal projects, describing the process by which impacts to social, cultural and natural environments are assessed. NEPA does not dictate the outcome of the assessment or mandate the selection of a specific alternative route for a project. For transportation projects, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has established regulations for implementing NEPA which include public involvement.

NEPA requires an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to evaluate and assess the environmental impacts of a proposed major Federal action, to evaluate a reasonable number of alternatives, to involve the public in the decision making process, and to discuss and plan for mitigation of unavoidable environmental impacts. Environmental Streamlining is an effort to get other agencies germane to a project involved in the process early, in order to expedite the review process. Personal relationships with other agencies are a valuable part of streamlining. There are differences in the TTC-69 TTC-35 procedures, the TTC-69 process being more prescriptive and TTC-35 more flexible.

Tiered EIS is a systematic process to refine the study area to a reasonable and manageable set of alternatives for more detailed evaluation with each tier building upon the previous evaluation and decisions of the process. It does not authorize construction nor does it identify a specific route. The TTC-35 Draft EIS (DEIS), now in preparation, will identify the Preliminary Corridor Alternatives (PCAs) in December. The PCAs will be presented to the public in March. TxDOT anticipates making the DEIS available in CD/DVD format as a cost saving measure; paper copies will also be available.

Presentation by John Zimmerman, Director, Acquisition Section, Right of Way Division, TxDOT on the Appraisal and Acquisition Process

Mr. Zimmerman began with a discussion of the history of right of way beginning with the development of the Interstate Highway system in Texas in relationship to that required by the Trans Texas Corridor. Regular land acquisition begins after the NEPA process has been completed. A survey is made of the actual land needed for the project, and then a current market value appraisal is obtained. Landowners must be contacted in advance, given the opportunity to meet with the appraiser and be present during inspection of the property. The goal of the appraisal is to pay the landowner just compensation while assuring that the cost to the public is not excessive. When TxDOT and the landowners agree on the purchase price, the land is deeded without having to go through condemnation proceedings. An administrative settlement/counter offer process is followed to settle minor differences in value and possible missed improvements.

Eminent domain (condemnation) is used only if a negotiated acquisition is unsuccessful, a landowner cannot be located, or title problems prevent a landowner from conveying a clear title. To initiate a condemnation proceeding, the Texas Transportation Commission must pass a Minute Order requesting the Office of the Attorney general to initiate a condemnation proceeding. Notice of the hearing date, place, and time and a copy of the condemnation petition must be personally delivered to the landowner or the landowner’s agent.

The eminent domain process in Texas is generally a two-step process. The first is an informal, Special Commissioners’ Hearing before three citizens who own land in the same county. The Special Commissioners make an award of value based on evidence presented by both the state and the landowner or the landowner’s agent. Either party can file objections to the award. Where there are no objections, payment of the amount of the Commissioners’ Award is made into the registry of the court. In cases where there is an objection, The Commissioner’s Award can still be deposited into the registry. Once a deposit is made, the State may take possession and construct highway improvements. The landowner may apply to the court to withdraw Award funds.

If the landowner so chooses, an objection is filed and the value of the land could be determined by a jury in a civil trial. Additional negotiations and mediation frequently result in a settlement without having to go through a full trial.

A statute passed by the 2003 legislature allows acquisition of an option to buy land in the future, before an environmental determination of the exact route or alignment has been made. An option must be agreed to voluntarily by a land owner and cannot be acquired by eminent domain. This could mean a savings to the state if the option kept land undeveloped.

Report on meeting with Mr. Behrens

Tim Brown, Judy Hawley, and Bill Stockton met with Mr. Behrens on August 11 for the purpose of fleshing out the role of the committee. Mr. Behrens emphasized the importance of the advisory committee in providing TxDOT with public perceptions and concerns gleaned from committee involvement throughout the state. They should ask questions and TxDOT should be able to answer or get answers. He wants the committee to help debunk myths and to identify information gaps that TxDOT needs to address. He also requested that the committee bring forward to TxDOT and the Commission those resolutions they believe important to assure the TTC meets the needs of the citizens of Texas.

Subcommittee Activity

Those not present in last meeting were assigned to the three existing subcommittees. The subcommittees were instructed to elect a chair, take notes, and present notes when the committee as a whole reconvened. They were asked to consider conceptual issues first. Mr. Brown indicated that more time would be allowed for subcommittee meetings in the future. The subcommittee, if it reaches consensus in an issue, could bring recommendations to the Transportation Commission. Also, subcommittees could ask for items to be added to the agenda for the next meeting. Mr. Stockton will direct particular questions and input to the appropriate persons.

Reconvening of the committee as a whole

The subcommittees came back to the meeting of the committee as a whole and gave reports on the discussions in their respective meetings. The secretary of each subcommittee was asked to get a brief synopsis of the discussion back to Chairman Brown. Committee members suggested support staff take notes during subcommittee meetings.

The Location Subcommittee noted the differences between Dallas and Houston, in preferences for the location Trans Texas Corridor routes in their respective parts of the state and the need for good communication between grassroots stakeholders and TxDOT. Also cited was the need for updated traffic flow maps showing points of origin and destination before a route is selected.

The Multimodal Subcommittee approached the discussion from a global perspective -transportation needs 50 years from now. They felt that more information is needed, including updated maps for truck volume, rail road freight movement and utilities transportation.

The Financial Subcommittee’s discussion focused on the financial picture of the entire project. They would like to have a major presentation from Cintra as well as TxDOT on the accounting aspects of the project answering specific questions such as; what are the sources and uses of the funds; what transparency is there in TxDOT decisions; what assurances does the state have that things will get done, given that Cintra is an out of country entity; and what if part of the project does not work..

A discussion following the subcommittee reports centered on the need for updated and more sophisticated analysis of truck traffic flow, i.e. NAFTA vs. local, interstate vs. intrastate, etc. There is an apparent disconnecting between the maps handed out at the July meeting and truck traffic maps from the federal government. Additionally, a report from the trucking industry was requested.

Schedule for meetings through 2005

The meeting schedule for the rest of 2005 is:
September 28
October 26
November 16
December 14

Meeting adjourned at 2:30 pm.


Trans-Texas Corridor Advisory Committee Meeting Summary #5

Wednesday, September 28, 2005/10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m./Riverside, Austin

Committee Attending:

Discussion of Meeting Schedule
The meeting began with a discussion regarding the low attendance and the feasibility of changing the meeting time from the fourth Wednesday of the month. A different time of the month could make it easier to secure TxDOT resources and facilitate committee members’ attendance. It was decided that the schedule will stay as follows through the end of the year.

Discussion of Subcommittees
Members of the committee voiced a concern that subcommittees need clarity of purpose and scope. With input from the subcommittees, Bill will identify issues and resources needed. He will also get a timeline of important dates affecting both the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC)-35 and TTC-69 corridors. Due to the small number in attendance, only the Finance and Location subcommittees would meet.

Bill Webb, President of the Texas Motor Transportation Association (TMTA)
General Information
The trade association represented by Mr. Webb covers a wide spectrum in size and method of operation. There are 43,000 trucking companies registered to operate in Texas, ranging in size from Federal Express to one truck operations. The top 100 carriers represent 60% of the industry, with the average being a 12 truck/family owned operation.

Mr. Webb expressed that the issue should be thought of as “freight” rather than “trucks”.
The freight industry has experienced change, going from a depressed industry to very good profit margins before 9/11 to record lows after 9/11. Business then improved steadily, peaking about a year ago, creating an atmosphere with high freight volumes and driver shortages. Large carriers offset today’s high fuel prices by adding surcharges. True independent operators, the 25% which do not contract through larger companies, are significantly more impacted by the increasing fuel prices.

Industry Response to the TTC
The economic environment impacts how open the industry is to new ideas, change. Emotional issues, specifically tolling issues, have to be overcome to gain support of the concept of the TTC. Mr. Webb is working with the industry to define what they like, not to concentrate on what they do not like. Specific observations include:
Tolls are begrudging supported on new capacity if there is a “free” alternative available. The industry is strongly opposed to tolling existing capacity.
The TTC with truck only lanes is a strongly supported because of safety impacts. A corridor with mixed traffic is opposed.

Support of the TTC is based on the assumption that it creates a commercial thoroughfare where the added cost is offset by a return on investment – it must make sense from a business standpoint for trucks to use the TTC. Time savings alone vs. cost are not the only factors to consider in a business decision for the trucking industry.

Emotional factors can override economic factors in decision making. If truck tolling revenues are perceived to be inflated compared to the rate for cars, trucks will not use the facility. The pilot program with Dallas-Fort Worth truck only lanes is an emotional issue with truckers, as well.

Suggested enticements to use tolled facilities could include increased speed and larger size/weight of loads. Mr. Webb voiced concern regarding the safety implications of increased speeds. Any facility with increased speeds must support consistency of speed. Speeding up and slowing down are problematic safety conditions. Increased weight and size of loads would not be as great a factor in the decision to use a toll facility, as would improved safety. The American Trucking Association (ATA) is in favor of increased weight and size, but this policy is not always reflective of Texas opinion. This option is more attractive in less congested areas. Size, weight, and speed cannot be increased if initial TTC projects do not have separate truck lanes.

Dynamics of the Industry and Economic Factors That Affect Freight Patterns
Trucks make up 7 to 12 % of all traffic in general, with some areas having more heavy concentrations of trucks than others. Truck load carriers (TL) have irregular, multi-drop routes and are paid by the mile. They make up over half of the truck traffic. Less than load (LTL) carriers, i.e. Central Freight, carriers have regular circuits and are paid by the pound. They account for ~ 35% of the market. Increased size on Corridor lane would entice LTL carriers but not TL carriers. A third type, long haul carriers, makes up the rest of the industry. Twenty percent of the long haul carriers, however, make multiple stops.

Freight delivery times and places are generally set by customer demands, not by the trucking company. Access to major cities is more important than going through the major cities. Some freight patterns have evolved with stops or deliveries made during peak periods in congested areas. The dynamics of patterns change with business trends. Two examples are the increased Far East activity and a higher volume of southbound traffic with Wal-Mart’s increasing activity in Mexico.

Some locations, such as the ports at Houston and Corpus Christi create unique movement patterns. Containers are moved by drayage carriers from the port to an off-premise facility. From there, a long haul carrier takes it to a distribution center or an intermodal hub.

NAFTA and CAFTA Impacts
As background for the discussion, it was noted that there is no trucking “industry” in Mexico. The Mexican federal government has no oversight of truckers. All regulation comes from the individual states. There is no national commercial driver’s license (CDL) database in Mexico.

Regulations make it difficult for Mexican drivers to deliver loads within the United States. The Department of Public Safety has to certify that the driver has a commercial license. Any driver in the U. S. must be able to converse in English. Often trailers are switched at the border using the drayage system.

There is a flawed concept regarding the effect of NAFTA on freight patterns. The number of trucks moving from the border to out of state is only about 5% of the industry’s traffic. The volume rates are very seasonal. NAFTA trucking volume impacts at borders have declined since the mid 90’s. One of the contributing trends is short sea shipping, trucks being placed on ships, then put back on highways at the ports.

Trucking View of Rail in the Corridor
The trucking industry is rail’s largest customer. Doubling rail capacity would have a 3% impact on trucking volumes. The cost of procuring rail right-of-way as a means of adding freight capacity to the TTC is questioned, in light of the small impact and the lack of cooperation among members of the rail industry.

Tolling Rates and Usage Issues
Tim Brown asked if there are analyses of breakdowns of tolling. It was expressed that it could be worthwhile to work with The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) on a cost/benefit model for the trucking industry. J. B. Hunt, Schneider and Wilbur Smith have done some studies on this topic. Virginia has done a study on the I-80 toll project. It was noted that the Camino Columbia Bridge at Laredo is under used because the time savings does not offset the cost to the truckers.

One of the factors that could influence freight transport use of the Corridor is the emotional issue of the perceived inequity of rates between trucks and cars. Toll rates for SH-130 from Georgetown to south of the airport, approximately 40 miles, are $6 per car and $24 for trucks (5 axles). Use of an electronic tag would give a 10% discount to the vehicle.

The industry has brought to TxDOT the idea of bundled tolls, commercial discounts, to get companies to use toll facilities. (A model of state bundling is New York.) The ability use the same tag/transponders at facilities nationwide would make it easier, thus more attractive to use toll roads. (This could be achieved by installing readers that could read tags issued by different entities.)

The general guideline for tolling trucks vs cars is 3:1. In Mr. Webb’s opinion, trucks would be more likely to use a tolled facility for short trips (15-20 miles) at congested areas rather than for long trips where congestion is not a factor on most of the route. A $70 toll from Dallas to Austin would have to be offset by savings in time and fuel and safety considerations for use of the facility to make good economic sense.

Interface of the Trucking Industry with Trans Texas Corridor Discussions and Decision Making
There is the perception by the industry that “Most groups do not want us (the trucking industry) involved.” Industry leadership is trying to get the message to its members to “’think forward.’ ‘If we don’t make the right decision today, 10 years from now we will be crippled.’” There needs to be a shift in attitude toward the Corridor from “how do we stop it?” to one of “how do we impact it?”

While there has been more outreach to the TMTA in the past year, there has been little industry involvement with TxDOT in the planning of the TTC. There is a need for more involvement with the MPOs. Fed Ex and other large carriers have studies on traffic, freight patterns, economic trends, etc., that could be very helpful in making decisions regarding the TTC. The industry is encouraged by the committee to get involved, particularly at the local level, so that the (freight) capacity can be expanded in the most efficient way.

Other Observations
The trucking industry would prefer a fuel tax increase over tolls. The industry has sought tax relief where tolls are paid, and for many years, has fought the ton per mile tax which does not apply to cars.

Many in the trucking industry feel that ultimately trucks will be required to use toll roads.

Mr. Webb cited two challenges facing the Trans Texas Corridor.
The state needs to send a consistent message and set of priorities to the trucking industry. This is difficult with the diverse constituencies and regional concerns within the state.
The agri-business vocal, adamant opposition to the right-of-way acquisitions.

Open Forum
Discussion of Meeting Place/Schedule
Judy Hawley invited the group to meet in Corpus Christi on October 26. (The Transportation Commissioners meet in Corpus the following day.) Because such a large number of the committee was not able to attend the meeting and reservations may have already been made, the October meeting will be in Austin.

It was suggested that meetings could be held around times and places of upcoming public meetings. Bill will check on specifics with Texas Turnpike Authority (TTA) and will take a poll to see if the second Wednesday of the month would be a better time for the majority of the group before setting the schedule for January forward. While meeting at different locations would give the committee the opportunity for “hands on” observations and tours of relevance, moving the location could complicate securing TxDOT and TTA resources. Subcommittees could consider meeting around the public hearings.

Role of Committee/Subcommittees
The committee/subcommittees should analyze, identify anything that TxDOT should assure is taken into consideration when making decisions. Resolutions written for delivery to the Texas Transportation Commission are to be brought to the committee to be revised as needed and sent to the Commission in the format of a Resolution or as a White Paper.

Many questions are germane to more than one subcommittee. Subcommittees are dynamic groups and could be restructured based on overlaps. The Location subcommittee will split into TTC-35 and TTC-69 groups.

Recap of Meeting with Mr. Behrens
The perception is that Mr. Behrens wants to gather input from as many sources as possible. The committee serves as a forum to:
bring ideas
serve as reality checks
serve as a non-political forum, think tank
look a the Corridor from a broad, state-wide perspective
provide a fluid process as different ideas and circumstances materialize

Identification of Presentations for Future Meetings
Toll setting on SH 130
Economic feasibility-where toll roads have flourished and where they have failed
How does it work elsewhere?
Toll setting in general, i.e., PA, OK, etc. What are the risks to the public treasury?

Schedule for meetings through 2005
The meeting schedule for the rest of 2005 is:
October 26
November 16
December 14

Meeting adjourned


Trans-Texas Corridor Advisory Committee Meeting Summary #6

Wednesday, October 26, 2005/10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m./Riverside, Austin

Committee Attending:

Notes from previous meeting discussed and approved
With the amendment noting that the multimodal subcommittee did meet during the September meeting, the notes were approved.
Open Forum
Location Subcommittee Resolution
The Location Subcommittee’s discussion at the September meeting resulted in the following resolution:
In establishing a location for the Trans-Texas Corridor, TxDOT should:
Give maximum consideration to the issues raised by the Metropolitan Planning Organizations, and
Maximize connectivity to both current and future freight destinations, and
Consult with agricultural interests to minimize negative effects on Texas Agriculture, and
Evaluate the corridor components in terms of need and location for and of the different modes, and
Identify the existing facilities and transportation systems that can be upgraded to satisfy corridor component needs and the economic feasibility thereof, and
Consider possible land use changes along the potential corridor routes, and
Seek consensus of the Metropolitan Planning Organizations before adopting a Tier One route, and
Consider how corridors tie to Mexico and other states.
A request was made that the resolution be expanded to include the topic of connectivity between Mexico and other states. It was noted that not all routes of the corridor would connect with Mexico. In the subcommittee meeting, the resolution was amended, then approved by the committee as a whole.
Procedure for Presenting Resolution/Information to TxDOT and the Transportation Commission
Following the discussion of the resolution by the Location subcommittee, the question of “what happens next?” was asked. A discussion of the role of the committee followed. It was stated that there are no hard set rules regarding procedures for transfer of information between the committee, TxDOT, the Transportation Commission, and the public. While one member expressed the need to take care not to jump in too quickly with “soft and fuzzy” conceptual input, another expressed the opinion that the committee needs to go on record fairly soon. It was also stated that from a public relations standpoint, presenting to the Commission increases the committee’s visibility. Another opinion expressed was that tie-in to the MPOs is critical. What is the Commission doing with suggestions? Has input made any difference in decisions made?
Standing Report on Status of the TTC –Ed Pensock
Mr. Pensock began his remarks by stating that a project of the magnitude of the TTC must be approached as a multi-tiered project of “bite size” stages. The process, driven by National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) rules, is at the Tier 1 build/no build stage addressing non-specific, big picture, general environmental concerns and constraints. Findings from all types of input and analysis have been submitted to FHWA for review. Following the review, Tier 1 findings recommending a 10 mile technically preferred alternative study area for TTC 35 will be released, probably in early spring. The anticipated release timeframe for TTC 69 is mid-to-late spring. At that time, the Tier 2 process begins and another round of public meetings will be held.
Concerns were raised as to how much input from the committee, public meetings, MPOs and other entities influenced the recommendations sent to FHWA. In particular, the footprint of TTC 35 that bypasses the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex with no connectivity has already been submitted to FHWA and gives the perception of recommendations from MPOs and the North Central Texas Council on Governments (NCTCOG) being ignored. It was stated that it seemed that the process moves along independent of public comment. Mr. Pensock stated that TxDOT is very interested in input from the public and is open to suggestions how best to disseminate information. Further, information gained from public hearings and MPO input and approval of plans will crucial during the Tier 2 stage of the project.
In light of the fact that recommendations have already been sent to FHWA, the committee asked how timely their input is. Mr. Pensock stated that tweaking and amendments based on continuing input can be made to the recommendations already sent to FHWA. When asked if the committee could see what had been submitted to FHWA, Mr. Pensock indicated that TxDOT has been advised by legal counsel that the information cannot be revealed until FHWA releases it.
Report on Sources of Funding and TTC Financing – James Bass
General Revenue Funds are not a likely source for TTC projects as a line item appropriation would be required.
Fund 6 (State Highway Fund generated by motor fuel tax, registration fees, etc.) would be available for TTC with restrictions:
Must reduce congestion
Must replace or supplement a project listed in the UTP or Statewide Transportation Plan (MPOs make the decision).
Cannot reduce the average of the dollars spent adding capacity to the state highway system over the past five years.
State Highway Fund Bonds (Ogden/Pickett Bonds) cannot be spent on the corridor.
Texas Mobility Fund (Proposition 15) can be spent on the corridor. There is an initial $4B cap with 2/3 allocated to the eight major metropolitan areas and 1/3 for statewide connectivity. Money allocated to the MPOs can be spent on segments of the corridor only with MPO approval.
Toll Bonds pledge revenue from tolls to bondholders. Bonds may be issued as 1) net revenue bonds where bondholders are paid after other costs associated with the facility have been covered, or 2) gross revenue bonds where bondholders are paid before expenses such as operation and maintenance of the facility.
Private Activity Bonds issue debt for a public project at a tax exempt rate. These bonds require issuance by a government entity as the “conduit.” This type of funding has been previously used for waste water, airport, and other projects. The $15B allocated by the US DOT is the first time this mechanism has been used to fund surface transportation.
Private Money is another possible source of funding.
Benefits and liabilities to the state and investors
Non-traditional funding sources can shorten the time line for building new facilities.
The state may pledge funds to cover operations and maintenance during the ramp up period, which typically is no more than five years. Should gross revenue bonds fall short of funds, TxDOT could pay some or all of the operations and maintenance costs of the facilities from Fund 006. Toll bonds are insured to cover revenue gaps. In private investment, investors will pressure operators to avoid default. Bonds can be restructured and reissued, as well as the tolling rates restructured. Protection for bondholders or equity investors includes provisions in facility agreements for a state buy-out.
General Information
Land on which a facility is built is held in the name of the state. Agreements issued by the state are in effect leasing agreements. Each segment is considered independently. Public Toll authorities cannot propose under the CDA because they do not meet the requirements of “developer.”
The state can preserve the right-of-way prior to construction by purchasing options using traditional funding sources. Purchase by the private entity could reduce initial payment to the state. Not all elements of the corridor are required to be located side by side, hence the right of way could vary from 400 to 1200 feet. Eminent domain is not a factor when purchasing right-of-way to protect for future projects.
Subcommittee reports
The subcommittee resubmitted the resolution as requested by Chairman Brown. (see attached.)

The goals stated by the committee include 1) all corridors should support all modes, and 2) alignment for any one mode should be appropriate for that mode.
Concerns were raised that modes could be dropped and that the multi-modal corridor is being fragmented into various alignments and that the bold vision of the early concept of the corridor should not be abandoned.
The multimodal subcommittee with submit a formal statement at the next meeting.
The risk to the state is in the Facility Development Agreement (FDA). There needs to be more transparency in the FDA. Concerns were raised about the Corridor being supported by public funds. This could siphon funds from other tax supported maintenance and construction projects. Other concerns were raised as to the burden to local areas which could result from the Corridor. Specifically mentioned were the concerns of peripheral infrastructure, connectivity, emergency resources, hazmat, etc. In contrast to the Governor’s original assurances that the Corridor would be funded by private money, there are several examples of public dollars going into the project. While one committee member stated the opinion toll roads should be revenue neutral with respect to public funds, others opined that it is important to be careful not to limit the credit enhancements for the private funds. Another stated that he could see a possibility of blended dollars of toll and tax funds.
The next meeting is set for November 16 in Building 150, Room 1B1 of the Riverside TxDOT campus. The meeting was adjourned at 3:00.


Trans-Texas Corridor Advisory Committee Meeting Summary #7

Wednesday, November 15, 2005/10:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m./Riverside, Austin

Committee Attending:

Summary from previous meeting discussed and approved
Mr. Walthall cited the need for revision to the goals stated by the multimodal subcommittee. The summary was approved with the provision that edits could be made, if Mr. Pensock and Mr. Bass had changes after reviewing summaries of their presentations. Mr. Stockton had not received any comments from either.

Open forum
Evaluation of committee to date
Mr. Brown cited the need to evaluate the progress of the committee to date, to refocus discussion if necessary, and possibly to reshuffle subcommittee memberships. Committee discussion focused on the following topic areas (these were not pre-determined agenda items):
Feasibility of the Trans Texas Corridor
There is a need for analysis to ascertain whether or not this project is financially feasible. Is there a demand for such a facility? Would tolled facilities be utilized; what percentage by trucks vs. passenger vehicles? How would toll rates be determined? In addition to toll rates, the element of time savings and the length of the trip need to be taken into consideration. One study was cited which indicates that the public accepts tolls when the economic advantage is roughly equal to the trip toll. Time savings is a greater determining factor of use than economic advantage. Two names suggested as sources for information included Erik Slotboom, author of Houston Freeways, and Tim Lomax, research engineer at TTI.
Germaine to the discussion of the feasibility of the project is the need for a statement of purpose for the project. Is the intent to generate surplus revenues or simply to pay for itself? Is the intent to replace obsolete parts of the national infrastructure which are necessary for moving people and goods and supporting international trade? Is the TTC seen as a viable alternative to inadequate traditional funding mechanisms?
One committee member stated that the TTC began as an idea and that feasibility will be established on a project by project basis.
The current stage of the NEPA process is environmental feasibility. This assessment should not only look at feasibility now but ahead as far as 50 years.
Communications between the Advisory Committee and TxDOT/Commission
Several expressed concern about the limited effectiveness of the committee due to the perception that there is a lack of information coming from TxDOT and the Commission to the committee, and vise versa. A discussion followed regarding what, how, and when the committee’s findings and recommendations could be presented to TxDOT and the Commission. A meeting with Mr. Behrens is scheduled for Tuesday, November 29. Both Mr. Behrens and Mr. Williamson have agreed to attend the committee meeting scheduled for December 14. Additionally, Mr. Brown is on the agenda for the next Commissioner meeting scheduled for December 15. It was suggested that the discussions be specific regarding two or three of the most critical issues, such as:
What are the financial risks? What would be the impact to the state if the project went into default? A bridge from Harris County that was refinanced three times before being purchased by the Texas Turnpike Authority was cited as an example of a project that could have become a liability to the state.
The committee needs to stress that input from MPOs and TxDOT’s response to that input is critical. It should also be reinforced that input from small towns and rural areas should be considered.
The NEPA process may be a contributing factor to the perceived lack of transparency in many of the decisions made by TxDOT. Does NEPA require nondisclosure or is that TxDOT policy or practice? Could the committee receive portions of the DEIS? What can be done to enhance communication between the committee and TxDOT / Commission?
The TTC project is of such a magnitude that TxDOT should hire PR firm to sell the concept to the public. Using current methodology, only a small percentage of the citizens receive information about the project.
Miscellaneous Other Topics Mentioned
Existing funding streams should not be diluted by the Trans Texas Corridor. Alternative non-toll routes must be provided for. What will be the policy regarding billboards?
The Finance, Multimodal and Location subcommittees met, then returned to the committee as a whole. Resolutions from Multimodal and Finance were proposed and tentatively approved by the committee; the chairs of those two subcommittees were authorized to make refinements as needed. Copies of the final draft resolutions are attached. It is envisioned that the discussion with Chairman Williamson and Executive Director Behrens on December 14th will include the topics in the resolutions.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

How CAMPO intends to stall reform

The following is my considered opinion, as accurate as I can make it, subject to revision in the light of new information as it comes to my attention. -- Roger

In short, CAMPO is going to stall reform by using "analysis paralysis", which I'll explain below under CAMPO agenda item #7.

I was at the December CAMPO meeting. There were probably dozens of opponents to CAMPO's toll and the TTC plans.

On Agenda item #3, CAMPO delayed the unveiling of the Environmental Impact Statement on the IH 35 Texas Transportation Corridor (TTC) plan yet again. This project runs from the Mexican border along the IH 35 corridor through SA, Austin, and Dallas to Oklahoma and northwards.

I'm guessing that might make it a $10 billion project, involving private partnerships like the Spanish consortium CINTRA-Zachry who gets some kind of long term land development controls near the road in return (reminiscent of the railroads who got grants of adjoining land in about the 1870's to encourage them to lay track in Texas).

So far as I know, this project has no publicly revealed price tag and no time schedule, only the TTA's EIS. But whatever it turns out to be, it apparently would incorporate TxDOT's SH 130 in its central portion, and extend it with private money, paralleling IH 35 to the east of IH 35.


Agenda item #5

This item which did no previously catch my attention has about $174 million in projects largely funded by "pass-through tolls" in Williamson County. This is part of a complex deal being promoted by road warrior and planner and lobbyist Mike Weaver (said to share an office with Langmore in South Austin). Pass through tolls are a really weird deal whereby the county funds the roads and then TxDOT pays them back some kind of calculated virtual tolls based on traffic counts, as I understand it.

This is a truly bizarre funding scheme, but why? My take is that Williamson County politics is under the control of the road lobby, and the group doing the deal are using Weaver as their main functionary. Meanwhile, TxDOT is on the hook to Wall Street for the billions in SH130 (CTTP) bonds already and doesn't want to assume any more Wall Street risk exposure.

So a deal emerges that uses some provision in HB 3588 written by Langmore, whereby Williamson County floats the bonds and takes the risk and TxDOT pays them back for the traffic the roads handles for 30 years or so until the bonds are paid back. This way the county issues tax free municipal bond debt, and takes ALL the credit risk.

On the other hand TxDOT risks very little, since it gets fuel tax revenue to pay the virtual tolls that roughly track the general expansion or contraction in car travel, of which the bonded roads, being "free", will probably get a good share.


Agenda item #7 concerns a report by CAMPO staff on the revision to CAMPO's planning process. This is the alternative whereby the so-called independent study of the toll roads promoted by Brewster McCracken was/is to be used as input to CAMPO from June 2005 to June 2007 to reform their planning process by looking at better alternatives to toll roads.

Nobody understands CAMPO's alternative transpo planning process now since CAMPO makes up the process as they go along. CAMPO input apparently comes from Langmore, who works closely with Krusee, and apparently now runs ECT, McCracken's 's city funded toll road alternative studies now also partly funded and controlled by the CTRMA , and Livable City.

From Aulick's Dec. 5 memo;

"When the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board adopted the CAMPO Mobility 2030 Plan in
June 2005, the Board directed the staff to:

• Participate in a 12-month study of the Phase 2 toll roads, and
• Work with Envision Central Texas and Liveable City to explore amendments to the Plan."

The firm chosen to do McCracken's new "independent" analysis with the help of the CTRMA toll road group and others is CRA International, formerly "Charles River Associates". CRA International is mostly a corporate think tank and consultant on intellectual property disputes, with no credentials that make me feel confident about hiring them to evaluate the transportation future of Austin. (I can't wait to see their toll road analysis contract!!!).

But the biggest shoe to drop was that CAMPO's analysis and modeling methodology is so screwed up that they cannot do compact city modeling that works, so its back to the drawing board.

CAMPO has thus proposed a new time line that extends to 2009 or 2010 for transportation planning that can give us alternatives to the toll roads that TxDOT is now contracting and building. In other words the reforms that were promised to be done in a year last June, are now proposed to happen in four or five years, according to CAMPO planner Stevie Greathouse's powerpoint presentation given last night.

Bottom line: It will now take CAMPO about as long to replace their $22 billion unworkable plan with a good one as it took the USA to help win World war II. In the name of including environmentalist input from every source that CAMPO feels appropriate, it might be made to take even longer to steer the ship of state away from TxDOT's approved projects. Same old same old.

What will really stop the Texas road lobby, that in Texas mirrors the power of the Bush administration in Washington, is economic reality.

The fact is that road building materials costs are going up about 15% per year. Interest rates on borrowed money are going up along with fuel costs, which should decrease the willingness of bond lenders to lend for real estate speculation using publicly funded roads.

Already drivers are altering their behavior to drive less as yesterday's Ben wear column helped to reveal. Also see the following link:

Gas Prices Changing American Driving Habits Dec. 8, 2005


Incidentally, the best estimate I have on when world oil production will peak (causing fuel prices to soar even compared to now) is within 30 months, by Chris Skrebowski, editor of Petroleum Review.

Within the next year, the housing bubble will probably deflate. A recession is likely which would focus renewed attention on rising energy costs and transportation. About half of our $2 billion a day trade deficit is to pay for imported oil; this foreign trade debt is unsustainable for more than a few years, and may cause a sharp devaluation of the dollar. In other words there is no way they can keep the road game going long enough, in my estimation, until CAMPO thinks itself capable of reforming our transportation planning process. -- Roger

Monday, January 02, 2006

Its the oil stupid!

I presume that most who read this would agree that the economics of fuel energy has a lot to do with how many people in the Austin Texas area are going to be riding bikes and/or shifting their transportation mode behavior away from commuting in cars five and ten years from now. The stuff below should give ample grounds for concern.

We should, IMO, welcome higher fuel costs, and the deteriorating economics of sprawl land development, as perhaps the ONLY factor able to shake up a political system that is locally dominated by the real estate and road lobbies, enough to deliver the possibility of rational transportation planning. We live in a world being trashed out by greenhouse warming.

Leave things to those turkeys on the Austin City Council and about all you'll get is a plea to the car-makers to build more hybrids so we can afford to keep commuting to the suburbs outside the city -- a hopelessly inadequate response in terms of scale, timing, and the likelihood of success, considering the well-documented energy problems we face. -- Roger


Last Updated: Sunday, 1 January 2006, 20:59 GMT

Energy and the new world power play

By Paul Reynolds

... It is ironic that as Russia takes over the 12 months chairmanship of the G8 industrial countries, at the top of whose agenda is security of energy supplies, it chooses to reduce the security of its neighbour's natural gas imports...

...Ukraine fears that it is being none too subtly punished for the Orange Revolution and for its pro-Western policies. Whatever the cause, the case illustrates the new world we are entering, one in which new sources of energy became new sources of potential tension and conflict...

...Oil played its part in a 1953 coup in Iran - organised by the US and Britain. They overthrew an elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh and installed Shah Reza Pahlavi instead, a move that still reverberates in relations with Iran. The West became interested in the Arab world not because a few diplomats fancied themselves as latter-day Lawrences of Arabia (although some did). It wanted its
main source of oil to be secure. We learned from British archives released a couple of years ago that in 1973, the US drew up a plan to seize oilfields in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi in response to the Arab oil embargo...

...With the rapid growth of China in particular, but also of India and a whole raft of middle-sized economies, the rush for the world's remaining oil is under way. China's need for oil is already influencing its foreign policy. It gets oil in Sudan, therefore anyone wanting sanctions against Sudan over Darfur has to reckon with China. The same goes for Iran, where China is also a buyer...

... In 1996, the British government despatched Prince Charles to several of the Central Asian "stans" which used to be part of the Soviet Union - Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan. All just happened to be energy rich, in either oil or gas. He also went to Kyrgyzstan but it has no oil or gas, so he just visited an army
veterans' home.

It was a trip he did not enjoy (apart from the pleasures of viewing the Silk Road remains) but his enjoyment was not the point. Diplomacy was. Energy was.

The fact is that Britain's own supplies of gas from the North Sea are not what they were. New horizons have to be opened up. Soon, for example, the sight of huge liquefied natural gas (LNG) ships from Algeria and Venezuela will become familiar in UK ports. That, too, will have an impact on British diplomacy...


About the oil 'super-spike' warning:


The prognosis given here is that oil will tank the world economy and then if there are no wars started over it in the next for years or so, then oil might eventually get a bit cheaper. Of course there are lots other financial advisors who say not to worry, but the guys giving the warning here are the ones who have been making their clients money lately. -- Roger

"It is the seeming insurmountable challenge of OPEC's needing to add real new capacity on a just-in-time basis that gives us so much confidence that we are in the super-spike phase,"

Oil prices enter "super-spike" phase

Goldman analysts disagree with theory that prices peaked in '05; see five more years of price hikes.

December 13, 2005: 10:48 AM EST

LONDON (Reuters) - Already sky-high oil prices have entered a "super spike" phase that could last for four more years as global demand booms and supply growth slows, Goldman Sachs analysts said Tuesday.

"We disagree with what appears to be a growing consensus that crude oil prices reached their peak levels earlier in 2005," said the firm's Global Investment Research.

The analysts said oil demand remained resilient and supply growth lackluster, prompting them to keep their average U.S. crude price forecast for next year unchanged at $68 a barrel...