Tuesday, November 29, 2005


JUDGE WOLFF DICTATES: "Tolls are coming so get used to them"

The fact that Judge Wolff chose to make toll roads a centerpiece of his state of the county address today, and his attempts to make toll roads sound inevitable only confirms that the LOCAL part of this toll road nightmare comes straight from his office WITHOUT A VOTE OF THE PEOPLE!

Judge Wolff's comments today are deceptive and they're an OUTRAGE! It reflects the heavy-handed methods with which our elected officials govern this county and this state. There's a total disconnect between our elected officials and the PEOPLE they're supposed to represent with only two noteable exceptions Commissioners Tommy Adkisson and Lyle Larson.

First of all, TxDOT cannot produce a signed contract indicating ANY work is imminent on 281. If tolls on 281 are done deal, where's the contract? They're either lying to the public or violating open records laws. This shell game is part of the ploy to make the public think tolls are a done deal. NOTHING IS DONE DEAL in politics until the VOTERS say it's done! Our grassroots citizen movement doesn't underestimate the power of the ballot box. With elections coming next year, WE NEED CANDIDATES TO RUN AGAINST TOLLERS!

If you're tired of our elected officials representing ROAD BUILDERS instead of YOU, then:

1) Help us find and help support viable candidates to run against tollers (tollers in the region: Frank Corte, Carter Casteel, Joe Straus, Mike Villarreal, Ruth McClendon-Jones)
2) Write and CALL Judge Wolff to respectfully express your opposition to this toll mandate (nwolff@co.bexar.tx.us and (210) 335-2626) and submit it in the form of a Letter to the Editor letters@express-news.net.
3) Get your neighborhood associations and small business community involved in the fight (have them call me (210) 275-0640 or email me at: terrh@gvtc.com for how they can help)
4) Help INCREASE OUR NUMBERS by taking a shift to hand out fliers to motorists at key intersections (call or email Operations Chair, Bob Throckmorton at: throck@gvtc.com or at (830) 438-7195)
5) Send this to everyone you know in Texas and ask them to sign our online petition.

Second, Judge Wolff called on the business community to help…That's precisely who's been pushing this toll road scheme upon us because they're the ones who will profit off of what we've already paid for. The conflicts of interest within the business community on this issue is exactly what makes the public suspicious of their attempts to push tolls. These secret 50 year agreements that amount to giving private companies monopolies over our PUBLIC infrastructure violate the public trust and our principles of open government. Yet this is what Judge Wolff and the business community is promoting.

Third, a controversial sales tax hike (called the ATD tax) was pushed through just last November that gives Bexar County the ability to get matching funds for highways just like tolls would do, and yet they're going to make San Antonians pay toll taxes for their lifetimes ON TOP of the gas tax and sales tax hike to pay for highways. That's THREE taxes for highways! They're holding us hostage just to drive to work, school, or shop!

Then, Judge Wolff FALSELY claims San Antonio's economic development is being hampered due to lack of highways. In fact, San Antonio ranks 5th in the nation in number of lane-miles of highway! Our economic development isn't being hampered by lack of roads but lack of interchanges and better intersections! San Antonio's economic development seems more hampered by excessive taxation than anything else!

And this is taxation without representation! Unelected tolling bureaucracies are making these multi-billion dollar decisions without accountability for their decisions. These aren't traditional toll roads either, they're tolling highways we've already built and paid for. That means they're going to toll lanes we drive on today for free. They'll tell you they're not, because they're bulldozing what's there, re-arranging the pavement and repaving it as a toll road. But they are, IN FACT, tolling existing highways and rights of way and TxDOT's own documents prove it.

The cost will be enormous. TxDOT's own online survey quoted $.39 cents a mile for a 15 mile commute on Loop 1604. That's $5.90 ONE WAY to work, and more than $3,000 a year (and that's just the starting toll rate)! The median wage earnings in San Antonio (according to many studies) is slightly higher than $11 per hour. Judge Wolff is asking the median wage earner to spend more than 5% of their income on toll costs. Plus, we ALL pay the higher cost of goods for tolls since our HEB trucks and others will pass that cost onto us, the consumers.

Did the lottery solve our public school funding crisis? Have toll roads solved Houston's or Dallas' congestion and highway funding issues? NO! This toll mandate is an OUTRAGE and our grassroots movement is growing by the day. It's time to restore government to the PEOPLE! We need a taxpayer revolt and a statewide referendum process to redress our government for grievances such as this. If our Governor, the Legislature, and even our local leaders refuse to listen to the PEOPLE they are elected to represent (instead of the highway interests), then we need to be able to put this and other issues on the ballot ourselves. Please take the ACTION STEPS listed above TODAY!

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Toll Roads a Scheme to Merge North and South America?

Sounds too nutty to be true, but the idea seems backed-up by a recent news clip in the October 28 issue of the San Antonio Business Journal (page 9, in the Week at a Glance not available by link) that describes Kelly USA as the new "Port of San Antonio for trade with Mexico." Councilman Art Hall has been instrumental in this (noted in a previous article in the San Antonio Business Journal) which explains his vote AGAINST the PEOPLE when he voted down an independent audit of the toll plans in August. Here's what the CEO of Kelly USA said in the clip: "We are joining forces with Mexico to develop multimodal corridors that will be mutually beneficial to each partner." Note the term "corridors"...that means toll roads. Note the word "partner." How cozy and chummy for them and how detrimental and costly for the taxpayers!

Texas: Keystone State of the FTAA
by Robert L. Dacy
November 14, 2005

Because of its location, Texas is integral to the creation of the FTAA and the eventual merger of North and South America under a single regional government like the EU.

Based in Austin, Texas, Robert L. Dacy is a political researcher and host of The Simple Truth, a TV talk show.

A little more than two years ago, political allies of Texas Governor Rick Perry quietly passed legislation creating the "Trans-Texas Corridor" (TTC). With the connivance of a largely silent press, the most expensive project in the state's history became law with scant public notice.

It's bad enough that the TTC will cost at least $185 billion, much of it derived from new toll taxes imposed on existing free roads. It's even worse that the project -- 4,000 miles of roads, rail lines, and other infrastructure crisscrossing the state, bypassing all of the cities -- will be built by a Spanish contractor rather than a firm based in the United States. But worst of all is the role to be played by this hugely expensive boondoggle in linking the transportation system of the United States with that of Mexico, thereby creating the infrastructure that will facilitate the creation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Because of simple geography, the road to the FTAA must go through Texas. For a short time, the Texas Department of Transportation website illustrated the true purpose of the corridor via a map showing how the project would connect with the Mexican highway and railway system, and a sketch of North America showing the strategic placement of Texas, with giant arrows pointing from Texas north to Canada and south to Mexico.

The strategic significance of Texas in the scheme to amalgamate the Americas was underscored by the trinational summit held last March at Waco's Baylor University. During that event, President Bush, along with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, approved a pact to create a "Security and Prosperity Partnership" that would deepen the economic and security integration of the three countries. Last month, Baylor's Hankamer School of Business hosted an important follow-up meeting intended to shore up flagging support for the FTAA in the United States.

Appropriately, Waco sits astride Interstate Highway 35, a route parallel to the envisioned TTC -- the first of what would be several FTAA corridors gradually binding North America and the entire Western Hemisphere into a single economic and (eventually) political region.

FTAA on the Ropes?

This writer attended the recent Waco "Free Trade in the Americas Conference," held on the Baylor University Campus on October 6-7. In his speech at the conference's opening banquet, Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, former director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and current secretary-general of the United Nations Council for Trade and Development, specifically mentioned connecting economic regions through international infrastructure projects. Referring to projects of this sort being undertaken in Southeast Asia, Dr. Panitchpakdi said that, "if you can link them all up, it would make a trade area that would be wide enough for everyone to participate."

It's vital to understand that Dr. Panitchpakdi is not seeking to expand participation in authentic free trade, in which private interests engage in mutually beneficial commerce without government intrusion. Rather, his vision calls for each national government to regulate trade and economic policy according to mandates handed down from the WTO and administered through regional trade blocs, such as NAFTA, CAFTA, and the proposed FTAA.

In his native Thailand, Dr. Panitchpakdi led the campaign for that government's ratification of the WTO agreement. His bio proudly states that he also worked to ensure "his government's full and faithful implementation of its obligations" under the WTO.

That perspective dominated the October FTAA conference, which also devoted a lot of time to bemoaning opposition to the proposed hemispheric merger. The assembled bankers, trade representatives, globalization experts, and professors all presented a unified picture of an FTAA on the ropes.

Felipe Frydman of the Central Bank of Argentina complained that the United States Congress was an impediment to trade negotiations. Many participants echoed the lament that the Brazilian government of Marxist Luis Inacio Lula da Silva -- which favors a more overtly socialist hemispheric arrangement -- was not cooperating. Robert Devlin of the Inter-American Development Bank went so far as to lament that all momentum for the FTAA was lost.

These frustrations were coupled with apparent indifference on the part of some invitees. A few of the scheduled speakers were absent; the dinner, breakfast, and luncheon hosted by Baylor were not overflowing with hungry attendees; and the mainstream press was largely missing. A case in point is the press conference held in the media room at the Business College at Baylor. Only two reporters -- one from the Houston Chronicle and one from THE NEW AMERICAN -- showed up for the event, which was simulcast live on the Internet.

Asked by THE NEW AMERICAN if the U.S. Congress would be able to veto decisions made involving trade disputes settled by his envisioned FTAA, Dr. Panitchpakdi responded with a rambling non-answer. A few minutes later, after reminding the former head of the WTO that Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate foreign trade, we asked if the U.S. Constitution stands in the way of the FTAA. After another discursive non-response, Dr. Panitchpakdi opined that the Constitution does not stand in the way. At that point, the eminent former head of the WTO and his entourage very quickly left the room as someone announced the press conference was over.

Don't Celebrate Yet

Encouraging as it is to see the proponents of the Free Trade Area of the Americas in such apparent disarray, celebration is premature. The credentials, statements, and governmental philosophies of the heavy hitters at the conference should cause alarm bells to sound in the ears of all freedom-loving Americans.

Dr. Panitchpakdi, the main attraction at the Baylor conference, inadvertently flashed his totalitarian underbelly when he mentioned in passing a meeting he had last July with Bo Xilai, the Trade Minister of Communist China, whom he described as "the present Trade Minister of China, whose father used to be one of the six heroes of the Chinese Revolution, one of the close colleagues to Mao Tse-Tung." (Bo Yibo, the father of Bo Xilai, is actually known as one of the "Eight Immortals" of Communist China.) Realizing that Dr. Panitchpakdi, a powerful proponent of the FTAA, referred to one of Chairman Mao's cohorts as a "hero" should suffice as a "red" flag signaling the true intentions of this FTAA cheerleader.

Another credentialed globalist at the conference was Richard Fisher, chief operating officer of the U.S. government for NAFTA, former vice chairman of the Board of Directors of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, former vice chairman of Kissinger McLarty Associates, current president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of the Trilateral Commission (these last two organizations promote global governance).

Contrary to the pessimistic assessment offered by Robert Devlin of the Inter-American Development Bank, Fisher stated we must have the political will to achieve the FTAA, insisting that enacting the pact is a moral imperative. If we do not help the poor countries of Latin America, Fisher declared, "it becomes for us a security issue. There's your moral imperative." This is a rehash of the argument used by the Bush administration to win approval of CAFTA, namely that we owe it to the "fragile democracies" of the region to enact a trade agreement that amounts to a massive wealth transfer from the U.S. to Central America.

In response to a question concerning the huge trade deficits the United States is running, Fisher claimed that if we did not run these deficits, we would hurt other countries because we are the "consumer of last resort" to the world. "We play a role by running these deficits … we are performing a service." Which is to say that Americans have a global obligation to impoverish themselves through debt-driven consumption in order to build economies in the "developing world."

Mr. Fisher's résumé shows that he knows how to play ball, and that he's clearly not playing for the home team. He has spent a good deal of his life encouraging industrial production and jobs to leave our shores, shoveling taxpayer-funded welfare to corrupt foreign governments, debasing our currency, peddling influence, doing an end run around the Constitution, and damaging our national sovereignty by encouraging trade with an aggressive Communist Chinese government whose business interests are controlled by its military machine. He is not about to stop now, and he and his CFR teammates are adept at manufacturing the political will to turn the Western Hemisphere into a totalitarian American Union.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the great State of Texas, the fight over the Trans-Texas Corridor continues, with little awareness of the elaborate design for hemispheric convergence of which that scheme is a part. Dr. Panitchpakdi pointed out that a unified trade region requires infrastructure, and it is therefore up to patriotic Texans to see that the corridor never gets built. It is up to the American electorate to put pressure on the Congress to ensure that the FTAA never comes to fruition. Robert Fisher knows that the political road to a successful FTAA goes straight through the U.S. Congress. So do we. It is up to us to build a roadblock.

© Copyright 2005 American Opinion Publishing Incorporated


Indianapolis & Delaware also under assault

Our fellow Americans feel our pain as their government converts public highways into private monopolies against the public good. See this article on Indiana.
See this article on Delaware.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Analyst says toll roads heading for trouble

This is the print version of this story.

Wednesday, 19 October , 2005 08:30:00

Reporter: Stephen Long

TONY EASTLEY: It wasn't so long ago that toll roads were seen as a sure way to make money but now questions are being asked about whether even some of Australia's busiest toll roads will make enough in the long run to pay their debts.

One expert says the traffic targets set by the companies are far too ambitious, and he wonders how they'll turn a profit.

Finance Correspondent Stephen Long reports.

STEPHEN LONG: There's a lot of millionaires at Macquarie Bank thanks to roll roads and until recently, tollway companies have been darlings of the stock market.

But now there are claims that toll road debts are skidding out of control.

JOHN GOLDBERG: I don't think it's sustainable in the long-term at all.

STEPHEN LONG: That's Dr John Goldberg of Sydney University. He's analysed the accounts of the M2 motorway in Sydney's north-west, and Citylink in Melbourne - both now owned by Transurban.

He says the way they value future cash flows is optimistic and implausible, and as to the long-run estimates of vehicle use, well, they're one big traffic jam.

JOHN GOLDBERG: You're talking about traffic which corresponds to gridlock, particularly in the peak two hour period in the mornings.

STEPHEN LONG: So basically to make the kind of revenues in the future that the toll road companies are predicting, they would have levels of traffic that would just be choking, amounting to gridlock?

JOHN GOLDBERG: Exactly. Exactly.

STEPHEN LONG: Dr Goldberg claims there are similar problems with Macquarie toll roads.

JOHN GOLDBERG: If you take Connect East, it's structured the same way. The Eastern Distributor in Sydney is structured the same way.

STEPHEN LONG: Toll roads cost a lot to build and generally don't make a profit for many years. So to make their stock attractive to investors, toll road companies borrow against future earnings, and pay that yet to be earned money out to shareholders in dividends today, often refinancing and upping the debt again and again.

Of course those debts eventually have to be repaid. So to keep investors fed with dividends, toll road companies have to buy new assets and start the process all over again. It's a model widely accepted by the financial markets but that doesn't convince or surprise the critics.

JOHN GOLDBERG: You know, you've got the analysts, stockbrokers and nobody wants to know.

STEPHEN LONG: In fact, some investors are raising concerns.

Goldman Sachs JBWere recently rated Transurban a long-term "sell" because it's so heavily geared, that nearly half of its future payments to shareholders will come from debt.

But few seem to buy the claims that Transurban's toll roads won't make enough to pay their debts or Dr Goldberg's claim that the projects are only viable because of tax breaks.

A spokesman for Transurban said Dr Goldberg was a lone voice and his analysis was full of fundamental mistakes. He pointed out that the company's debt has a robust "A-minus" credit rating.

TONY EASTLEY: Stephen Long reporting.

© 2005 Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Copyright information: http://abc.net.au/common/copyrigh.htm
Privacy information: http://abc.net.au/privacy.htm

Well, looking into TxDOT's toll feasibility studies, you can see our toll system isn't real viable either (regardless of what the toll companies want us to believe like Transurban above). See article on Macquarie's downgraded status on the stockmarket due to its heavy investment in toll roads: link here. So though Transurban would have us believe Mr. Goldberg's analysis is a lone voice, it appears the stock market agrees with him.

Based on TxDOT's own studies, tolls will only pay for the maintenance and operation of the toll roads. NONE of the toll revenues cover the cost of construction. Hence there's the need to infuse $661 million of taxpayer money into constructing the toll roads along with yet more taxpayer money through the selling of bond debt as well as a heap of private money...all of that private money is likely leveraged to boot! So this explains why these private companies want to steadily increase toll rates and get control of the surrounding free lanes to create traffic jams horrific enough to ensure they get their projected level of toll revenues. It's a nightmare and, indeed, a taxpayer revolt is in order!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Alamo RMA Taps City Hall Insider As New Exec Director

Well, it's official. The Alamo RMA (Regional Mobility Authority--the tolling authority) has chosen a new Executive Director, city hall insider, former City Manager Terry Brechtel. She's certainly a well-liked figure by many, but she doesn't have transportation experience. Unfortunately, she's being thrown into yet another cauldron of political heat. The voters have expressed their distrust of the RMAs loud and clear by defeating Prop 9 soundly in the Nov. 8 election. What the Brechtel selection reveals is the overtly political nature of the RMA. They tapped a political insider for the job. The RMA is supposed to represent and advocate for our local public interest which the RMA has clearly NOT been doing (tolling already funded highways). We fear we'll be getting more of the same under Brechtel's leadership...



Wow! Wow again! Do y'all realize what we just did? We defeated a statewide proposition (Prop 9) going up against BIG, well-funded highway interests. Only 1% of all propositions get defeated in Texas! AMAZING WORK EVERYONE! Thank you to ALL of the outstanding citizens who tirelessly worked to get the word out, especially our grassroots coordinators Sudie Sartor and Bob & Barb Meshanko. Your faithful efforts paid off. Prop 1 did pass, which was much harder for people to discern the connection to toll roads. But we defeated Prop 9 WITH VIRTUALLY NO MONEY. Let's use this momentum to bring these toll plans to a screeching halt!

Read the Express-News editorial on our efforts.

Here's the press release we sent out about the Prop 9 win!

Prop 9 gets defeated by unfunded grassroots foot soldiers

San Antonio, TX, November 8, 2005 - While Constitutional Amendment 2 soaked up the limelight in this election, a grassroots whisper campaign, with virtually no dollars, against the toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor was taking place in rural and urban centers across Texas. The results were mixed. Constitutional Amendment 1, the Texas Relocation Rail Fund passed and Constitutional Amendment 9, the Governor's attempt to extend the terms of appointed board members to the Regional Mobility Authorities (the "toll authorities") was soundly defeated.

"We're ecstatic that the PEOPLE spoke loud and clear about what they think about these unelected tolling boards…we want to limit their power. Our loyal brigade of foot soldiers faithfully passed out leaflets and educated the public and it paid off," said an elated Terri Hall, San Antonio Regional Director for Texas Toll Party.com.

Sal Costello, founder of the TexasTollParty.com said, "We fought them with sticks and stones -- emails and 100,000 leaflets and the people came through. What this means is that they -- the Governor and his minions, like State Rep. Mike Krusee, who sent out an expensive direct mail to his constituents asking them to vote for special interests Props 1 & 9 -- are vulnerable. The comptroller's report found double taxation, unaccountability and No-BID contracts given to Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) board members and their friends - of course they shouldn't get 6 year terms, what they should get is 10 years - behind bars."

Linda Curtis, who chairs Independent Texans and is the chief organizer for the TexasTollParty.com said, "Our task now is to use both our losses as well as our gains, to build for the future. That's going to take a host of reforms, not the least of which is for the ballot language on these propositions to be crystal clear. That's going to take a full blown statewide movement, across all party lines, for political reform as those who make the rules -- for now -- rule."

"It's a shame people gave private rail companies a blank check from the taxpayers' checkbook based on vaguely worded Proposition 1 and fears about urban rail accidents. It's bad public policy and bad fiscal policy, and it will come back to haunt us. These companies have the money as the 83% profits Union Pacific just posted shows. Sadly, this isn't about rail safety, it's about an open-ended corporate incentive for rail companies to join the controversial Trans Texas Corridor on the taxpayer's dime," said Hall.


Monday, November 07, 2005


MPO Director gets a high-priced job at firm with ties to toll industry after she helped $500 million in public money get earmarked for toll roads

Read about it here.


Local control is smoke & mirrors as TxDOT railroads another city council

Read about it here.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Foreign bidders have horrific track record

These public private partnerships are met with the same disdain by our friends overseas in Australia as well. Cintra has a similar reputation for the Ontario Toll Project in Canada.

Note this article that tells how stockbrokers have downgraded Macquarie's rating due the controversy and uncertainty of public disdain for toll roads managed by public private partnerships.
Read the article in the Australian.

Did you read that? CONTROVERSY means private banks may choose NOT to sell bonds and finance toll roads! They're a risky proposition for investors. That's GREAT news for taxpayers! Let's continue to stir up controversy...it's one of our paths to stopping this highway robbery!

Write AND call the Governor (800) 252-9600 (web mail) and your State Representative to DEMAND this be STOPPED!

Go here to find your state representatives.

If you live in the 281/1604 corridor, your State Reps are likely Rep. Frank Corte STREP123@aol.comor (210) 349-0320 or Joe Straus at joe.straus@house.state.tx.usor (210) 828-4411.

Give some fresh calls to your legislators and the Governor and tell them what you think about these companies having exclusive control of our highways (even the roads surrounding the toll lanes) WITH NO OVERSIGHT BY ANY ELECTED OFFICIAL!



The Governor came to SA to talk about education yesterday, but he ended up having to face to questions about his toll mandate. It's the elephant in the room he refuses to talk about, so we thought we'd use this occasion to shine the light on the issue. Even though the print media was deafeningly silent on our run-in with the Governor yesterday, he heard our message loud & clear! His motorcade tried to avoid us and take a back way, but we ran around the front side of the school and found him stuck at a stoplight and started our chant, "Perry's tolls have got to go!" with our terrific signs waving. His driver couldn't get him out of here fast enough. We had good coverage on radio and from KENS 5-tv as well as some of the Spanish stations who picked up our story, too, (thanks to Henry) especially with LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) coming on board. We'll try to get photos posted on our blog ASAP.

Governor Perry needs to wake-up and smell the grassroots (to coin the phrase from our friend Byron Juen) or he'll continue to be greeted with opposition everywhere he goes.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


LULAC, HTA, and Toll Party Join Forces to Fight Props 1 & 9 and Perry's Freeway Tolls


Contact: Terri Hall,
San Antonio Regional Director, Texas Toll Party, (210)275-0640
Lourdes Rodriguez, LULAC, (210) 857-8315
EMAIL: terrih@gvtc.com
WEB: www.TexasTollParty.com


Texas Toll Party, LULAC & other groups join forces to oppose Props 1 & 9!

San Antonio, TX, November 2, 2005 – From all over the region, citizens opposed to freeway tolls on publicly funded highways are joining forces to oppose Propositions 1 & 9. LULAC, Texas Toll Party, Homeowners Taxpayers Association, Candidate for Attorney General David Van Os among others are working together to defeat Props 1 & 9.

WHO: LULAC, Texas Toll Party, Homeowners Taxpayers Association, Candidate for Attorney General David Van Os, and Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson

WHAT: Press conference uniting against Propositions 1 & 9

WHEN: Wed., Nov. 2 @ 10:00 AM

WHERE: La Foccacia's Conference Room at 800 S. Alamo

Many will caravan over to Carroll Bell Elementary School at 2717 Pleasanton Road for Governor Perry's press conference at 11:00 AM to voice their opposition in person to his "innovative" financing toll road scheme.



Another foreign company throws hat in ring to build SA toll roads

Note the name of another company vying to build and profit off of our toll roads in Friday's Express-News article: Australian based Macquarie 1604 Partnership.
Read the Express-News article.

Feast your eyes on this information about Macquarie 1604 Partnership. Like Cintra, they're known for keeping contracts secret from the public and sticking it to the taxpayer! Link to article in Sydney Morning News or read text below.
Also, link to article in Queensland Newspapers or read text below.

Open secrets
October 31, 2005
The Sydney Morning Herald

The Cross City Tunnel scandal should lead to more public scrutiny of private infrastructure deals, writes Matthew Moore.
FROM the political train smash the Cross City Tunnel is fast resembling, one lesson is increasingly clear: the days of secret government contracts are doomed.

The fury of motorists and taxpayers who find Bob Carr's tunnel a long way short of the "visionary plan" the former premier promoted, has shocked not only the politicians in Macquarie Street but the investment banks, construction companies, the legions of law firms and former premiers on the lookout for a slice of future deals called public-private partnerships, or PPPs.

Politicians on both sides have always instinctively resisted publishing details of their contracts with private companies, insisting they are full of commercial-in-confidence material that must be kept secret.

But with the debacle of the Cross City Tunnel deal dragging on, just about all the players in NSW seem to favour full disclosure of contracts.

A new business lobby group set up by the Tourism and Transport Forum to push for public-private partnerships, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, says its members, which include companies in the Cross City Tunnel consortium, want all contracts to be public.

"We are in favour of disclosure," said the group's spokesman, Glenn Byres. "Disclosure serves everyone well … it tells the community why a project was done in a particular way."

It's the same with the Australian Council for Infrastructure Development, whose chief executive, Dennis O'Neill, has clearly sensed the dark public mood about the tunnel deal and says "transparent public scrutiny" is vital if public-private partnerships are to succeed.

Mark Bethwaite, chief executive of Australian Business Limited, is even more blunt: contracts such as the Cross City Tunnel should be on the public record.

The NSW Opposition Leader, Peter Debnam, has pledged that in any government he heads, contracts will be published as a matter of course.

It happens routinely in the US and New Zealand and it's happening in Victoria under the Bracks Government. With Morris Iemma's Government forced to support the release of more than 2000 pages of tunnel documents once deemed too sensitive for public eyes, it seems it's even happening in NSW.

Such is the sudden enthusiasm for full disclosure, the Roads Minister, Joe Tripodi, ousted the head of his Roads and Traffic Authority, Paul Forward, on the dubious grounds he failed to sufficiently disclose a recent agreement which added 15 cents to the tunnel toll.

But this new openness has limits. Contracts for the new M7 motorway in Western Sydney remain secret, as do those for the Lane Cove tunnel.

And the contracts for one of Sydney's most controversial PPPs, the Harbour Tunnel, are no closer to being revealed than they ever were. When asked if the public could now see what arrangements they have long been tied to by the Harbour Tunnel documents, Iemma could only respond with a forced laugh and a limp line: "It's a long time ago."

Tripodi offered a different explanation for refusing them, claiming that if he let them go there was "a real prospect … of a financial penalty for NSW taxpayers". What he meant by that cryptic warning he did not say.

Secrecy though is just one part of the PPP debate ignited by the tunnel. More fundamental is the question whether they are good value for anyone other than the politicians and the bankers. At about $3.60 a trip, many motorists have branded the tunnel a rip-off.

The reason the price is so high is buried in the more than 2000 pages of documents in which the consortium reveals it has budgeted for a return of 16 per cent on its investment each year for the next 30 years.

That fat return means the toll must climb ahead of inflation for years and will be well over $8 a trip by the time the tunnel consortium hands the project over to Government in 2035.

The president of the Australian Institute of Project Management, David Dombkins, reckons it's absurd that governments are doing such deals. It's like buying a house on a credit card instead of a housing loan, he says.

Governments are attracted to PPPs because it means the private sector borrows the money and state borrowing levels are not affected. But with NSW Government borrowings at virtually zero, Dombkins says the Government should be using its capacity to borrow money cheaply at close to 6 per cent, building the project itself and delivering tolls of about a third what the private sector wants.

"I just object to the community paying exorbitant deals for infrastructure," he said. "It's a highly profitable business where the returns they are getting are extraordinary."

Dombkins also rejects the claims that PPPs transfer the risk to the private sector and says that with the Harbour Tunnel, the airport rail link, the M2 and M4 and the Eastern Distributor, the risks have been borne by taxpayers who've paid more than they should.

He says the Government should go back to a version of the model used to build the Sydney Harbour Bridge, where the government borrowed the money and set the toll at a level to pay the debt over a defined period; there was little need to vary it.

He also complains that governments are setting themselves up for a failure by signing 30-year contracts that do not have the flexibility to deal with a huge range of variables. What if the City of Sydney or the Government wants to charge people to bring cars into the city like London is doing, he asks. It would be better to have the tunnel owned and operated by the Government or with a flexible contract where government retains a high degree of control.

Gary Sturgess, the head of the cabinet office under the Greiner government, and now an advocate of PPPs in Britain, says while there are always some problems, the outcry over the tunnel contract has been "a little shrill".

Handing over financing of projects to the private sector brings "a really sharp discipline", collapsing construction times and making a host of cost savings the public sector would struggle to achieve.

Byres agrees taxpayers have got good value from the most common PPPs, toll roads, and reckons the new ones have trimmed returns for operators.

"Five to 10 years ago it was 19 per cent, now it's down to 12 per cent and governments are working out how to drive it down further," he says.

He said much of the criticism of the tunnel is confused. "You can't say the tunnel is designed to pour money into the pockets of the developers and then say it's a white elephant."

Despite the beating he's taken over the tunnel, Iemma is adamant PPPs are here to stay and there are no plans for government to start funding these projects.

To placate the critics, he has ordered a review of the way the Government handles PPPs, but it will look only at toll roads, and not other projects such as the desalination plant at Kurnell.

The Cross City Tunnel has shown how hard it is to predict traffic flows. Predicting Sydney's weather over the next 20 or 30 years could be a lot harder still - one of the reasons Dombkins is so opposed to having the private sector building and running a desalination plant to sell drinking water the city might not need.

It would be far better for the Government to oversee the project itself, contracting out the various elements but retaining enough control to adapt when unforseen circumstances emerge.

"The last thing you would do is set up the desalination plant as a PPP project," he says.

Copyright 2005

Toll roads to sting drivers
Anthony Marx
Queensland Newspapers

BRISBANE'S North-South Bypass Tunnel could spawn the traffic restrictions, secret deals and multimillion-dollar taxpayer subsidies that have enraged Sydney motorists this month about their new Cross-City Tunnel.

Plans already call for the addition of two new T3 bus and transit lanes on the Story Bridge under the guise that they will promote public transport and car-pooling.

But RACQ economic and public policy manager Ken Willett argued this week that the lane restrictions would mainly encourage more drivers to use the planned $1.5 billion tunnel.

He said it amounted to a sweetener for whichever of the two private consortia wins the contract.

"Effectively, what we'll have is people using the tunnel who will be paying for the provision of new bus lanes and those who don't use the tunnel will suffer increased congestion," Mr Willett said.

Transit lanes are also envisaged for the William Jolly and Captain Cook bridges and Lutwyche and Sandgate roads as part of future bridge or tunnel projects, he said.

Sydney drivers howled in protest when it was revealed that the New South Wales Government had secretly agreed to close key roads, worsening congestion and forcing traffic into the $680 million toll tunnel. Taxpayers also were slugged through sweetheart arrangements with the private operator, including payment of up to $45 million if public transport upgrades reduced the number of motorists using the tunnel.

Sydney's tunnel debacle has fueled a growing concern about the value for money and transparency of public-private partnerships, which have been used across the country to build toll roads over the past decade. A public-private partnership will almost certainly be used in Brisbane for the 4.7km tunnel linking Woolloongabba and Bowen Hills.

In theory, PPPs allow governments to shift project risk and debt to efficient private interests.

But Sydney University traffic expert John Goldberg said that privately operated toll roads were not even viable without massive government assistance in the form of infrastructure bonds.

These financing mechanisms have delivered huge profits to corporate giants such as Transurban Group and Macquarie Bank, which is part of one of the bidding consortia in Brisbane.

"It is obvious that capital resources could be better allocated if state governments simply paid for the roads. Governments are less likely to default and consequently can obtain access to capital at lower interest rates than the private sector," Dr Goldberg said.

A spokesman for Lord Mayor Campbell Newman said yesterday no road closures were planned and a PPP would only be used if it provided good value.

He rejected RACQ claims that the tunnel would worsen traffic congestion, stressing that some streets could see a 35 per cent reduction in vehicles.

About 55,000 vehicles a day are forecast to use the tunnel initially, with that number gradually rising to 95,000.

But Mr Willett predicted about 120,000 vehicles would use the tunnel every day if there was no $3.30 toll.

"When you have a PPP, you have a choice. You can have a profitable toll road or you can alleviate congestion. You can't have both. There's a trade-off," Mr Willett said.


Transportation Commission gives Alamo RMA $7.5 million in gas taxes to build toll roads!

Read the Express-News article.

Is Transportation Commissioner Ric Williamson nuts? He actually says we're all warming up to the idea of his and the Governor's freeway toll scheme. In fact, the more people know the truth behind these toll plans, the more incensed they become!

THEN in other news...

WHOPPING $661 million in taxpayer money to build SA toll roads!

As if it's not bad enough that the Governor, Legislature, Transportation Commission, and RMAs are tolling already funded existing highways and right of way (DOUBLE TAXATION), they're also using ENORMOUS amounts of gas tax money to build these behemoth projects we won't be able to use without paying a toll, too! So should we call this TRIPLE TAXATION (tax to build original freeway, tax to build it as tollway, and tax to use it)?! Well, we finally found out the dollar figure. Are you sitting down? Approximately $661 million of YOUR money will build these roads all over town, yet you won't be able to drive on them without a private company extorting toll taxes from you for your LIFETIME!

Write AND call the Governor (800) 252-9600 or by web mail and your State Representative to DEMAND this be STOPPED!

To find your representatives, click here.

If you live in the 281/1604 corridor, your State Reps are likely Rep. Frank Corte STREP123@aol.comor (210) 349-0320 or Joe Straus at joe.straus@house.state.tx.usor (210) 828-4411.

We're tired of shell games, double talk, and outright LIES...it's fix it or be removed from office. All of our State Reps are up for re-election with the primaries in March. We keep getting more of the same because these guys run unopposed. We need candidates to run against tollers to declare their candidacy very soon. Forward this email to everyone you know to STOP THIS RUNAWAY TAXATION!

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