April 27 Transcript


Texas Department of Transportation Commission Meeting

Brownsville Special Events Center
1 Event Center Boulevard
Brownsville, Texas 78526

Thursday, April 26, 2006

 

COMMISSION MEMBERS:

Ric Williamson, Chairman
John W. Johnson
Hope Andrade
Ted Houghton, Jr.

STAFF:

Michael W. Behrens, P.E., Executive Director
Richard Monroe, General Counsel
Roger Polson, Executive Assistant to the
Deputy Executive Director
 

PROCEEDINGS

MR. WILLIAMSON: Good morning.

AUDIENCE: Good morning.

MR. WILLIAMSON: It's a great morning to be a Texan. It is 9:20 a.m., and I would like to call the April 2006 meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission to order.

Before we begin today's meeting, we traditionally ask everyone in the audience to join with us in taking a moment to reach into your pocket, purse or sidesaddle, pull out your pager, your cell phone, your PDA, your DewBerry, whatever you carry, and please, if you would, put it on the silent or vibrate mode so that none of our guests will be interrupted unexpectedly. We'll all do it with you. Thank you.

I want to tell you it's a great pleasure for the commission to be at the tip of Texas this morning. Brownsville is a great Texas city, as are all of the communities scattered up and down the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

It's our practice to begin each of our commission meetings by permitting each commissioner to address the audience on a personal basis, so with your indulgence, we will begin to the far right with Mr. Houghton and go to Ms. Andrade and Mr. Johnson, and then I'll close the remarks. Ted?

MR. HOUGHTON: Good morning, everyone, and I echo the chairman's remarks on being down at the tip of Texas here. It's been a lot of fun; I've been down here quite a bit lately. And I look forward to the actions today, the anticipated actions today to launch this community into a new arena of transportation.

And again, thank you for all the hospitality that you've afforded us.

MS. ANDRADE: Good morning. It's just absolutely wonderful to wake up in South Texas this morning. It's a great morning, it's a great day. I'm looking forward to the business that we're about to take on and to keep transportation moving forward here in South Texas.

But also what's wonderful is to see so many of our friends from other communities come together to support what we're trying to do. And I see kids back here, I see our future leaders back here, so I'm so glad that they've been brought here to see how business is done for transportation in the state of Texas.

Thank you all again, it's been a great trip.

MR. JOHNSON: Good morning. I would like to echo the comments of Commissioners Houghton and Andrade.

It occurs to me that many years ago whenever the state highway engineer or the chairman of the commission decided to move some of these meetings outside of Austin, he or she had an idea on his or her mind that perhaps they ought to move these meetings to where there was a more friendly, receptive audience than some of the ones that we get in Austin when we meet. I think you're probably a home run for what he or she had in mind.

But there's some other things that have been accomplished by that. One, we get to see the various parts of the state, and as Hope said, it's great to see a lot of the youth here, who are the future leaders of these communities of the state, take interest in what goes on. And by conducting these meetings out in the field, if you will, you can learn what goes on, the deliberations of transportation decisions which affect not only the local communities but the state as a whole.

Secondly, we get to interface with you, the people who have great interest in the decisions that we make. Rather than doing it in an office environment, we can visit with you one on one, and that's a great help to us.

And thirdly, and as important, we can share time with the people who really do the work, and that's our local district people. And last night was no exception. We had a wonderful barbecue and we got to visit with them. There was a film basically describing what goes on in the district, and a lot goes on in this district: $700 million plus under construction right now, the population is growing. We visited the port yesterday, an economic engine of untold proportion which brings goods and economic opportunity and jobs to this area, and it's all part and parcel to why we go out and have these meetings where we do.

And so I want to thank you for your attendance today and thank you for all you do for this great state. It's been a pleasure and the hospitality in South Texas just is without par.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you, Ted and Hope and John, and I would associate myself with the remarks of my fellow commissioners. Thank you, Mario, for a great presentation, great trip yesterday around the area. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening last night.

It is our practice to take the commission meetings on the road three or four times a year, depending upon the legislative session. As John said, it gives us the opportunity to see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears about the successes and the failures that occur in the transportation world in the diverse parts of the state.

It also kind of prepares us for what we want to say to the legislature every other year about how the laws need to change, and we're starting something this year that will also permit us to do that perhaps in a more organized manner. In June of this year ‑‑ I think it's June 8. Is that right, Coby?

MR. CHASE: June 8 and 9.

MR. WILLIAMSON: June 8 and 9, we will host the first Statewide Texas Transportation Forum in Austin, Texas. We're doing that in partnership with the Texas Good Roads Association, the oldest continuously active organization focused on transportation in the state of Texas. And that will be held in Austin and there will be state, national and international transportation engineers, financiers and managers and operators of electronic devices, along with state and federal officials, talking transportation to the state.

I invite each and every one of you to take the time to come to Austin and attend that forum. We're running this as a bit of a test to see how much interest there is in it. If we believe it's valuable enough to the citizens of the state, we're then going to look at doing it on maybe a quarterly basis around the state to give everyone the opportunity to sit down and visit and exchange ideas and learn from each other.

I think there's a card, a registration card out in the lobby. Is that correct, Coby?

MR. CHASE: Yes.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Out in the lobby, yes, ma'am. Thank you.

So I invite you to attend that if you can make the time.

This is a history-making event today, the first time in the history of our commission ‑‑ which dates back to 1917 ‑‑ that we have met in Brownsville. Now, we've been in the Rio Grande Valley, we've been in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, but this is the first time we've actually been in Brownsville. The last time we were in the Valley was in July of 1997; the commission met in Weslaco.

We're very happy that we've been so pleasantly received, and please note for the record that the public notice of this meeting, containing all the items on the agenda, was filed with the Office of Secretary of State at 10:20 a.m. on April 13, 2006.

Now, normally we get to this point and we talk about some homework, we hold our cards up ‑‑ and I'm going to do that real fast for a reason ‑‑ we hold our cards up and we say if you're going to talk about an agenda item, you need to fill out the yellow card before you approach the dais, please; if you're going to talk in the general comment section towards the end of the meeting, we ask that you fill out a blue card, please. And in any event, try to restrict your remarks to about three minutes so that everybody will have the opportunity to speak.

And we do other housekeeping matters and then we go right into the presentation, but we're going to break ranks a little bit today because I don't know about John and Hope and Ted, but this is the first time I've been to a commission meeting where elementary age children were actually in the meeting. We've had some high school kids, I think, that are interested in the engineering world come in from time to time, but we've never had young children.

And sitting here listening to all of our opening remarks and watching the crowd of adults in attendance from highway contractors to engineers to transportation planners to TxDOT employees to bankers to transportation planners on the left, it occurs to me that while we all operate in our own self-interest ‑‑ and that's okay, that's what America is about, the ability to operate in your own self-interest ‑‑ we operate in our own self-interest because we have a common interest, and that is the common interest of a transportation system that will prevent congestion, keep the roads safe, make sure the air is not too dirty, make sure that we drive safely, and make sure that we don't have potholes, and we do that for those kids that are lined up against that back wall.

We don't really do it for ourselves because we know that in our lifetime most of this stuff is not going to be accomplished. We've got a plan and we think the plan is going to work and we think along about 2030 this is going to be just a marvelous transportation world here in the state of Texas, but for most of us, the true value will be realized by these young people who are with us today.

So I know you're not ready for this, Teacher, but my mom was a teacher and I learned that she was prepared for anything, so why don't you bring those kids up here and let's let them introduce themselves, and they'll remember that this day they had the opportunity to tell us who they were and what was on their minds.

MS. SANAL: Good morning. My name is Norma Sanal and I'm the director for Brownsville Urban System, and they're here with Mr. Mark Maddy who is a member of PTAC, and I'll let Mr. Mark Maddy go ahead and present himself.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Very good.

MR. MADDY: Thank you. I am Mark Maddy and I am a member of the PTAC and I am very proud to have the student council members of Morningside Elementary School here with us today, and I'll let them introduce themselves, starting with our president.

The Morningside Elementary School Student Council members introduced themselves as follows:

I am Michael Torres, and I'm the president of the Student Council Morningside Elementary.

Hi. I am Isaac Castillo from Morningside Elementary. I'm vice president of the Student Council.

I'm Alexis Martinez and I'm the secretary of Morningside Elementary Student Council.

I'm Leslie Gutierrez and I am the treasurer of Morningside Elementary.

Hello. My name is Arturo Mendioloa and I'm historian for the Morningside Student Council.

Hi. My name is Alondra Diaz and I'm the at-large member of Morningside Elementary.

Hi. I'm Armando Ramirez, at large of Morningside Elementary.

Hi. My name is Cynthia Mendiola and I'm the at-large for fourth grade.

My name is Rigoberto Bocardo and I'm fourth grade at-large for Student Council.

Hi. I'm Kimberly Pena, I'm a representative for Morningside Elementary Student Council.

Hi. I'm Adrian Gonzalez, I'm a representative for Morningside Student council.

Hi. My name is Valeria Garcia and I'm a class representative.

Hi. I'm Jackie Gutierrez and I'm a representative for Morningside Student Council.

Hi. My name is Jesett Arredondo and I'm a class representative.

Hi. My name is Jeronimo Herrera and I'm class representative for Morningside Elementary.

Hi. My name is Janette Balli and I'm classroom representative.

I'm Mario Benavides and I'm a representative.

MR. WILLIAMSON: And Mr. President, you get to ask us one question, so what one question would you ask us as representing the youth of Brownsville, Texas? Just whatever comes in your mind is okay. Do you want to caucus with everybody else and get everybody else's opinion.

Okay, everybody come up. Let's do this right. You discuss about what you want to ask us.

MR. HOUGHTON: This girl has something to ask us. What do you want to ask us?

MR. WILLIAMSON: You meet right there at the microphone and we're going to wait and you decide what you want to ask us.

MICHAEL TORRES: Does all the United States have this transportation?

MR. WILLIAMSON: Like this?

MICHAEL TORRES: Yes, all of the United States.

MR. WILLIAMSON: That was a very good question. I think what the president was asking maybe was is there a commission like this for the entire country and then does each state have one like this.

The answer is there's not a commission like this for the entire country, there is a federal highway administrator who is more like Mario on a national level, he's an appointee but he's a professional engineer that has certain qualifications, and he or she supervises the 50 states, and yes, every state has a commission like this, there are 50 of us.

Thank you very much.

(Applause.)

MR. MADDY: I would also like to introduce my co-sponsor for the student council at Morningside, Ms. Mary Nieto.

MR. WILLIAMSON: And if you will stay here, we've decided that we want a picture with you, so we're going to take just a second and get a picture.

(Pause for photos.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: We thank each of you for indulging us on that. Everyone on the dais has raised children, and we frequently say from this position that we're one people and this is one state, and kids is what it's all about because one day they'll be running things, and the better we leave it for them, the better off we're going to be. And we thank you.

I have some documents in need to read from various elected officials, but I think it's more appropriate to let the meeting start, Mike. Let's see, I think I would like to get the minutes approved, and I think that's what I'll do.

Members, we have the minutes from the March meeting before us. Do I have a motion?

MR. JOHNSON: Move approval.

MS. ANDRADE: Second.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I have a motion and a second. All those in favor will signify by saying aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: All opposed, no.

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Motion carries.

Now, Mike, I think we'll move into the program and we'll go back to the agenda in a little bit.

MR. BEHRENS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

It's our custom when we go out of town on these out-of-town meetings where we hear from our local district and from local transportation leaders that are in the area and in the community, so to start with, I want to ask our Pharr District Engineer Mario Jorge to begin the presentation, and also introduce our local guests that are with us today. Mario?

MR. JORGE: Thank you, Mr. Behrens, commissioners. It's a pleasure to have you here in the district. We thoroughly enjoyed last night, the meeting with our employees.

Before I start my presentation, I would like to have a couple of individuals that are key partners in our transportation system here in the Valley that are essentially hosting this event or this meeting for us.

I'd like to introduce the mayor of Brownsville, Mr. Eddie Trevino, who is going to officially welcome the commission, and I'll introduce our Cameron County judge, Gilberto Hinojosa, who will also do the same. Mayor?

MAYOR TREVINO: Thank you, Mario.

Mr. Chairman, commissioners. I need to deviate from my prepared comments because, first of all, we're honored by your presence and the fact that we're having the opportunity to host this meeting, but your actions at the beginning of this meeting give me a lot of pride, first of all, in being a Texan, and in knowing that clearly these ideals which you've exemplified by allowing and paying attention to some of the most important treasures in my community, clearly we must be on the right road to doing something good in Texas, and I commend you for allowing the importance of the children to take priority in this meeting.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you.

MAYOR TREVINO: Obviously we're honored to have you here. On behalf of the partnership established by the City of Brownsville and TxDOT, we welcome you to Brownsville.

Mr. Mario Jorge, our district engineer, and his staff, I use the term visionaries for the fact that they are always ready, prepared and looking ahead. At our monthly MPO meetings, TxDOT staff communicates with us about our future needs and our mutual challenges. They work cooperatively with the city, Cameron County, the Brownsville Navigation District, to identify and address solutions. The Rio Grande Valley is well served by the efforts of these topnotch professionals at the Pharr District.

I have some brief observations about our transportation plans which I think we all need to realize include Mexico's infrastructure along with their highway plans. The population of Brownsville and Matamoros, our sister city on the Mexican side, total almost a million people. When you factor in the entire Valley, you're talking of over 4 million people between both sides of the border. Those are populations that are extremely beneficial to the region and obviously create unusual challenges.

By forming these partnerships, we try to reduce these challenges and focus on realizing the benefits by working together.

For example, the wear and tear of overweight Mexican trucks on our state highways has been mitigated by the fees imposed by the Port of Brownsville for those vehicles. Those fees have been used to repair our highways on the overweight truck corridor.

There are, of course, immense economic benefits to be gained from our international trade and partnership with Mexico, along with the Pacific Rim and the Asian nations. Mr. Bernard List, our port director, will address some of these points later today.

In addition, Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley connects, via new highways in Mexico, to the Pacific and Asia. The land bridge which you will hear about is an example of a way to cut transfer costs for containers, allowing businesses and trades to expand into South Texas, something that is necessary.

You're going to hear from my good friend, Judge Gilberto Hinojosa, and others who will comment on the city and county plans regarding our West Rail Relocation project which is an international project regarding the relocation of the rails from both Brownsville and Matamoros, allowing for better economic development and less congestion, better environmental issues, and obviously the most important issue I think that's going to be addressed today, the vision of the Cameron County RMA. We're pleased and honored to be a partner with them.

We're entering a time and period of immense potential, but as I like to tell the citizens of Brownsville, especially the children, while potential is nice, progress is even better. With your help I am confident that we will be able to meet these challenges and build the needed trade corridors and our transportation infrastructure.

Good luck in today's work and in the rest of your efforts on behalf of the state of Texas. God bless you.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you, Mayor.

(Applause.)

MR. JORGE: Thank you, Mayor. And now I'll introduce the county judge for Cameron County, Mr. Gilberto Hinojosa.

JUDGE HINOJOSA: I'm Gilberto Hinojosa and I'm the Cameron County judge, and I want to welcome you to South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. I want to welcome you because what you have been talking about, what you talked about this morning, Mr. Chairman, and what this commission has done, I believe, in the last few years is present the regional approach to our transportation issues across the state of Texas, and in being here today, I think you recognize how important South Texas is to that regional approach.

What I want to first say before I go into my presentation, besides welcoming you and welcome to South Texas on behalf of the Cameron County Commissioners Court and the people of Cameron County, and I want to recognize most of my county commissioners court is here. Edna Tamayo, Precinct 4 commissioner, David Garza, Precinct 3 commissioner, and I know John Wood is back there, Precinct 2; the Precinct 1 commissioner is under the weather today as well. They're here along with me and all these leaders from the Rio Grande Valley because they recognize the importance of transportation in South Texas.

But I also want to say that your staff down here, Mario Jorge and all the people in the Pharr District office and in the San Benito office that you have, have got to be the best in the state. If there's anybody better, I'm going to travel over there and see them, because there's nobody that gives better service to their local community than these people who work in transportation in the Rio Grande Valley.

Sure, we get up in the morning and it takes us a little bit longer to get to work or to get to the mall or to drop off our kids to school because of all the construction that's going on out there, but that's a sign of the progress in the Rio Grande Valley and the hard work and commitment of resources that you see by your staff, and I want to congratulate you for that and the rest of the people at TxDOT all across the state of Texas.

The Rio Grande Valley has got a lot of things going for it, as you know. We have an expanding economy, fast-growing population ‑‑ we're going at a rate of about 30 percent every ten years ‑‑ and a unique geographical location. Eddie was talking about there's about a million people between here and Matamoros and Brownsville, but if you take the entire Rio Grande Valley and northern Mexico, we're about 3 million people.

We have here in Cameron County something that no other community in the United States has: we have three seaports, we have two commercial airports and a county airport as well, we have the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, we have highways, rail, and all of these in close proximity to Mexico.

There's a lot of challenges that we have for the future, however, that we are in the process of undertaking today on a regional approach in cooperation with your offices. First I want to talk just briefly or give you a quick overview of our countywide railroad relocation project.

Now, Cameron County probably has the most advanced railroad relocation project, if not in the United States, in the state of Texas. We are in the final stages of our West Rail Relocation project here in Brownsville where we're going to move all rail lines about six miles to the west, build a new international bridge for the rail, and eliminate at-grade crossings that would have cost the state of Texas somewhere upward of $60 million.

It's going to eliminate at-grade crossings that are dangerous to the public in a variety of ways. Not only collisions are going to be avoided but the problems that are caused by emergency vehicles not able to cross is going to be eliminated and the congestion that we have.

You've got to remember that these rail lines were built when there was only a couple thousand people in Brownsville and in Matamoros, and today, as Eddie said, we have a million. We need rail but not in the middle of town.

We also are in the process of doing the same thing for the northern part of the county, and working on a plan to relocate rail from San Benito and Harlingen.

The Port of Brownsville has done a lot. They've relocated the rail lines to an area near Olmito, and that, combined with the efforts of the county, the city and all the partners, including TxDOT, I think will create a rail relocation project that will be a model for the United States and will make a big difference in terms of safety and cost savings for the state of Texas and the local community. It will eliminate about 80 at-grade crossings throughout Cameron County.

We also have one of the first regional mobility authorities. Some of the things that we talked about setting up a toll system across the county to meet infrastructure needs where there isn't sufficient resources. Today, again, TxDOT is working very closely with us.

The Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority ‑‑ which you're going to hear from our chairman in just a minute, Mr. David Allex ‑‑ has been meeting almost every other week. It's an active and strong board. They are right now working on a project of building a second causeway to South Padre Island. As you know, the number one segment of the Cameron County economy is tourism, and that is located primarily in South Padre Island.

We're also looking at a west loop, through the regional mobility authority, around the city of Brownsville, another road that may be financed through tolls.

The last thing I want to just bring up very quickly is this issue of an interstate highway through the Rio Grande Valley. You know, and we've talked about many times, the fact that the Rio Grande Valley is the only community of this size in the nation that does not have access to an interstate highway. We believe that it's not just important for the Rio Grande Valley that we have access to an interstate highway, but it's important for the state of Texas and across the rest of the United States that we be linked to the rest of the United States by an interstate highway.

We believe that there's enormous potential for the extension of I-37 into the Rio Grande Valley to build upon existing infrastructure. You will receive a resolution presented by David Garza, Commissioner Garza, to talk about how we're united on a regional approach to have this interstate corridor into the Rio Grande Valley. Again, this is something that's good for us and it's good for the people of the state of Texas and the rest of the United States.

We have four international bridges just in Cameron County, three of them that are owned by Cameron County; three seaports; two commercial airports; we have an inland waterway; ocean freight. We have everything that's set up to be able to connect up to an interstate system that will benefit the rest of the state of Texas if we are able to accomplish this. And again, the regional mobility authority is looking at this project along with TxDOT in order to be able to move this along and get it done at least in our children's lifetime, if not our lifetime.

Again, our state will be made stronger if Cameron County is stronger economically. Cameron County will only become stronger economically if we have the transportation infrastructure necessary to develop the economy which we all agree has an enormous potential. We want to continue to work with you, work with your staff, work with the district office to ensure that we can accomplish this goal, and your presence here I think is an example of your commitment towards this goal.

So thank you for being here again, and we look forward to working with you in the future.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you, Judge.

(Applause.)

MR. JORGE: Thank you, Judge. And we've have a tremendous partnership with Cameron County for many years in right of way acquisition, project development, unlike any other, so we've been very successful in getting projects completed because of their partnership with us.

Being in Cameron County, I would like to just have the mayor from our second largest city here in Cameron County, Mayor Rick Rodriguez from Harlingen, welcome the commission also. Mayor?

MAYOR RODRIGUEZ: Thank you, Mario. Good morning. My name is Rick Rodriguez and I am the mayor of Harlingen, Texas. It is my distinct pleasure and privilege to represent the city of Harlingen. I want to extend a warm welcome to all of you and a special thanks for your presence and support here.

We are pleased to have a strong relationship with the Pharr District, especially Mario Jorge, Arnold Cortez, and of course our RMA chairman, David Allex. We're also committed to building infrastructure that will carry us into the future, and extending and building an interstate that is crucial for our future, therefore, I'm here to voice our support for extending I-37 via US 77.

We're also willing to not only support you vocally and morally, but we're also here to extend our financial support to this project. We're willing to commit $250,000 a year for ten years, or $2.5 million.

I know this commission is visionary and therefore shares our vision because building an interstate is crucial to the growth and development of our community. We are working on several projects, many of which include moving our railroads out of our town, extending our port and our airport. We believe that building and extending an interstate to the Valley is not only needed but necessary. Please know that we are here to support and work with you in preparing our region for future growth and development.

Thank you again for being here and thank you again for all the support that you give us.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you, Mayor.

(Applause.)

MR. JORGE: We'll go ahead and start our presentation. My presentation will be shared with some of our partners, and again, it's an effort to relay information about our district, some of the goings-on and some of the challenges that we face. Some of the information may be information that you have seen, commissioners, but I think it will be very informational for the audience, some of the items that we're going to cover.

This is a map of our district. We cover the southernmost eight counties in Texas. We have offices throughout our district, and you see there the blue square, that is our Pharr District office located at 83 and 281 expressway; we have three area offices.

One is in Pharr, located there in pink. That office handles all the projects in Hidalgo County and some of the major projects in Starr County, and they currently have over $350 million under construction.

We have an area office in San Benito here in Cameron County, and they handle all of the Cameron/Willacy/Kenedy responsibilities, and they are right now handling $405 million under construction.

And then we have our office in Hebronville, the hometown of Mr. Amadeo Saenz, and that office is responsible for Jim Hogg, Zapata, Starr and Brooks counties, essentially handles all the rural sections in our district and handles all of our preventive maintenance throughout the district.

Of course, you see the several maintenance offices that we have throughout the district and they handle the maintenance responsibilities for each of their respective areas.

The population of our district ‑‑ and this is on the U.S. side based on the 2000 census ‑‑ is over a million people. When you combine the population of the north of Matamoros, like the judge mentioned, the population of the general area is over 3 million people.

We cover 2300 centerline miles, 111 of which are freeway centerline miles, and lane miles 5700 and growing with a lot of the work that's going on on the freeway. Daily vehicle miles traveled is an important number that indicates the activity that we have in our district, and that is the seventh largest volume in the state of Texas, so it's very significant to note that.

Now, our ability to function and address the transportation needs of our community is largely tied to the operating budget that we currently operate with. Our design budget includes mainly in-house design work and project management, and on an annual basis it's $6-1/2 million.

Our maintenance budget includes both in-house work as well as contracted work, and as you well know, this part of our work has become more and more costly. Our district highways are more urbanized in nature and with the added capacity that we have experienced, the demands to keep an acceptable level of maintenance has been difficult to meet. Rehab and preventive maintenance are prioritized unless funding is available for added capacity.

Our construction volume currently, as we discussed, is over $700 million ‑‑ actually, with the last month's letting is pushed to $780 million which is a record high for our district.

Our design consultant budget on an annual basis runs somewhere around $16 million. We're currently doing as much as 75 percent of our work contracted due to the demand that the construction oversight has given us. We manage over 30 active contracts, 17 different firms are doing work with us. In addition to that, we have Texas Transportation Institute from Texas A&M that does a lot of research for us through an interagency agreement.

Our right of way budget, you see there, is $18 million. Our right of way staff has been extremely aggressive pursuing acquisition, they've been very successful, but besides our in-house staff, we also have currently four acquisition consultants working for us and actively acquiring right of way.

And of course, our public transportation budget, you'll hear later on in the presentation from Norma Zamora how we're putting those funds to use in our regional transportation system.

This shows the progression of our letting volumes in the Pharr District over the last 15 years. As you can see, there has been a steady increase. The NAFTA program which was instituted by the commission and came into effect in the mid to late '90s, and the chart indicates the rapid increase in letting around that time.

And the challenge that we all face and will continue to face for the next few years is to maintain that growth in letting over the next few years by utilizing a lot of the innovative financial tools that are available to us, and again, by introducing and working closely with partners such as the RMA and MPOs in order to bring even more options to the table. And you're going to hear a little bit more about those initiatives later.

This slide as put together by our planning staff in conjunction with our MPOs and it indicates a population projection comparison between the Rio Grande Valley and the other major urban areas in the state. And again, this population projection is based on the growth rates that were experienced in the previous decade. The Valley has one of the highest growth rates in the nation.

And as you can see down here, this is the Rio Grande Valley population as of the 2000 census, you can see Austin and San Antonio above it. Of course, Houston and Dallas are much higher. As you project the growth rate over the next 30 years, you can see where we're going to wind up being very close to Austin and San Antonio, assuming the growth rates are maintained.

This represents tremendous transportation challenges for our region, but as you heard throughout the presentation, we are definitely working in partnership to address them.

Our district has the largest number of international crossings in the state. The existing international crossings provide significant challenges in the number of vehicles and trucks that cross daily. The daily freight and vehicle crossings congest our arterials and add to the safety concerns that we already have.

A recent provision in the SAFETEA-LU highway bill created the Coordinated Border Infrastructure Program which will help us address some of those needs for mobility and capacity at or connecting to our existing international crossings. And we'll be working with our MPOs and bridge owners, port directors and GSA to identify those projects.

We've also been working with several entities on proposed crossings which you see there in red. The Anzalduas Bridge which is proposed in Hidalgo County south of Mission, we're working with the local development board in a pass-through financing project to connect the Anzalduas Bridge to the US 83 expressway. Of course, the Donna Bridge is also in the process of being worked on, and we have some projects identified to connect them.

The West Rail Bridge ‑‑ which you'll hear a little bit more about later ‑‑ is a project that is being pursued by Cameron County and the RMA. And of course, the Port of Brownsville Bridge that you saw yesterday, the location of the proposed bridge that the port is working on.

The next several slides are going to show you some of the international bridges which have the largest volume of truck crossings. Now, this is not one of them.

(General laughter.)

MR. JORGE: But I thought I would start with a picture of our ferry in Los Ebanos in Hidalgo County. As far as I know, this is the only hand-pulled ferry that is still operational that I'm aware of, and you can see how it functions. They cannot operate, obviously, 365 days because it depends on the flow of the river. But I've taken it and it's interesting. And when you get there, you actually get out of the car and you help out.

Let's talk about trucks now. This is the Veterans International Bridge in Brownsville. This bridge currently carries an average of 16,000 northbound trucks per month and 170,000 northbound passenger vehicles per month. There is a temporary border state inspection facility operated by DPS at this location, and we have a permanent one planned in the next couple of years. It also happens to be a point of destination for the overweight corridor from the Port of Brownsville, as you saw yesterday on the tour, with the steel slag bridge also has a connection from US 77/83 which has been constructed to interstate standards.

This is the B&M Bridge which is a combination rail/vehicular bridge operating in downtown Brownsville. It currently carries an average of 200,000 northbound passenger vehicles per month. Of course, the West Rail Relocation project will construct a new rail bridge west of the city and allow this bridge to be used exclusively for vehicular traffic. And it also happens to be the termini for the West Loop project which is one of the projects being proposed by the RMA and you will hear about that later in the program.

The Free Trade Bridge in Los Indios south of Harlingen is another Cameron County bridge which currently handles freight. An average of 4,200 northbound trucks and 62,000 passenger vehicles per month utilize the facility, and we also have a temporary inspection facility there.

The Pharr-Reynosa Bridge, located directly south of Pharr along 281 in Hidalgo County, carries an average of 40,000 northbound trucks and 160,000 northbound passenger vehicles per month. We also have a border station facility and a permanent is planned. It also has a fast lane operating for northbound freight.

We have several projects being worked on by TxDOT, Hidalgo County and the newly RMA once they take shape which will provide improved mobility and connectivity to the bridge, and I'll discuss some of these later.

You all have seen this before. This is an aerial shot of a typical temporary inspection facility operated by the Department of Public Safety, and we have one at three locations. It's a five-acre site at those facilities that will be replaced with permanent ones.

The Port of Brownsville has been a great partner with us over many years in developing several transportation projects. I will cover those, but I would first like to introduce our port director who is going to provide the commission an overview of operations and proposed improvement projects at the port, and then I'll review the cooperation that has taken place on many projects and what is planned for the future.

So at this time, I'll introduce our port director.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Mario, if you would permit me.

MR. JORGE: Yes, sir.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I have several letters that during your presentation I need to read into the record and I'd like to do them at break points so as to not overwhelm us all.

As most of you know, the legislature is meeting in special session to consider changes to the tax system and the public education finance system. Your senator and all of your House members had to miss the commission meeting here because of legislative requirements and not because they don't wish to be with us. All of them expressed support at various levels for what will transpire today.

From Senator Lucio ‑‑ who is a great transportation senator, I might add ‑‑ I'll read it into the record.

"As you're aware from our frequent conversations ‑‑ this letter is addressed to me personally ‑‑ and from the tours you've taken in the area, there are many important infrastructure improvements needed in the Rio Grande Valley and in Cameron County in general. Development of these projects will greatly increase mobility, enhance safety, and bring a better quality of life to the citizens I represent.

"One organization that focuses on a regional approach is the newly created Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority. While created only a year and a half ago, they have focused on a plan that will have immediate infrastructure impact in the area. With hurricane season coming, I'm particularly interested and supportive of their efforts to build a second causeway.

"As you know, I cannot attend the commission meeting today but I know the commission will have a fruitful and informative visit to my Senate district and I look forward to discussing these issues with you in the future. In my absence, I extend my full support to the effort of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority and respectfully request that you consider supporting the agenda items on the calendar. Thank you for your consideration. Do not hesitate to call me. Senator Eddie Lucio."

Eddie Lucio is a true transportation senator.

Please go ahead, Mario.

MR. JORGE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

At this point I'd like to introduce a great partner of our transportation system in the Valley, and that is the Port of Brownsville port director, Mr. Bernard List. Mr. List and I have something in common: he just moved in from Miami and I lived in Miami for about a couple of years a while back and I still have a lot of family in Miami, so we have something in common. Mr. List?

MR. WILLIAMSON: Welcome. We're glad you're in Texas.

MR. LIST: Thank you, sir. Good morning. My name is Bernard List, and yes, I do come from Florida, I was assistant director at the Port of Miami. And thank you again, commissioners, for hosting this meeting in our area because that's very important to us.

I also went to Oklahoma State University, so don't hold those two things against me, please.

(General laughter.)

MR. LIST: We had the honor of hosting the commissioners yesterday at the port and we gave a presentation, we went through a tour of the port, and we were able to showcase some of the highlights of what is happening at our dynamic port.

I want to take a moment to address an item that Commissioner Johnson asked me on the way because I expressed that we had just had a record year of 5,185,000 tons of cargo through the port, and he said, Are those metric or short tons? I said, Those are metric tons which are larger than short tons. And then he said, Well, how much is a metric ton? And those numbers are a little rusty, and I got the 2,200 correct but I missed a little, so I went back and checked and the correct answer is 2,204.6 pounds is a metric ton. And then he asked me also about a long ton and that's the British ton, and that is 2,240 pounds. So now we got it all straight.

MR. WILLIAMSON: That's not 2,240 stones?

(General laughter.)

MR. LIST: So anyway, you know, 5 million tons of cargo is significant. It would mean about 6 million short tons in U.S. and American tons. So in terms of ports worldwide in this nation and within Texas, that's significant. We were talking about how our port is 42 feet deep and that's very significant depth for any port.

Back to the business at hand, we certainly want to take a moment to acknowledge the good relationship that we have with all the good folks at TxDOT. Amadeo Saenz, of course, is very interactive with us, and I heard also yesterday that he was hired by our own Nino Gutierrez at TxDOT before he retired. Thank you, Nino, good job. And also Mario Jorge and Arnold Cortez are significant in many of the things we're doing here.

For example, the relocation of State Highway 48 not only is a major artery into the port but it decongests all the mobility down to South Padre Island, the tourism that the judge mentioned earlier today.

Also the railroad relocation project which is a major home run, and that accomplished again through the direction of Nino Gutierrez, eliminates 79 of 87 railroad crossings and that's of major significance to our activity here.

In addition to that, our overweight activity, and as we explained yesterday, our steel slag accounts for about 2.4 million, metric tons of our cargo, and a lot of that moves over the roads and needs to have that access to be able to carry 125,000 pounds each to make it economically feasible for those trucks to survive.

And finally, for State Highway 48, the port donated 30 acres for turnabouts and conservation easement which is just another example of how we've worked very closely together.

I'll go through this very quickly, we have a tight schedule today. We are the westernmost terminus of the Inland Waterway System but also we're the southernmost terminus ‑‑ and I think that's significant ‑‑ in our location. Right against another country we have deep water and we have a lot of acreage and a lot of benefits to offer.

Here you can see our growth, significant. We had a record year in '70 and this is our 70th year, over 5 million metric tons. And our overweight permit traffic is growing, 44,200 in 2005, so we're growing.

Our BRG rail traffic is significant. We worked hand in hand with our own railroad to accommodate the steel that needs to go over to Monterrey, Monclova, all the other areas in northern Mexico where that is processed, and as we discussed yesterday, a lot of it comes back into the United States through the NAFTA umbrella to go to consumers here in the states and other places beyond.

Very important to us is our new project, Dock 16 which will be a duplication of Dock 15. It is a deepwater facility that will allow to duplicate the ability to bring in heavy steel ships, container ships, and other deep draft vessels, and it avoids the congestion at one terminal so we can get simultaneously two large ships for the terminal, you can handle both of them, not impact them with demurrage charges which could run up to $60,000 per stay which would drive the business away to another port.

And there is our proposed international truck corridor which, again, as we move on and the cargo grows, the steel continues to grow, this will avoid transporting over the roadways and directly into Mexico and out of Mexico.

We're also, in the Dock 15/Dock 16 area with our brand new Gottwald Crane, capable of doing 25 moves an hour for containers. We don't have containers at this moment, we just have a company that's established a container facility, a bonded facility that will already in the next week or so be able to house oceangoing containers. Hapag Lloyd has already made a commitment to drop and pick their containers here at the Port of Brownsville, and this is our first step towards containerization.

We're looking at short-sea shipping which would be like a feeder service between us and Houston to start out. We know that the Far East cargo, a lot of it coming all-water from the Far East through the Panama Canal zone will come straight into our area for consumption into the Valley.

It is every day more costly bringing it down via truck and congesting highways and so on, and if we can get this on the water with the higher fuel prices and everything, we believe and our numbers show that it would be a significant savings to the consumers, H.E.B., Wal-Mart, Home Depot, all those folks in the Valley and across the river as well. So we're working very diligently on making this happen, and our crane ‑‑ which is in the above picture ‑‑ has the capability of handling container ships.

On that, I'll take a moment to talk about our land bridge ambitions, and that would be, for example, from Lazaro Cardenas bring more line haul container activity into the Port of Brownsville over the rail, what you call piggyback or double-stack container cars to bring them into the Port of Brownsville to further ship them from Brownsville to other destinations on the water, on the rail truck, or short-sea shipping again into the Port of Houston. So we're going to be working also with TxDOT and some other folks on making this a reality in the near future.

We have a proposed deepening project going to 55 feet seven miles in. That would even make us a more outstanding and attractive facility for larger vessels, larger companies to look at us as a real player. We're also looking at maybe coming in 45-46 feet all the way into our turning basin ‑‑ which is here at the end ‑‑ but at 42 feet we could actually bring in a container ship with 4,000 TUs, 5,000 TUs, so this is evidence that we are prepared to take on the container business.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Hang on a second, Bernard.

MR. LIST: Yes, sir.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Can you go back?

MR. LIST: Yes.

MR. WILLIAMSON: So the last part of that sentence, oil and gas offshore platforms, so you envision that they could be constructed and towed out. Is that why you make a reference to that?

MR. LIST: That part there, yes, sir. One of our tenants is AmpHel and they have like 2,200 full-time employees repairing and fabricating parts or fabricating rigs, and that's another part of our deepening justification and widening justification because a lot of those units are very wide and when they come in and come out and turn, it becomes a real challenge. So we certainly want to move forward with that. Right now we're doing our deepening and widening study with the Corps in Galveston and that will take some time, but have to go through all those steps and all the environmental challenges to be able to get to the point where we'll start that deepening and widening.

They can do pretty much everything but they're larger units and with the storms ‑‑ in the past the storms coming up, there is a bigger market out there that they're not capturing that they could capture if they had a deeper, wider entrance here.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you.

MR. LIST: You're welcome.

And this is what I touched on before, the proposed rail canal project and it would be what you call a land bridge from one side of Mexico all the way over. It's what they call a dry canal versus the Panama Canal. And in some countries they talk a lot about just a highway generally from one port to another port, and then beyond on the water or on the land as well.

And that is my presentation today. Thank you. If you have any questions?

MR. WILLIAMSON: Whose railroad car is that looking at us?

MR. LIST: The railroad engines belong to the district which is the Brownsville Navigation District, and the BRG is a creation, like a subsidiary of the BND, they have their own board. We work hand in hand. The assets belong to the district, and basically it's ten engines that it's the power to move the cars. The cars come over a lot from Mexico, what used to be TSM, and now it's Kansas City Southern de Mexico, so the cars are supplied by them. They come through UP to us but our engines are the ones that do all the work over in the Port of Brownsville and move the cars over the bridge into Mexico and back.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Members, do you have questions of this gentleman?

MS. ANDRADE: Thank you.

MR. LIST: Thank you.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you for that presentation. And Mario, while you're walking up, my very good friend, longtime friend, Rene Oliveira dropped by a letter personally.

"I write with warmest regards thanking you for selecting Brownsville for your commission meeting. We're grateful for your interest and thoughtfulness.

"As you have seen from your time in Cameron County, there are important transportation improvements that will enhance international commerce and improve mobility and safety in our communities.

"I'm proud of the work done by our Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority which was formed over a year ago, three members comprise. The members are experienced, visionary persons who have begun an aggressive strategic plan focused on financing projects for the quickest manner possible.

"I regret not being able to attend today due to the special legislative session. I offer my support to the mobility authority and ask for favorable consideration on the agenda item. Thank you for being in Brownsville. Please do not hesitate to call."

Please continue, Mario.

MR. JORGE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I wanted to show you a slide and identify some of the projects that the port has been a key ally with us and some of the future projects planned that will improve the connectivity to and from the port and really to the city of Brownsville and Cameron County.

What you see here is a railroad relocation project. Here's the Port of Brownsville, here's 77/83. This railroad relocation project which Mr. List alluded to has already been completed after many years of hard work by the port and county and the State of Texas and the federal government. That is already in place.

The project that is currently under construction to complete the expansion of State Highway 48 ‑‑ which also Mr. List mentioned ‑‑ that goes all the way to Port Isabel is a critical link for us, and I will tell you that without the port being an ally, we probably would not have been able to succeed on that project. It took many years of difficult negotiations on various issues, but I will say that the port did a couple of things that really helped our cause.

One was they dedicated a 1,000-foot wide conservation easement that helped us mitigate some endangered species issues. We constructed a bridge that will handle those endangered species but without the port dedicating 1,000 foot of their own land as a conservation easement, that project would not have been a success.

The second issue that they assisted us tremendously in is digging a pilot channel from the ship channel across 48 which facilitated the flooding of Bayou Grande which has been creating a very serious dust problem and which has created health problems in some of these areas, and also addressed some very difficult habitat concerns that Fish and Wildlife had for many years. This effort has been applauded by many, many environmental agencies, groups and local communities, so it was a great effort on their part.

We're building a bridge also to cross that channel into the Bayou Grande to maintain that flow, so that was a huge accomplishment. That helped us with the wetland mitigation that we needed for the project. So those two things were extremely important for us.

The other project I want to mention to you is FM 511 which FM 511 is designated on the ISTEA legislation as a segment or leg of I-69. We're in the process of developing this project. We are purchasing right of way, as we speak, sufficient right of way to allow us to construct a future controlled access facility, although in the meantime we'll have a four-lane divided highway. It's going to provide a loop on the east side of Brownsville, connection directly into the port. It will have room for future dedicated truck lanes when the time comes and when we can identify funding mechanisms with the RMA.

And that project, the port is dedicating a significant amount of right of way to the department, to the state, so we're very thankful for working with them on that.

We also have a project that we're working with the City of Brownsville and Cameron County which is to create and east loop connection from the Veterans International Bridge, a new location and then around on 511 to connect back to the entry point near the port. And again, as you can see, this creates a mobility corridor on the east side of Brownsville that will facilitate freight traffic and vehicular traffic to and from the port, as well as for the general area on the east side of Brownsville. A very important project, mobility project that we're working with them on, and the RMA is going to be a big part of this.

We also have, as you know, an Intracoastal Waterway that we are part of. It's within the boundaries of our district. The causeway bridge spans this particular waterway and connects Port Isabel to South Padre Island has had significant work done. One of the projects that was installed within one year of the collapse due to the barge accident in 2001 is a collapse detection project that is a system that activates gates, flashers and overhead message boards in case of a span collapse. It's a very technologically advanced system based on fiber optics and it's one that we're very proud to have installed.

Using the Pier Protection Program that the commission approved for causeway bridges in the state, we installed several concrete dolphins designed to withstand the impact from forward-loaded barges and those have been installed in front of the piers extending approximately 500 feet from each side of the Intracoastal on all four corners. Makes us sleep well at night.

We followed the research recommendations on a process to provide extended life to the concrete footings and columns in the very aggressive marine environment, so we've installed a cathodic protection system on the entire bridge and we're really confident that this will delay the start of corrosion and prolong the life of the bridge as long as we can.

And of course, in conjunction with the RMA, we will continue to develop and work on the project to construct a second causeway to South Padre Island. There are many environmental and financial issues that need to be considered in the evaluation of the preferred corridor, but it is, nevertheless, an important project and it is on the agenda for the RMA, so I'll let them cover that later.

Our major corridors, just a quick rundown. Everything you see here in black is expansions that have been completed over the past few years. This is roughly about 30 miles of work already completed to six-lane expansion. Everything in red is currently under construction which is about 70 miles. It's the source of a lot of aggravation for motorists but they do see the progress that's being made. And the green is proposed projects that we'll have in the next couple of years.

We work with three MPOs in our district ‑‑ I think we're the only district that has three MPOs. First of all, Hidalgo County MPO which is a TMA with over 200,000 in population; the director is Mr. Andrew Canon. Harlingen-San Benito MPO is an urban MPO; Mr. Juan Sanchez is our director. And Brownsville MPO, also another urban MPO, which Mark Lund is the director. You can see how they are very close together and we'll see what happens with the next census whether we can have a Valley-wide MPO.

At this time I'm going to ask Andrew Canon, as the spokesman for the three MPOs, to give a quick presentation on some of the important items that the MPOs are looking at.

MR. WILLIAMSON: And while you're walking up, Representative Escobar sent us a letter thanking us for having our monthly meeting in Brownsville, and endorsing the projects that will improve mobility, enhance safety and bring a better quality of life to the organization. He specifically endorses the focused countywide and regional transportation vision of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority. He fully supports it and encourages us to move forward on the agenda item, and we appreciate him taking the time to send the letter.

MR. CANON: Thank you, commissioners.

This morning I'd like to introduce myself. My name is Andrew Canon. I have the honor and privilege of being the director of the Hidalgo County MPO. I'd also like to introduce my planning partners. I have Juan Sanchez with me here today from the Harlingen-San Benito MPO, as well as Alfonso Vallejo, representing the Brownsville MPO today.

The Lower Rio Grande Valley is home to some of the greatest cross-border growth within the state. Reynosa is the only border city that has an increase in maquiladoras and employees in 2005. The amount of maquiladoras have increased significantly here along the Texas border in the Lower Rio Grande Valley region. Reynosa exported a dollar value increase by almost 151 percent in the last five years. In comparison, Juarez had an increase of 39 percent. Our growth is quite spectacular that we're undertaking here in the Valley that you'll hear about and that you've heard more about this morning.

Cameron and Hidalgo counties have a total of eight existing bridges along our border with proposed four additional bridges: two within Hidalgo County, the Donna Bridge and Anzalduas Bridge; and two within Cameron County, the Port of Brownsville Bridge and the West Rail Bridge.

These bridges are necessary to support the growth that the region is undergoing. For example, Matamoros, Mexico has a population of approximately 700,000 citizens living directly across the border from Brownsville. Reynosa has an estimated population of 1.2 million people, and the Hidalgo County urbanized area boundary alone is worth noting that it was the only urbanized area to double in size between the 1990 and the 2000 census populations in the state of Texas.

Hidalgo County UAB encompasses 800,000 people. Hidalgo County, Brownsville, and Harlingen-San Benito all have a forecasted population rate of 4 percent. This, compounded by the fact that Mexico has an estimated growth rate of 12 percent, makes us one of the fastest growing areas in the state, if not the fastest growing.

Along the way to address this is that the Hidalgo County MPO recently has undertaken the initiative and is about to sign a memorandum of understanding with the City of Reynosa and with the City of Rio Bravo ‑‑ they serve as ex officio members of my policy board ‑‑ and we hope to be able to do this and to have this memorandum of understanding in place so that we may coordinate our efforts better across the border on what our planning needs and our congestion needs over the next 25 years may be.

The great growth within the Lower Rio Grande Valley brings with it other aspects as well, such as the amount of traffic moving north and south across our bridges for commercial and personal purposes. The Pharr Bridge is the only bridge in the Lower Rio Grande Valley that has experienced a dramatic increase in truck traffic. There has been approximately a 27 percent increase in northbound truck traffic within the past five years on the Pharr Bridge alone. Another example is that from Brownsville to Zapata in 2005 there were 958,793 northbound truck crossings alone, accompanied by 23,500,000 passenger vehicle and buses coming northbound across our bridges. As you can see, the amount of congestion that we have is growing insurmountable compared to our population growth.

As a part of our increased truck and freight traffic along the border, the amount of commodities crossing logically have increased significantly as well. The steel trade has increased significantly after the bridge at Los Tomates opened operations to the Port of Brownsville. From 1997 to 2004, the imported steel has increased from 1.2 to 2.2 metric tons, or an increase of 81.5 percent. Steel arrives to our area from such countries as Brazil, Venezuela, the United Kingdom, Korea, Mexico, and of course, the U.S.

Along with this, rail traffic to and from Mexico has not slowed either. Brownsville and Hidalgo both have seen dramatic growth in the amount of dollars for imported goods shipped into and out of Mexico in the last five years. Brownsville has seen a 31 percent increase in rail traffic within the last five years.

I'll move on to the mobility plan. As the chairman clearly stated to us yesterday afternoon and this morning, local areas have now been provided the opportunity to identify our potential needs and address the mobility concerns that we have over the next 25 years. Along with identifying these potential needs, we've also been given the opportunity to address how the local areas could address financing or future mobility needs in our projects. Thus, the Texas Metropolitan Mobility Plan has been developed.

The Hidalgo County MPO, as one of eight larger MPOs in the state, has been undertaking and working on the TMMP over the past several years. The Hidalgo County MPO has identified a $787 million shortfall for Hidalgo County alone over the next 25 years. To address this shortfall, Hidalgo County, working with citizens groups, board members, staff, TxDOT and other entities have been coming up with local initiatives to address our financial needs over the next 25 years.

These two slides present two initiatives that were undertaken and presented to my board recently, one being a possible additional toll at bridges to capture those vehicles that are coming across and using our roadways on a daily basis, and the other being a local sales tax initiative. This is just two of five initiatives that we have at the moment that we're working on to address our needs over the next 25 years.

Along with that, on October 31, 2000, Chairman Williamson met with the 17 non-TMAs in Austin to kick off a similar initiative to the TMMP. This initiative entitled the Texas Urbanized Mobility Plan, or TUMP. Mario and Jorge and myself co-chair this panel and we've been working diligently with the 17 smaller non-TMO MPOs around the state to also address their needs over the next 25 years, as well as identifying any initiatives they may have to address these needs.

I will say that we've made a great deal of progress and that we're on time to meet our June deadline that we have for our draft to the commission for review and our September final submission of our document.

I'll speak briefly on some of the initiatives undertaken by the Hidalgo County MPO, one of these being our congestion management system which is quite instrumental in what we do in preparation of identifying our needs over the next 25 years.

The Hidalgo County MPO has the data collection of over 500 lane miles within Hidalgo County. We have a consultant that drives out these 500 lane miles for us on a yearly basis, information is captured in two-second intervals via GPS accompanied by a video. It's become quite a useful tool in public involvement. It allows us to be able to click on several of the links, any of these identified red lines that we have on this map, and we can show the public what it is that was seen at the time that the system was driven out.

That's important for us because we don't want to identify areas that have construction taking place at this time as an area that has serious congestion problems because the congestion may be due to the construction that's undertaken, therefore, we know that the problem is actually being addressed.

We also moved on to a CMS Tier 2 approach ‑‑ and it was an analysis of four corridors, those corridors listed there: FM 88 in Weslaco, 907 in Alamo, 495 in Mission and 10th Street which is one of the busiest arterials that runs through the middle of McAllen ‑‑ to do a real-world analysis of how we could address the congestion concerns of these communities.

I will say that the City of Weslaco has moved forward with one of our initiatives identified and they are now looking at the possibility of installing raised medians along FM 88 as a part of their access management initiative to help relieve some of the congestion problems that they're suffering there in that city as it grows quite quickly.

And I'd also like to say that for the first time we have a regional model coming down to our area from TP&P up in Austin. Along with our three independent models that we use and to forecast out our needs over the 250-year horizon that we have to, this is going to be an incredible tool for us to use since we know that we are on a regional basis and that the traffic does not stop or begin at our boundaries or at our county line.

I would also like to say that this regional approach gives more emphasis to the need for the formation of a possible one regional MPO to be the voice of the region as a whole instead of three independent MPOs.

Also, in Hidalgo County, one of the initiatives we've undertaken and partnered with Cameron County and the MPOs here is we work with all of the EMS providers within Hidalgo County and we are soon to release an RFP for a non-destination, non-radioactive HAZ route study. Along with the I-69 possibilities that we have here, any interstate corridors, we realized that this was something that we needed to look at with the increased truck traffic that we have from Mexico to assure the safety to the population and to the citizens of Hidalgo County and Cameron County as well.

Harlingen and San Benito, it's worth noting, already has such a hazardous route in place within their city limits, so we're hoping to work in conjunction with this.

That's all I have for you today. Any questions?

MR. WILLIAMSON: Do you find that the mobility plan we've asked you to develop is revealing anything you didn't already know?

MR. CANON: Yes, sir. I think what the mobility plan has done is actually shined a light on what we weren't looking at before. We knew the dollars that we had over the next 25 years, we knew what was probable to be able to be built out, we knew where we thought we were going, but the mobility plan has done for us is shine a light on that shortfall that we really didn't give that much emphasis to. We sort of looked at the side of what we knew we were going to be building, we never sat down and took into consideration, in conjunction with our population growth, how much of a gap we would have that would continue to grow over that 25 years, and thus, leave us in a bigger hole if we don't address it now.

So I think it's been an incredible tool for us to use and I think it's a significantly valued tool for the 17 non-TMA MPOs as well.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you.

Any other questions?

MR. HOUGHTON: Yes. You glossed over ‑‑ or I didn't pick up on it real quick ‑‑ the three independent MPOs acting as one.

MR. CANON: Yes, sir.

MR. HOUGHTON: Is there any movement to merge all the MPOs?

MR. CANON: I know that there was a movement a couple of years back on this initiative, and I guess what I should say to be politically correct, this is sort of a personal initiative that I have. I think that we as a region need to resonate our voice as one up to Austin as well as up to Washington, D.C., I think any time that we resonate independently and separately as three separate entities instead of one whole. Also, as a whole being equivalent to the size of Austin, would give more impact to what we have to say possibly. I think it's important.

Half of my staff ‑‑ I have a staff of nine ‑‑ half of my staff actually live in Cameron County or drive from further away into Hidalgo County. We know that our traffic congestion and the concerns that we have for the movement of people and goods do not stop at our urbanized boundaries or at the county line. It seems to me somewhat silly, if you will, for me to undertake initiatives for Hidalgo County and then have them stop at the county line when I know that my planning partners are undertaking duplicate initiatives within Cameron County. Instead of doing it three times, I think we could do it once as a whole and have a greater impact and better benefit to the citizens of Cameron and Hidalgo counties.

MR. HOUGHTON: Thanks for answering that. I didn't mean to put you on the spot.

MR. CANON: It's no problem at all.

MR. HOUGHTON: Thank you.

MR. WILLIAMSON: It's a difficult thing, and it's a thing that's best spoken of, I think, from the state level and not in a demanding way but in a this-is-what-we-think way, and over time the county judge will decide if he agrees or not, and over time the mayor will decide if he agrees or not.

MR. CANON: Absolutely.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I mean, some things we think we ought to say to the local and regional leaders this is what you should do, some things we say this is what we think you should do.

MR. CANON: Yes, sir. And I have a policy board tonight and I know that that will come up again at my board meeting, as well as the Cameron County policy board meetings that are held here. My board is very concerned about congestion and the movement of people and goods throughout the county and throughout the Lower Rio Grande Valley, as well as we realize that our borders don't stop at the river. These communities that are south of the river are just as impacted and important to us as they would be if it was any community on the north side of the river.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you very much. Hope?

MS. ANDRADE: I'd just like to say one thing. I just need to congratulate you on recognizing the need to work together. I mean, it's just fantastic that you're all able to do that. So congratulations and thank you for doing that. It makes our job a lot easier too.

MR. CANON: I appreciate that.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I didn't get to serve with Mr. Escobar but I did get to serve with Mr. Solis ‑‑ in fact, we sat right next to each other. He also sent a letter.

"I'm writing to express my appreciation for your being in Brownsville today. As you have seen from the tours you've taken, we have many improvements in this area that are necessary, and our organization known as the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority is very important. I fully endorse their program and endorse the item on the agenda.

"Call me if I can answer any questions."

Jim is a nice guy. Go ahead.

MR. JORGE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I think Mr. Canon responded very eloquently on that question. It's a difficult issue to be addressed and it's one that we've already been discussing with several of our local leaders, and you're right, Mr. Chairman, that's something that I think as a region we'll have to make that decision.

MR. WILLIAMSON: But we would never want a county judge or a mayor or a city council person or a commissioner to think that we were telling them what ‑‑ we will never tell you about that kind of stuff what you should do, you've got to make that decision yourself. We just happen to believe that local execution and planning is better.

It's been effective in North Texas for a number of years, although we're admittedly going through a little bit of a rough patch right now over a toll road. But generally speaking, it's permitted North Texas to speak with one voice, and frankly, I think that had a lot to do with our decision to allocate money and not projects which I think has been a tremendous help to everybody.

But to the extent that the judge and the commissioners court and the leaders of the community can figure out how to speak regionally and plan regionally, we think that's a good idea.

Where else are we going, Mario?

MR. JORGE: The next speaker I'd like to introduce is Ms. Norma Zamora. She's our director of the Brownsville Urban System, and she's going to talk about the regional transit service plan that I know Commissioner Andrade has been very forward in asking us throughout the state to implement a regional plan, and Ms. Zamora will speak to that. So Norma?

MR. WILLIAMSON: Welcome.

MS. ZAMORA: Good morning. Again, my name is Norma Zamora. I'm the director of the City of Brownsville's transit department, the Brownsville Urban System. It is my pleasure to again welcome each of the commission members and all of the TxDOT employees from Austin, Pharr and other parts of the state of Texas to Brownsville.

It is my pleasure to talk to you today about public transportation and I want to take this opportunity to thank each commission member for all that you do to support public transportation in South Texas. I also want to extend a special thanks to Commissioner Andrade for heading the statewide effort to procure the requirements of House Bill 3588.

My presentation will provide an overview of our federal- and state-funded transit systems, and more importantly, to provide you with a status report on the progress of our region's response to House Bill 3588 as it relates to public transportation.

For the purposes of the regional transportation planning effort, the Statewide Study Group opted to define the service area boundaries as the COG boundaries which in our area consists of Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties. Although the 2005 population estimate in the three-county region is over a million, a substantial portion of the users of our public transportation systems, especially in the urban systems, are from Mexico. For example, in Brownsville approximately 40 percent of the passengers that board at the downtown terminal walk across from Mexico to shop, work, visit medical facilities, go to school, and for recreation.

According to the Sustainable Civic Initiative, Matamoros, Mexico, across the bridge from Brownsville, has an estimated population of 150,000. The city of Reynosa, Mexico, across the border from McAllen, has an estimated population of 750,000. As there are several communities between Brownsville and McAllen, there are also several small communities between Matamoros and Reynosa. These cities are immediately adjacent to the planning region and have a tremendous impact on the transit systems that operate in our three-county region. This effectively increases the daily population to our region, however, they are not counted in the state or federal funding formulas.

We support any effort that may be taken by this commission to distribute transit funding to border areas to help mitigate for the added burden placed on communities along the Texas-Mexico border.

The management structure for the regional transit service plan includes the Pharr District Transit Advisory Panel, who will provide direction and oversight throughout the planning process. The local COG was selected to be the lead agency. The management and oversight of our regional planning process reflect the leadership role by the lead agency in close counsel with the members of the Transit Advisory Panel. The COG will serve as the lead agency and will provide leadership, management and administrative support for the overall processes. We will also have a subcommittee responsible for overseeing the outreach efforts and a technical subcommittee which will be overseeing the work done by the consultant.

The cost of the regional plan is $165,261. TxDOT's participation is $100,000, Hidalgo County MPO is $60,000, and Brownsville Urban System is paying the difference. The COG is also providing 40 percent in in-kind services.

All of the federal- and state-funded public and private transportation providers are participating in the regional planning process. They include four 5307 small urban transit systems which include Brownsville Urban System, Harlingen Express, Rio Metro, and McAllen Express. Combined they provided over 2 million trips in fiscal year 2005.

We also have two Section 5311 rural transit providers, Rio Transit and The Wave. They together provided over 220,000 trips.

There are four Section 5310 elderly and disabled transit providers, Amigos Rio Grande State Center, the City of Port Isabel, and the Southwest Key Program which provided a combined total of 58,240 trips.

We have one Section 5311(f) inner-city bus provider, Valley Transit Company in Harlingen, a subsidiary of Greyhound Bus Line and the medical transportation program, a client-based public transportation service provided by LeFleur, who transported 537,244 passengers in 2005.

In fiscal year 2005, our transit operators provided over 2.3 million passenger trips in our region, and at this time I would like to acknowledge all the transportation providers and ask them to stand that are in the audience with us.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you.

MS. ANDRADE: Thank you.

MS. ZAMORA: Thank you.

And as you can tell from the map, the location of each transit system is going to help us close any service gaps identified in the planning process. Of course, there are other client-based providers in our regions, such as the Texas Workforce Commission, the State Department of Health, the Department of Aging and Disabled Services, the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, and others who are also taking part in our regional transportation planning process.

As for the status of the regional coordination planning efforts, the Lower Rio Grande Development Council was selected as the lead agency in September of 2005. We will continue to use the Transit Advisory Panel, which has been in existence since 2001, to monitor and oversee the planning process. Representatives of the Transit Advisory Panel include the three MPOs, the public transit providers, the health and human service agencies, Workforce, MHMR, the disabled, the medical transportation providers, and the private bus carriers.

The stakeholders in this group continue to expand. Aside from the participation of our Transit Advisory Panel members, we also have the benefit of guidance on this planning process by having the Pharr District PTC as a member of Commissioner Andrade's Statewide Study Group.

In October 2005, the City of Brownsville and Brownsville Urban System hosted a regional transit summit to promote the region's effort to develop regional transit coordination and identified barriers and constraints which hinder coordination. In November of 2005, the TxDOT district office enlisted Texas Transit Institute and the services of Ms. Linda Sharrington to assist in the development of the RFP and set up the management structure for our regional plan. She has been an invaluable asset to the progress of our plan.

In January of this year, we released a request for proposals. In February and March we received and evaluated the proposal that was submitted, we interviewed the consultant and negotiated the contract. And I'm happy to report that the contract was awarded to KFH Group, Inc., and we had our kickoff meeting yesterday in the Pharr District office. This project is scheduled to be completed in December of 2006.

Thank you for your attention, and this concludes my presentation.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Questions, members?

MS. ANDRADE: Norma, I just want to thank you for what you're doing in developing this plan, and also thank your partners, Health and Human Services, your local COG, the Workforce Commission and the many providers, and I urge you to keep working together. So thank you so much.

MS. ZAMORA: Thank you.

(Applause.)

MR. JORGE: Thank you, Norma. And I'm going to wrap up with some slides.

As you know, we have two RMAs in our district, one that's been in operation now for over a year, and one that's newly formed which is Hidalgo County. I want to just mention both chairmen. I think they're here and they're going to be speaking later in the program.

Mr. David Allex is the chairman for Cameron County RMA. David, please stand. Thank you.

And Dennis Burleson is the chairman for the Hidalgo County RMA. Dennis, if you'll also stand. Thank you, sir.

Both of these individuals were appointed by Governor Perry to lead the respective RMAs, and it's been a pleasure working with both of them, and I look forward to many, many successful projects in this region.

What I wanted to show here is again some of the major RMA projects that we're going to be looking at in the future, and I think Andrew Canon mentioned a shortfall from the Texas Mobility Plan and the Texas Urban Mobility Plan.

One of the shortfalls, as you see here, is this Hidalgo County Loop. This is a little over 100-mile loop that as we stand today we have no means to fund over the next 25 years. And as a transportation engineer here in the Valley, if I'm sitting here 25 years from now and we haven't moved on this loop, I think we'll really be shortchanging the future of this region. So this is an extremely important endeavor that needs to take place, and the RMA, I think, will be the vehicle that will get us there.

We are doing some work also a portion of this loop, an extension of Military Highway as a parallel road to 83 and 77 to hit Brownsville, and extension of arterials, expressway type arterials on the north end to loop around Harlingen. Those are very important key elements. We're doing a lot of work on some of these, preliminary work, and I wanted to show that.

We have a relief route which is probably going to be the first RMA project in Hidalgo County, planned as a toll road, tolled relief route around the city of La Joya and Penitas. And that project, we're finalizing the environmental documents and we've had about three or four public meetings that have gone very well. That project is going to be first in line, I believe.

We're going to be looking at the southwest segment of the Hidalgo County Loop, doing some preliminary engineering and environmental documents in a very short time so that we can start facilitating that project. Again, financially funding these projects is going to be an effort that's going to take, I think, the RMA, us and a lot of the local entities.

The expansion of Military Highway from the Pharr International Bridge all the way into Brownsville is one that we're currently undertaking in terms of the environmental and preliminary engineering. We've had two public meetings that went very well, and we should be conducting another one this summer and finalizing the environmental documents this year.

The southeast segment of the loop is a segment that Hidalgo County will be performing the preliminary engineering on, with our oversight, also in the next few months, and that's another major leg of the loop.

We're also looking at this connection from 281 to 77 on the north side of Hidalgo and Cameron County as an expressway facility with allotment for future dedicated truck lanes. Again, a lot of these will provide connectivity to any interstate corridor coming to the Valley.

The City of Harlingen is assisting us, with Cameron County RMA, in looking at the extension of that same corridor east and then south to hit FM 509 which leads directly into the Los Indios Bridge, and so that's an effort that they're undertaking, in conjunction with the rail relocation project that they're doing, again in looking at preliminary engineering and environmental documents.

In the Brownsville area, a couple of projects that I want to mention here that the RMA is going to be performing, and we'll hear more about these later. The West Rail which is essentially tied into the rail relocation is already done and goes west and then south to the new international bridge on the west side of Brownsville; FM 511 which I mentioned earlier as a future controlled access facility into the port and east side of Brownsville; the East Loop which I also mentioned earlier as a relief route to the east side of Brownsville; and the West Loop which is also on the agenda today which involves the obtainment of the abandoned railroad right of way once the West Rail project is in place and development of a toll road corridor from 77/83 into the B&M Bridge.

This slide here just shows a picture of our potential interstate corridors. Everything you see there is already completed. It is roughly over 111 miles of highways that are to interstate standards. Everything that is in blue is still pending, and the last numbers I have in terms of mileage are about 60 miles on 281, about 50 miles on 77 that are still missing.

We do have a project in Falfurrias on the UTP that is funded for the next three years, and one in Raymondville for this year.

This slide right here shows the major connectors on the northern Mexico side and these are the major toll roads and major highways that lead directly to the Valley, and you can see how this provides very good connectivity to the major cities in Mexico and some of the ports on the Pacific Ocean, as mentioned earlier.

MR. JOHNSON: Mario?

MR. JORGE: Yes, sir.

MR. JOHNSON: On the previous slide, help me with the differentiation in the colors. What are they significant of, the yellow, blue, red and green?

MR. JORGE: Commissioner, they're just identified as different corridors. I don't think they have any specific meaning other than just different corridors. This is the existing toll road from Monterrey to Reynosa; this green here is a connection that's been recently from Ciudad Victoria south to San Luis Potosi. So I don't know that they necessarily have any meaning other than they just identify different corridors.

MR. JOHNSON: Thank you.

MR. JORGE: Yes, sir.

I think this slide you have seen before, but it's important to show because it identifies economic activity within the I-69 corridor, and you can see the shaded area in Mexico how 79 percent of the economic activity takes place within this shaded area which is in direct line of the corridor. About 80 percent of the economic activity happens within the shaded area of the United States which again has good connectivity with I-69, and a similar percentage in Canada as the corridor arrives in the eastern part. So these are very significant numbers, and again, those are nothing new that you haven't seen.

That really pretty much concludes my presentation. I want to thank the commission once again for being here in Brownsville and the Pharr District, and hopefully this presentation was informational to you. I think the theme of this presentation which we tried to put out today is the same theme which we conduct our everyday business, and that is to enhance our transportation system through partnership.

We have many financial challenges facing us. I think the tools that have been provided to us by the legislature and the governor, and those that we can come up with and develop locally, I think will assist us in meeting some of those challenges.

Once again, I thank you for your attention, and any questions you have, I'd be glad to answer.

MR. JOHNSON: Any questions of Mario?

MR. HOUGHTON: I just thank you, Mario, for your tremendous hospitality, you and the members of the TxDOT family here in South Texas ‑‑ excuse me ‑‑ the Rio Grande Valley.

MR. JORGE: We're glad to have you, and even though my staff probably will kill me, we'd have you back any time you want. It's been a lot of work but it's been very enjoyable.

(General laughter.)

MR. JOHNSON: It's been a very comprehensive and enlightening presentation. We're grateful for that.

We've had one card submitted, Charlie Leal, who is district aide for Senator Lucio. Did you want to say anything? The chairman has read into the record Senator Lucio's letter. Mr. Leal?

MR. LEAL: I think that's fine, sir.

MR. JOHNSON: All right. Thank you for being here, and we miss the senator but we were grateful to be able to share some time with him yesterday.

Well, I was going to say that the chair was not present, and in view of that, I was uncertain as to what he wanted to do, go to the next item on the agenda or recess, but I'm going to yield back.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you. I think it will be appropriate, Mike, at this time to ask Mr. Saenz to give us an overview of potentially extending ‑‑ well, how we're going to build an interstate highway in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and the implications for potentially I-37.

MR. SAENZ: Thank you. Good morning, commissioners, Mr. Behrens. For the record, Amadeo Saenz, assistant executive director for Engineering Operations.

The item is a report to give you a status as to where we're at as we look at developing an interstate-quality facility from 37 south to the Rio Grande Valley. Of course, this request came in a letter from Governor Perry to the Transportation Commission, and of course, we've started working on it, and there are basically two concurrent methods or ways that we think we can get this project developed.

The first thing that we're looking at, of course, we have been working and developing the TTC-69 Corridor, and to that end, we have been working on the environmental assessment, we're working on an environmental streamlined project and using a two-tier approach, and of course, Tier 1 of the environmental project we hope to complete by late 2007, at which time then we can have individual project studies done on the projects for the corridor in the Tier 2.

We expect to have full environmental clearance for the whole corridor TTC-69 by 2010, but that might be a little bit optimistic. You know, as we move on, these are major challenges.

Concurrently with the tiered approach, and also at the request of Governor Perry, we have moved forward and put in place a request for qualifications to bring onboard a strategic partner very similar to what we have on the 35-TTC with the Cintra-Zachry team. This strategic partner is going to be the group that will help us identify the funding sources and identify the projects that can be developed and in what form, shape, schedule priority, and look for ways to use the tools that we have available to us to develop these projects.

That procurement is out. We had a kind of kickoff meeting with the potential developers earlier this week, and we hope that in the next couple of months we will have a developer partner onboard to help us put together a project list, a master plan for the TTC, as well as a financial plan on how these projects can be developed.

We think that we can have a developer onboard and have a master plan in place and financial plan in place by late 2007, and the project would be developed very similar to what we're doing on 35-TTC, two concurrent processes going on.

The second option that we want to look at is the possibility of just taking and looking at the idea of just doing what the letter said, take one of the existing corridors and develop it to an interstate-quality facility, connecting 37 down to the Rio Grande Valley. This would allow us to comply with the federal requirements that for a highway to be considered interstate, it has to: one, meet the interstate quality standards, and two, it needs to connect to an existing interstate.

Of course, under that option we really have two corridors that connect to 37 that come down to the Rio Grande Valley, one being US 77 and one being US 281. So under that process, what we're looking at is, of course, we will do separate environmental studies for each of the corridors or do one feasibility study to determine which one would be the one to move forward with, or a combination of both. And then from that we would determine mechanisms to come up with funding, and that's always going to be the question.

We could then, if we move forward on the southern leg of the 37 connection ‑‑ that's what I'll call it for today ‑‑ the 37 connection, as the TTC-69 project continues to evolve and the developer partner identifies financial mechanisms and funding plans, we could then basically meld both projects.

So what we looked at so far is I've asked the districts to put together estimates of what the development of these projects would cost. For example, our construction estimate for US 77 from 37 just north of Robstown down to Brownsville, to make it an interstate-quality facility would cost us about $640 million in today's dollars. Of course, environmental clearance has been done to some extent, but it could be done either way.

On 281 the project is a little bit longer and our estimate is somewhere about $840- to $850 million to be able to upgrade US 281 to an interstate-quality facility and connect it from around the Three Rivers/George West area down US 281 to the Pharr area.

So now we've started and we're also looking at some potential funding options. How would we find some funds to be able to construct it? Well, one thing we can look at under legislation that we have is build truck lanes or separate truck lanes, and of course, if a corridor is designated as part of the Trans-Texas Corridor, we have the opportunity to not only build these truck lanes but these truck lanes can carry heavier loads and also allow trucks to be configured in doubles and triples as well as to go faster.

Then we could build those, and as you build those, basically the money that you would generate from building those projects, after you pay for that initial construction, could then be used to upgrade the existing facility.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Hold on a second, Amadeo. Let's assume that became one of the financing options that would permit us to do the improvements to get to the interstate standard. I take it, because the rest of our transportation grid is not yet prepared to accept overweights or doubles and triples, that we would in effect be marketing a Brownsville to Corpus Christi, or maybe to think globally, a Monterrey to Brownsville to Corpus Christi industrial corridor that would be uniquely suited.

MR. SAENZ: Yes, sir.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Because someplace in the Corpus Christi area the trucks would have to shift loads or shift trailers or get to a container.

MR. SAENZ: That's exactly right, and that's one of the things that we were looking is wherever you end the overweight corridor, you've got to have some kind of an intermodal facility that you can either shift to alternate modes or basically break down the load so that then the load goes, or you stop at a potential destination where these loads want to go.

By considering only the 77 or the one down to the Rio Grande Valley, you do create this one unique corridor. I think through competition you would probably get additional corridors that could be funded the same way, say from the Laredo area to Corpus Christi could be a potential additional corridor. Being them all being part of the transportation system, this could become financial tools or funding sources to be able to develop more projects of this type throughout the state.

MR. WILLIAMSON: And sort of leap-frogging ahead, because the tendency is always to think about well, if you do this is it detrimental to the Port of Brownsville, if you do that is it detrimental to the Port of Corpus Christi, if you do the other is it detrimental to the Port of Laredo. We are aware of changes soon to occur in the Panama Canal and our whole basis for the economic opportunity component of our Strategic Plan, with regard to this area, is our firm belief that the ports on the West Coast will collapse under their own weight in the next few years, and the question is going to be who will take advantage of that commerce. Will it be the Republic of Mexico, and if so, will it be a land bridge; will it be the Republic of Panama, and if so, will it be a deeper canal?

But in any event, when those ports collapse, with certainty it doesn't matter how fast the Port of Brownsville and the Port of Corpus Christi and the Port of Houston and the Port of Victoria grow, there will still be more business than everybody can handle.

MR. SAENZ: That's correct. I think what was announced by the Panama Canal and the expansions will basically only provide additional flexibility and opportunity for cargo that was coming into the West Coast and now to have basically more options: you can come and use the Mexican ports and have this land crossing or this land connection, or they come across at the Panama Canal and then come into the United States on the East Coast. And the ports that we have on the Gulf Coast in Brownsville and Corpus and Houston, Beaumont-Port Arthur are going to be very important as now they will be receivers of cargo that would come in. And the trade corridors, in essence, change from east to west to more north to south.

MR. WILLIAMSON: So it will be important for us, as we deliberate and find solutions to bring the interstate to the Lower Rio Grande Valley, to emphasize to our partners in Corpus Christi and Houston, particularly, there will be plenty of business for all of us, there will be no business for any of us if we don't plan together and act together.

MR. SAENZ: We need to move forward and plan to try to get ahead of the game, you might say.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Please continue.

MR. SAENZ: Another alternative is, of course, by designating the connection down to the Rio Grande Valley as the Trans-Texas Corridor is we have the opportunity to use the utility elements of Trans-Texas Corridor as a potential funding source to be able to, one, provide the service of bringing additional utilities down. And one time there's been talk about a desalinization plant that was being built in Corpus, this desalinization plant could then provide water down to the Rio Grande Valley. There could be a need to provide electric services, major transmission lines down to the Rio Grande Valley as fast as it's growing. So having a utility corridor and bringing in partners will allow us to hopefully float some additional money that we can use to also build and expand on the highway transportation elements of that.

MR. WILLIAMSON: So in theory, if we could find a water district that wanted to pay us for the right to lay water line, if we could find a utility company that would be willing to pay a toll that would use lines we would erect, we would use that cash plus the contribution of the partners from Harlingen and Brownsville and the whole area, plus state and federal funds, and maybe collectively that will be enough to finance the project.

MR. SAENZ: Yes, sir. And I guess we heard this morning ‑‑ that was going to be my next ‑‑ the next possible funding source we heard from our partners in Harlingen, and I think the district has been working closely also with Cameron County and we'll be working with other partners on the corridor to see what we can do to bring in some additional money that we can leverage.

And of course, the whole key on a particular corridor if you don't have enough money, the private developer can only bring so much, we've got to somehow bring in some additional funding sources in the form of toll equity so we can make the project a reality. And that's really what it's going to take, it's going to take a combination of a lot of funding sources and strategies to be able to take this facility and bring it down, upgrade it to interstate quality, put in the truck toll lanes, use the utilities, and with those monies then we can basically have it in place.

And of course, we also have the other tools that we have available to us through pass-through financing. Of course, there is for locals some assistance through the State Infrastructure Bank. If they don't have the money, they could come back and borrow part of that money to utilize for some of the cost of this project. And of course, looking at the Mobility Fund, there may be some additional funding through the Mobility Fund that we can do.

My plan is to keep working on these strategies, identify potential funding sources, and piece together a financial plan of how we can expand and build this type of facility.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Amadeo, one of the things that we constantly run into across the state on these big corridors is the absence of intimate knowledge about how the environmental process works, and invariably when we, for example, advanced the Corridor 35 project, we were all surprised by the number of local officials who weren't intimately familiar with the environmental process.

For the sake of the audience that's here today, let me take you through a series of questions and answers. With regard to Interstate 69 or TTC-69, there's a lot of pressure to select either 77 or 281. Is it likely, based on the way the system works, that those two existing footprints would be more favorably received by the federal government than an alternative footprint? I'm not asking you to comment on what will happen, I'm asking you to comment on is it likely.

MR. SAENZ: It is likely. You try to minimize the impact so if you're trying to expand on something that already exists and you're taking much less than having a build a brand new one, most definitely it's easier to go along an existing corridor or parallel to an existing corridor or adjacent to it.

MR. WILLIAMSON: That's the interstate model. Now, when you're speaking of building the Trans-Texas Corridor model, a whole new multimodal concept, is the same true or is it likely that it will be someplace else?

MR. SAENZ: It will pretty much be the same thing. You will look at how much capacity you have available on the existing system that you have, and if you have capacity available to you. For example, I'll talk about the draft EIS that was just posted for the 35-TTC, and if you look at south of San Antonio that the route goes to Laredo and it follows or it looks at expanding the existing 35 footprint because we have a lot of capacity built into that.

So even under the Trans-Texas Corridor, you do have the possibility of if you have capacity that you take advantage of that capacity first before you go out there and build a brand new one.

Now, there are some circumstances that are out there with respect to environmental and historical requirements, and you have to look at all options, and that's why we have to be able to look at every option available and then, in essence, following the guideline and the regulation, we will go out there and evaluate each one, determine what are the pluses and minuses, the benefits and the drawbacks, and then come back with the best solution.

MR. WILLIAMSON: So it's not a matter of this commission or your staff deciding we want to build this road right here, it's a matter of us complying with federal law and answering a series of questions and the answers to those questions determine where the route goes.

MR. SAENZ: That's correct.

MR. WILLIAMSON: It's entirely possible that the route for TTC-69 would be pushed off to the west, is it not?

MR. SAENZ: It could be, but I think the law now has been changed and there's some flexibility that allows us to look at impacts along existing corridors, and they deal with the environment on the historical side and also on the other side of environmental that allows us to be able to go out there and if you have to take some, say, historical property, as long as that impact is minimal ‑‑ or they call it minimis ‑‑ and we get the consents of all the property owners and the National Parks Service, we can take historical property instead of having to move out there and impact a lot.

As you move away from these corridors, a lot of properties in South Texas are historical in nature themselves. They may have not been designated, but South Texas has been here for many, many years and the ranching communities out there in South Texas have been here for many generations, so they in themselves are also historical. So you're also having to balance that.

MR. WILLIAMSON: And then one final question. In the old, or in the up until the last few years model, would we ever have enough money, federal money to build Interstate 69?

MR. SAENZ: No. Based on the money that we get from state gasoline tax and the federal reimbursement and our needs, we don't have enough money ‑‑ we did not have enough money to build I-69 and that's why we have not been able to build it. We've been working on I-69 for at least 15 years.

MR. WILLIAMSON: So there was never enough money even when Congress was designating potential routes.

MR. SAENZ: When Congress was designating potential routes, there may have been but they chose not to, and as time went by and costs increased, in essence they've said that the interstate system has pretty much been identified and put in place and they no longer have a funding source to build the interstate, the actual interstate construction.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Anything else on your presentation?

MR. SAENZ: Just looking at this, as an example, we will continue to work, our Transportation Planning and Programming Division is doing some studies to determine amounts of revenue that we think we can generate from the truck toll lanes. And we'll be working with all our partners to see how we can put together, as I said, a financial plan to move this project forward.

I'd be happy to answer any questions.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Members, dialogue with Amadeo?

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: They're letting you off easy.

MR. SAENZ: Mario tired them out.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Richard Garcia, mayor of Edinburg.

MAYOR GARCIA: I may be a bit out of order here, but I'm here in support of someone else that was going to speak, I believe, Mr. Dennis Burleson with the Rio Grande Valley Mobility Task Force, but I'll be glad to go forward.

MR. WILLIAMSON: We go in the order in which this guy put the cards in, so we're going to blame him.

MAYOR GARCIA: Well, first of all, by way of identification, my name is Richard Garcia, and I have the good fortune to serve as mayor of the City of Edinburg, and in that capacity I had served previously for two years as chair of the Texas Border Infrastructure Coalition which is a coalition of cities and county judges and economic development corporations from El Paso to Brownsville, and I also had the opportunity to serve as the county judge for the County of Hidalgo, and honored to serve on the judicial bench for the State of Texas for 16 years.

I want to thank the commission again this morning. I want to thank, certainly, Cameron County and Brownsville for their hospitality today. And while I'm here, I want to thank TxDOT for all the great projects in and around our city, our county and this region.

As I've heard you speak about today, certainly we realize that our world is shrinking, that the border and trade barriers are blurring, and as a result of our geographical location, we have become one of the fastest growing regions in this country, and certainly the greatest ingredient to that growth is transportation and that's why we very much realize the importance of what we're doing here today.

I am here today to represent the cities of Hidalgo County in support of a resolution that has been prepared by the Rio Grande Valley Mobility Task Force, basically supporting the position that's already been talked about here with the south of I-37 and the I-69 project that include five total relief routes, as stated in the resolution which is Resolution Number 2006. And if it hasn't been forward to you, it's entitled Resolution Supporting the Extension of Controlled Access Highways to the Rio Grande Valley, and if it hasn't been forwarded, it certainly will be forwarded to you.

In addition, I have with me resolutions from Brooks County signed by the judge and their commission, Jim Wells County and the City of Premont which are all located along the 281 corridor, all in support of the resolution as prepared by the Rio Grande Valley Mobility Task Force and which includes the corridors of 77 and 281.

And I realize that brevity is virtuous, so I will yield the podium at this time. Thank you very much.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I apologize for catching you off guard, I may have gotten the cards out of order myself, but you were eloquent, you reacted quickly.

MAYOR GARCIA: Well, I appreciate that.

MR. WILLIAMSON: No doubt all your years of training on the bench.

MAYOR GARCIA: Well, that was helpful.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Well, we do thank you for your testimony and your offer of support.

Let me take a second to consult with my executive director. How do you want to approach this, Mike? Do you want to have David and Dennis come up and present this first?

MAYOR GARCIA: I have the resolution. If you wish, I can read the pertinent part regarding the five routes that we're making reference to.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I think, Bill, are you here, Bill Summers?

MR. SUMMERS: Yes.

MR. WILLIAMSON: We almost always turn to Bill when we're confused, so I think we're going to turn to you, Bill, and let you come up and guide this part.

MR. SUMMERS: Okay. David Garza is next, and then the co-chairman of the regional mobility authority, Dennis Burleson, and then I will finish.

MAYOR GARCIA: Thank you.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you, Mayor. We appreciate it.

David? A person familiar to us.

MR. GARZA: We have a packet that we have for each one of you and for the record. We welcome you this morning again, for the umpteenth time, to this area.

(General laughter.)

MR. GARZA: I am David A. Garza, Cameron County commissioner of Precinct 3, and I stand before you not as Cameron County commissioner of precinct 3 but a voice for a number of governmental entities, cities and other chamber of commerce organizations that stretch from Nueces County to the Lower Rio Grande Valley. And I would hope that Commissioner Houghton would walk in before I got to the meat of it.

MR. WILLIAMSON: He's putting his fairy wings on.

MR. GARZA: A couple of housekeeping items. Next time when we welcome you at the airport, we will have lunch for you. We thought the state flight included lunch but I guess it didn't.

Commissioner Johnson, you knew where to stop to have your lunch before you joined the group, so I know who the smartest guy up there is.

MR. JOHNSON: You know too much.

(General laughter.)

MR. GARZA: And Chairman Williamson, you know, it's always a pleasure to see you in our area, and we appreciate you being here.

We are very excited to have you here to discuss the transportation issues that affect all of Texas and all of us Texans, but most importantly, the area that we represent here in South Texas. You have seen on your trip down here, you have seen on your flight in and on your tours, and will continue to see hopefully the rest of the day today, that the decisions that you make in Austin in a very big way affect us very directly. Even if it's being delayed to get to the reception or get to the hotel, we know that the construction that's occurring is setting us up for the infrastructure we need for the future of this region to become as viable as we would like it to be.

Last December, Governor Perry, in a speech before the I-69 Alliance in Houston, instructed this commission to immediately begin developing proposals to build an interstate, and I was glad to hear Amadeo's presentation in regard to what has occurred on that. Separate truck lanes, commercial lanes, different funding mechanisms to make this happen, all are very important.

The folks in this corridor took the comments that we heard very seriously, there's been numerous meetings that have occurred with many stakeholders in the corridor to explore what we could do as an area. Many of the current projects that are being worked on or developed, as you saw by Mario's presentation, will provide that seamless corridor and will provide that seamless transportation goods route so that we can take goods not only up into the state of Texas but to other parts of the United States.

This corridor would start at the west end at Rio Grande City and on the east end in Brownsville and then go up to US Highway 77 and connect I-37 in Corpus. And you've seen a lot of power point presentations, but I would like to indulge you in one more today and it will be short, but it will be different, not to take away from Mario's presentation or any of the other folks before me.

But with us today are many representatives of counties, cities, economic development corporations, chambers of commerce, metropolitan planning organizations, and port authorities that stretch from Corpus Christi to Brownsville which is the front door and where trade and commerce begins, as far as we're concerned, and my power point presentation this morning will be to ask the folks that are here in support of the resolutions I'm presenting you to please stand up. Gentlemen, ladies.

MR. WILLIAMSON: You made your point with power. Thank you very much.

MR. GARZA: Thank you very much. Mario, that's our power point presentation.

(General laughter.)

MR. JORGE: Shorter than mine.

MR. GARZA: A little bit.

I think Governor Perry stated in that speech that this platform ‑‑ which is you gentlemen up there ‑‑ know the importance of reliable transportation systems and what that could do to bring unprecedented trade opportunities, economic development, and most importantly, job creation to this area. That is why we have become united in our efforts to categorically state our support for the extension of I-37 via US 77 down to the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

We understand your commitment to ensuring that we have adequate interstate connections, and we will present you ‑‑ and I did just a few minutes ago ‑‑ with signed resolutions and/or letters of support from every entity supporting this endeavor. You may open the envelope. You will find replicated resolutions from the cities of Brownsville, Corpus, Harlingen, Kingsville, Los Fresnos, Port Isabel, Rancho Viejo, Rio Hondo, Robstown, and San Benito in that packet.

Also included in there are resolutions from the counties of Kleberg, Willacy and Cameron and Nueces; also, the Port of Brownsville, the Port of Corpus Christi, the Port of Harlingen; also, Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority, the Corpus Christi Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Brownsville Economic Development Council, the Development Corporation of Harlingen, the South Padre Economic Development Corporation ‑‑ and we promise, Commissioner Houghton, that we'll take you to eat over there the next time you're down ‑‑ San Benito Economic Development Corporation, Brownsville Chamber of Commerce, Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce, Harlingen-San Benito Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Letters of support and a resolution from Congressman Solomon Ortiz, our local U.S. Congressman; letters of support in the packet from Senator Eddie Lucio, State Representative Abel Herrera, State Representative Juan Escobar, State Representative Rene Oliveira, and State Representative Jim Solis.

Also are some letters of intent for financial support from some of the people that have already committed money to develop these projects as TxDOT sees fit that we need to invest those dollars to most quickly bring this project into our Lower Rio Grande Valley area.

As an example, Cameron County has committed $250,000 a year over the next ten years, per year, for this; Harlingen the same; and other pledges have already been discussed with many of the major stakeholders in this area. We've gotten verbal commitments of funding to be approved that could go to construction of the project or construction of ancillary projects to make this interstate become a reality quickly.

You have been there to visit but there's many things happening to this area. We want the continued growth that an interstate would bring. We've heard the comments made by yourself, Chairman, and Commissioner Houghton on the likelihood of what will happen to this area with the Panama Canal expansion, and we want to be ready not only in Brownsville but to have the corridor ready to get goods up anywhere into the midwestern United States, we want to be part of I-69.

Shippers, haulers and logistics supervisors are looking for the swiftest, safest, most cost-effective and most reliable routes to get their product to market. We believe that we have that opportunity to make this happen right here starting in Brownsville.

We know that they want to continue to move these products to the less congested areas. We have the international crossings, you've heard about the seaports, you've heard about the airports, the only hindrance is an interstate. The deepwater ports are in place, existing rail is in place, the Intracoastal Waterway and others.

I think Senator Lucio best said it yesterday when he mentioned to us that we are a part of Texas, Texas is one big body, all we need is an artery to float our area so we can invigorate ourselves and blossom, and we look forward to doing that with your help and with us helping you.

As TxDOT and many other transportation agencies across the United States and many other partners that have partnered with the Federal Highway Commission over their last 50 years of existence have celebrated this year which is their 50th anniversary, we would like to be part of that celebration. We would like to be part of the interstate system.

We want to thank you for your time and effort in listening to us, and we hope that your stay here has been a good one, a pleasant one, and we hope that you'll be back soon.

MR. WILLIAMSON: You're too kind, David. You're always a kind host.

Members?

MR. HOUGHTON: I don't know where to begin, you've laid out a buffet for me to pick from. I've got James Bass in the back. Where's the mayor of Harlingen? He's in the back of the room. Bass, they've pledged each $250,000 a year. Do you have a collection box for these people to put something in as they leave?

(General laughter.)

MR. HOUGHTON: I'm truly grateful for the show of support, I really am. David, my first contacts down here were you and Commissioner Wood, and the dedication you have to this part of the world is admirable. I commend you. Every community has its champions. As Johnny so eloquently talked about at the short course, if you want to walk on water, you've got to get out of the boat, and you are starting to do that.

With that said, one of the things that you've all figured out that you can't win this thing divided, you've got to come together. Hidalgo County, the RMAs and the MPOs are going to have to eventually come together to work to make all this happen.

And that leads me to my second point. There can no longer be any sacred cows. Those international bridges have got to be a part of the solution to these issues on a regional basis. The Port of Brownsville has got to be a solution as to you've got to look outside your fences to transportation systems that enhance your ports.

And I commend this region. You've come a long way in a very, very short time, probably faster than most regions in the state. And David, you're one of the reasons why. Thank you very much.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Hope, John, anything?

MR. JOHNSON: Anything that I would say would echo what Commissioner Houghton said. I appreciate what you've said and the manner you've said, and as he alluded to or referred to, it's amazing to see the momentum that you have gathered on these very critical issues, not only to the communities around here but to the entire state, how quickly you've gathered that momentum, and we want to partner with you. I think that's the message that we're extending to all corners of this state.

MR. WILLIAMSON: David, we really appreciate it. In the few years we've come to know each other, you're a pretty steady hand, and we appreciate that. More than anything else, in fact, we appreciate a steady hand, somebody who will stay the course, stay the course, stay the course.

MR. GARZA: Thank you. And I must remind you I'm a voice for a lot of folks sitting in this audience, their public servant.

MR. WILLIAMSON: We appreciate it, David.

(Applause.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Okay, Dennis. And then Bill, you'll be next. Correct?

MR. BURLESON: Mr. Chairman and commissioners, thank you very much for being here in the Rio Grande Valley. We very much appreciate it.

There has been a lot of changes over the last few years. NAFTA often gets a lot of that credit for the increase in activity and some of the increase in population here, but I will tell you NAFTA wouldn't have been able to possibly do what it's done for the Valley without the investment that the Highway Commission has made in South Texas transportation infrastructure over the last six or seven years. So you know, you deserve a good chunk of the credit that NAFTA very often gets.

Harkening back to the MPO presentation, this area is one of the fastest growing areas of the country, and thankfully to the economic activity that I just referred to, unemployment is down, prosperity is up in northern Mexico. I think we're starting to see locally and also up 281 and up 77 what that prosperity along the border is starting to bring, and part of that challenge is that it brings more traffic.

I wear the hat today of a co-chair, along with David Allex, of the Rio Grande Valley Mobility Task Force which is a planning organization that includes representatives of all the MPOs, all the cities, all the counties and the RMAs in the four-county area. And when we looked at the charge by Governor Perry and by the 77 Coalition's additional response to that, we figured out we would come today to you with a bargain. You can spend a lot less money and people can use it sooner and we might even suggest a funding source for that bargain.

77 and 281, two junction points at I-37 and at 69, have five signaled intersections. Two of those are on 77, three of those are on 281. I've been told, and I'm recently new to the transportation theme here in South Texas, but I've been told that for about $250 million, you can cure those signaled intersections along 77 and 281 and give the citizens of South Texas and the truck traffic that the prosperity that I've referred to brings immediate improvement to their concerns, and making the center lanes of both 281 and 77 basically interstate-quality at that point.

And those investments in those overpasses won't be wasted as the interstate shield, whether it be 37 or 69, is applied to either one or both of those highways. And we realize that it is your choice on environmental concerns and financial feasibility concerns about where that route will be, and all of South Texas will support whatever that route choice you make, and we look forward to that determination and your investment.

But as an initial first step, if you basically make the center lanes of 77 and 281 interstate type structures, all the way to George West on the 281 side and Robstown and the 37 connection on the 77 side, that's something you can do immediately.

Hopefully you'll have even more successful negotiations with a potential I-69 concessionaire. And I keep hearing different terms for that partner, but I'll try to get this right eventually.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Well, I mean, it is a little confusing. The developer is the person or the company we ask to help us coordinate the transaction. They may or may not be also the concessionaire, it may be that they're just the developer and they end up not making the best proposal for the concession and it ends up being a different party that gets the concession if we have a concession. So we're the ones that are causing the confusion, not you.

MR. BURLESON: Okay. If your negotiations are successful with that development partner, and you receive the potential of a large payment to be able to invest into the transportation net of the state of Texas, we would hope that you would look kindly on what the resolution asks for, that you enter into a minute order to out of that payment be willing to fund those overpasses that get rid of those signaled intersections.

Not only is that a benefit to our transportation concerns, but it also actually helps feed economically the tolled sections of TTC-69 because the trucks that move along the center lanes, until they get the designated truck lanes, as long as they don't have to come to signal lights, I'm not sure the trucks really care a bunch whether it's got an "I" in its name or not. You know, we care here because there are good opportunities and there's visibility and there's commercial concerns that the interstate designation will bring to us.

But that's the resolution I speak to today as co-chair of the Mobility Task Force, and I'll be happy to answer any questions.

Before I do, though, I will give you an update on Hidalgo County's RMA. McAllen has appointed their member and we're on the county commissioners court for May 2 and if the county commissioners court will give our board five more members, we hopefully can have all the right petitions and the letter of inception that needs to come to your next meeting. So I look forward to that hopefully by next week.

MR. WILLIAMSON: That's great.

Members, questions of Dennis?

MS. ANDRADE: Dennis, welcome to the transportation world and thank you so much for being willing to serve as chair of the RMA, and good luck.

MR. BURLESON: Thanks, and looking for help.

MR. JOHNSON: Dennis, one observation. You referred to what I interpret to be a concession fee, and while the TTC-35 corridor there is a concession fee that is involved, there's certainly no assurance that on the TTC-69 that there will be. They're very much different in terms of the economic impact and population, and I mean, who knows. We cannot set a template for what these negotiations are going to look like because they're in the future, we can only use what has gone on in TTC-35 as experience for future discussions. And so we can't allocate money that we don't have and we're not assured of ever getting.

But I think your point is well taken there. It does make an abundance of sense to deal with where there are bottlenecks, and stop lights create bottlenecks on heavily traveled thoroughfares.

MR. BURLESON: I think if somehow the concession fee or the financial arrangement isn't enough, we'll just have to work harder to find alternate solutions to find that $250 million.

MR. JOHNSON: Well, and that's what partnerships create, they create the willingness of both sides to try to find solutions, neither committing 100 percent but everybody committing up to their resource limits.

MR. BURLESON: Thank you.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Anything else, members?

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Okay. Thank you, Dennis. We appreciate it.

MR. BURLESON: Thank you for allowing me to be here.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Bill?

MR. SUMMERS: Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity.

I have some prepared words, as today I'm representing the Alliance for I-69, I'm vice-chairman, you know, we represent 34 counties. But before I go on, there's two mayors that I don't know if they've been introduced. Mayor Norberto Salinas from Mission, Texas. Mayor Salinas, glad you're here.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Good to see you again.

MR. SUMMERS: And Rick Morales from the City of Donna, he was here a while ago. And Mayor Garret from Corpus Christi.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Hello, Mayor. How are you?

MR. SUMMERS: He drove all the way through the King Ranch just to see you.

(General laughter.)

MR. SUMMERS: My name is Bill Summers and I'm president and CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, also serve as vice-chairman of Alliance for I-69. It is a great pleasure to have served in that capacity for the last 13 years.

I know you're all familiar with the alliance. The organization is a coalition of public and private interests in 34 counties from South Texas to Houston to East Texas, formed to pursue the development of a new interstate-grade corridor linking the industrial heartland of Mexico, U.S. and Canada.

We've kept the alliance strong and whole over 13 years with your help, due in large part to the fact that our coalition has always focused on the big picture. Our goal has always been to see the corridor built in a manner that is efficient, cost-effective, and makes the most sense for the movement of people, good and commerce.

The alliance has always supported the original Corridor 18 and Corridor 20 study areas ‑‑ in other words, US 59/77 and US 281. The alliance has purposely not taken positions on specific corridor alignments, which way the route might zig or zag. This is a TxDOT project and specific alignment decisions are TxDOT's job.

Therefore, today I speak for the alliance in supporting the resolution ‑‑ David, you did an outstanding job, fantastic ‑‑ that has just been presented to you. The alliance too supports the development of TTC-69 on US 281 and US 77, ‑‑ or it might be called 37 East, West. We don't care what it's called, we just want a highway you can get on and keep on going.

I'm pleased that the Rio Grande Valley leadership speaks with one voice on this issue. The alliance is strongly on record in support of the resolution, in support of the Transportation Commission and TxDOT as you undertake this monumental and critical infrastructure development. What's good for the Valley is good for Texas, and vice versa.

But I do want to tell you at this time, speaking as president of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, it is a great day in my life that the whole Valley finally agrees to let TxDOT make the decision to where our interstate is going to be. I know all of our Valley is going to have an interstate maybe at the same time, and it's going to continue to build, but if it wasn't for you ‑‑ and Mike, you and Amadeo have done an outstanding job, and you commissioners, we appreciate it so much. And if all of you were as good looking as Hope, I would give you a hug, but right now I'll just say thank you and we're glad you're there.

Do you have any questions or answers or comments?

MR. WILLIAMSON: Well, I don't think anyone doubts that this wouldn't have happened without your intensity, Bill.

(General laughter.)

MR. SUMMERS: Well, all these people. Former Mayor Bill Card is here, and he was there. Dennis Burleson was one of the lucky ones that hired me 19 years ago for the partnership, and he was there at the same time. And David Allex, he's bald-headed now because he worked with me so long.

(General laughter.)

MR. SUMMERS: But we're so glad that you are here and this is really a happy day of my life. I appreciate it.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Members, anything of Bill?

MS. ANDRADE: Bill, I just have to say thank you. Every time that I come, the reception is just great. But you know, we plan these meetings usually a year ahead and the timing is perfect that we planned this meeting here in April and all these wonderful things are happening at this time also. So I think you play a big part in getting everybody together, and I thank you for that, and I think that the Valley is lucky to have your leadership here.

MR. SUMMERS: I want to say the Good Lord did the planning, he got you down here for this.

MS. ANDRADE: I believe in that. Thank you.

MR. SUMMERS: Appreciate it.

MR. WILLIAMSON: We do recognize, Bill, that you've worked long and hard on this. And it's true. I mean, I understood what David was saying about representing lots of people, and you should always want to give credit to the team that you work with, but the reality is you've been very vocal and very constant, as David has been constant, and that means something.

MR. SUMMERS: Thank you.

MR. WILLIAMSON: So you can give the credit to the others also but take a little bit of pride in what you do. It's a great day in the Valley, I think.

MR. SUMMERS: Thank you, sir.

(Applause.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Judy Hawley, former legislative member and former colleague.

MS. HAWLEY: I just want to add that we're here from the Corpus Christi area to support what's going on in the Valley. Bill, you've been a friend for a long time; David, it's nice to meet you.

Exciting things, we're glad to be part of this region, and we're here just to lend our support and our vote of confidence with what's going on. We've got the chamber of commerce with Ralph Coker here is represented; we have, obviously, the City of Corpus Christi with the mayor and his deputy city manager; I'm representing the Port of Corpus Christi; and we come united to support our colleagues in the Valley.

So again, a great day. Thank you for being here and thank you for supporting what we're working on down here.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Judy, you've been involved in this a long time. Is it not the case that we have to kind of think of sort of the upside down triangle of the tip? We're always going to be competitors, but in ways this kind of goes hand in hand because if it's good for the deepwater port plans of Corpus Christi, it's ultimately going to be good for the deepwater port plans of Brownsville.

MS. HAWLEY: And Houston and Victoria. And I think what you have captured so well is that your mission is what's good for Texas. It's interesting, I received a call from a reporter or someone yesterday saying describe the commission in one word. And I just share this story with you because it's so timely, and to think of one word to describe all of you and how you're viewing your current mission, and I came with three ‑‑ I used to be a school teacher so I came up with three, the three Rs ‑‑ but the first one was you're resourceful.

And the resourceful part is real critical to where we are now in Texas. You've all referenced that in many, many speeches about the shortage of dollars, but you also are resourceful in looking at the opportunities, and the opportunities are not broken down into what's good for one part of the state, it's what's good for all of the state. And what happens as we're talking about the Gulf of Mexico and the opportunities here, they impact Lubbock, they impact El Paso, they impact Amarillo, they impact economic opportunity for all of us.

The second R was that you are resolute, and you have to be because you look at the nay-sayers always are more vocal than the people that think something is going to be done. You look at what's happened here in the Rio Grande Valley, in all my 32 years of public life, I never envisioned that we would see this kind of cooperation and collaboration here in the Valley, and this is a historic day. Bill should take great pride in his role in that in making that happen.

And the third one is ‑‑ I forgot what the third one was ‑‑ resolute, resourceful, and responsive.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Hardheaded.

MS. HAWLEY: You're responsive because you are here, you are responsive. That doesn't begin with an R so I couldn't use that one. But you are responsive because the communities have to drive what's going on. This is not the TxDOT of old where it was driven from the top. It has to bubble up and you're allowing those kinds of things to happen.

Trans-Texas Corridor as you envisioned it five years ‑‑ I don't even know how long we've been on this.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Five years.

MS. HAWLEY: Five years ‑‑ we didn't have the China-India piece playing, we didn't have the L.A.-Long Beach piece playing, we didn't have two hurricanes that changed the need for redundancy in deepwater ports in the Gulf of Mexico, and we didn't have the Panama Canal announcement that we had just yesterday that opens up the Gulf of Mexico for these post Pana-Mex ships that tremendously changes the dynamics.

So yes, your triangle analogy is good. What we have is an opportunity for huge economic growth within Texas that's going to impact every Texan and we can't miss that opportunity because the entire Gulf Coast is looking at how can they best leverage to attract that kind of industry.

So your attention to freight corridors, your attention to economic development, your attention to moving that part of the economy is what's neat about this Transportation Commission, and that's where our opportunities for being in the 21st Century are really, really upon us. That infrastructure is critical, thanks for looking at multimodal and thanks for spurring us on, and the Bill Summers and the David Garzas to be there.

So Corpus Christi, we're just here to support what's going on today and we thank you for letting us have a part in it.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you, Judy.

(Applause.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: And Mayor Garrett, you came up from Corpus Christi.

MAYOR GARRETT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, commissioners. You know, I drove down from Corpus Christi this morning early to put into the record our resolution supporting the extension of 37 into the Rio Grande Valley. But I think Judy touched on it, I've been in the government for 42 years now, in city government, and I've had the opportunity to serve on many task forces and commissions, but I've never in all my career witnessed what's happening here in this project with all the communities, the region coming together, working together hand in glove, with the commitment to make it happen.

You know, I've never had an opportunity and I can't even remember in the history of Corpus Christi where a county commissioner from Cameron County come into the council chambers in Corpus Christi and walk away with 100 percent support from all council members. I don't know how you did it, David, but I'm working on it.

(General laughter.)

MAYOR GARRETT: But that's the kind of commitment that we have. I know that working with all the cities from the Valley all the way up through Kingsville and Kleberg County, San Pat County, we know that together we can make it happen, and we appreciate your commitment to it.

And Hope, I appreciate what you did coming down to Corpus Christi and listening to us about another project because we want a new harbor bridge. Thank you very much.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Well, thank you for being here, Mayor. We appreciate you taking the time to be here.

Mike, I think we can let Amadeo close and we need to move on with our regular business, but we'll be coming to some things these people want us to do in just a few minutes.

Okay, Amadeo, any final remarks about what we need to do? You know what you're going to hear from me.

MR. SAENZ: Pretty sure. But we are looking also at some interim solutions, very similar to what was provided in that one resolution, about identifying those bottlenecks that exist on the corridor and try to find mechanisms, and at the same time, the things that we've been doing, the things that Mario and his staff and Craig and his staff have been doing, any project that we develop on 77 and 281 are being developed to interstate standards so that we don't lose anything. If either one of the corridors becomes the interstate, they're there.

So some of these interim solutions that were presented about relief routes around communities, those can be looked at and I think can be developed as almost individual projects, independent projects and have them ready, and as we can collect funding, using maybe some of the local funding and some of the tools, we can get those in place as we kind of tie in and then commingle them or make them part of the bigger solution as we get the developer onboard and come up with the ultimate solution for this corridor.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Members, do you have anything that you want to impart to Amadeo while we have him in front of us in this report phase?

For the audience, this is one of the few times that the commission gets to talk about what we want to do without having to take a vote, we get to communicate legally about where we'd like to see something happen, so we often take this chance to do so.

Anything, Ted, John, Hope?

MS. ANDRADE: No.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Okay. Well, I took my instruction from Mr. Perry very seriously, so what I want to incent you to do is not permit ourselves or our partners to ‑‑ you know, God gave us two things, time and grace, and we need to take advantage of that time.

MR. SAENZ: Yes, sir.

MR. WILLIAMSON: And in light of the Panama Canal thing, we need to move very, very fast. We don't want companies that might otherwise invest in this road to help Brownsville and Corpus Christi and Harlingen and Laredo and eventually Houston go to Biloxi, Mississippi. We haven't got anything against Biloxi, but we'd just as soon them come to Texas. So if they see activity on our part, that means they'll be interested in Texas.

MR. SAENZ: We're moving forward with the corridor at all levels and we will continue working on getting this thing developed and try to get a program in place as quickly as possible.

MR. WILLIAMSON: We certainly want to open up Interstate 37 or Interstate 69 to the tip of Texas before David loses any more hair.

MR. JOHNSON: I'm beginning to take offense at these references. You know, there's a school of thought that that's a distinguishing characteristic and not a negative one.

(General laughter.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you.

MR. SAENZ: We will work on it.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Let's proceed with 3, Mike.

MR. BEHRENS: We'll go to agenda item number 3 which is discussion items. They deal with recommendations to the commission and discussion about our legislative agenda for the coming session in January. Item (a) will be covered by Coby Chase, item (b) will be covered by James Bass, and he'll also be talking about our Legislative Appropriations package that we're putting together. Coby?

MR. JOHNSON: Mr. Chairman, before Coby starts, I hate to interrupt, but today is my wife's 39th birthday, and I've got to excuse myself. It has been a very enlightening meeting and previous day, and I know there's a lot of important stuff on the agenda that I'm going to miss and I regret that. But two weeks from now is also, miraculously, her 39th birthday, and the day following that is, as Lawrence Olson said, the most important day, Mother's Day, so this is a very delicate period for me in the year's cycle and I don't want to get it off to a bad start, so I've got to excuse myself.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Will you be doing that quickly? Are you saying we need to take some votes before you leave?

MR. JOHNSON: If you need my vote to secure passage, you must.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I think we're in pretty good shape. I never know how people are going to vote, but I think we're in pretty good shape.

MR. JOHNSON: I think you are too. Thank you.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Well, thank you, John. We understand completely.

Mr. Chase?

MR. CHASE: Good afternoon. For the record, my name is Coby Chase and I'm the director of TxDOT's Government and Business Enterprises Division. At your direction, I'm appearing before you each month throughout the year to discuss the formulation of your legislative agenda.

For the benefit of those in the audience, let me restate that the Texas Transportation Commission is authorized by law to make recommendations to the Texas Legislature on statutory changes that will improve the operation of the department ‑‑ if there is anyone left in the audience behind me who is listening at this point.

A little bit of history is, Chairman Williamson, every month I appear before the commission to discuss kind of an ongoing effort to envelop a legislative agenda for the commission, as law allows, so when the legislature reconvenes in its regular session in 2007, our recommendations will be on the table.

One thing I would like to say, just from a small political history standpoint being here in the Brownsville area, is having worked for the department in this and a similar capacity for 12 years, at least on the legislative side, that Senator Lucio ‑‑ you know, success has a lot of fathers, that's true, but sometimes you're almost an unintentional part of the success ‑‑ he and Senator Ogden, I believe in '99, really started the dialogue about debt, and while that effort was not successful ‑‑ and then Lieutenant Governor Perry were all engaged in that, and while it was successful in the Senate, it didn't get out of the House, but it did start the dialogue and we've built on that. And Senator Lucio, quite frankly, was in the middle of that.

Another one is Representative Oliveira, who, as I've said, maybe incorrectly, but I kind of generally characterize as one of the last things we can do to the gas tax to make it more efficient was move the point of collection, and he was the original House sponsor of that, working with Commissioner Nichols and now almost Senator Nichols on that.

And so this region in Texas certainly has a political history, at least in the legislature, of stepping up to the plate and helping out, and that's very appreciated.

While we're here, and since many things haven't changed since the last time we talked, and I'm not going to try to go over too many of those, but I would like to talk about rail in particular. And again, having been around these issues for a number of years, and talking to our district engineer yesterday on our tour, I was reminded Congressman Ortiz, since I started at the department in '94, had been working tirelessly on a rail relocation funding on the federal level, a little piece here, a little piece there. And as aggravating as it was to collect all that money, how difficult it was, it was equally aggravating back here in Texas, to him and to us, our inability to spend it quickly, or how to get it to the problem quickly and match it with other funds and things like that.

And Mario and I talked about that at length yesterday and the rail package we're proposing, the stars have lined up for roadways and toll roads and things of that nature and politically and I think they're lining up now for rail. And Congressman Ortiz was very helpful to us in the beginning, but I think what it is we want to solve what I would call the working problems in the sense that it shouldn't be that hard of an issue just to put rail down. And I think this community in particular can appreciate everything that he went through and the community went through just to make that happen.

Let me talk a little bit about the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund. Creation of the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund was approved by voters last year. This session we'll need to assist the legislature in identifying a funding source. As I mentioned in past meetings, the department hired a consulting firm to provide a list of possible revenue sources. We received that draft list earlier this week and we're evaluating it now, but among some of the items we're evaluating are a proposal to extend the diesel fuel tax to railroads and sending the proceeds to the fund. I'm not saying these are good or bad ideas, I'm just saying they're under review.

MR. WILLIAMSON: They're just things we can think about.

MR. CHASE: Yes, sir.

A proposal to impose a licensing fee on those transporting hazardous materials in Texas with the proceeds going either to the Rail Relocation or the Mobility Fund, depending on the mode of transport. Another proposal would impose a fee on containers that are brought it or de-ramped at Texas intermodal terminals. Again, the proceeds will be deposited to the Rail Relocation Fund or the Mobility Fund. And then there are several more proposals, some better than others, that we're still evaluating and we'll bring before you at the next commission meeting, if you so desire.

Another rail-related proposal would authorize the commission to make low interest loans to railroads from the Rail Relocation Fund to rehab or improve capacity on existing lines. Railroad cleanup, as we call it, lastly with respect to rail, the commission may want to look for opportunities to clarify and make technical revisions to TxDOT's rail powers. This would involve recodifying the rail statutes, repealing some old and obsolete ones, allow TxDOT to use money from the Texas Enterprise Fund on rail projects without waiting for specific line item appropriations, give the department explicit authority to study and plan state and other entities' rail projects, and we could, and I would say should seek authorization to use CDA concession fees and surplus revenue on rail relocation projects.

We've also discussed the statutory cap imposed on the length of concession terms. They're capped at 50-year terms unless there's a mechanism to buy out the developer in which case the cap is extended to 70 years. This may pose a particular problem in our ability to execute a CDA for rail. The cost of rail infrastructure is such that longer terms may be needed to justify the investment. We're still looking into that.

The chairman had asked me a while back, in the context of the governor's announcement about bringing an interstate-quality facility or facilities to the Lower Rio Grande Valley, was there anything in state law in particular that would either need to be taken out of the way or enhanced, whatever the case may be, and also on the federal level.

We're investigating both more deeply. On the federal level we'll do that, of course, with the I-69 Alliance, who has always been our steadfast partner. I'm trying to change the name to the Trans-Texas Corridor 69 Alliance; I think we'll get there one of these days. But we work closely with Gabe Rashel, Bill Summers and that crowd who've always brought a productive hand to what we do in D.C. on those matters.

But on the state level, it is a little more abstract, it isn't so much a straightforward change this and X will occur in the Valley, but there are things that would make it easier to deliver a large project of this caliber, and you've heard me talk about them before, and I'm going to talk about them again here for just a minute.

The commission may want to look for opportunities to make the right of way acquisition process as efficient as possible so that the project can be developed quickly. These items also will ensure that ‑‑

MR. WILLIAMSON: Stop. You just gave me a thought. Add to our list for consideration, and then we can knock it off if the commissioners don't like it ‑‑ our ability to swap land we own for right of way we need or for land we need.

MR. CHASE: Swap land we own for.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Right now, if I understand it, if we decide we want to exchange something ‑‑ or maybe I'm wrong about this ‑‑ Mr. Monroe will pop up if I am which we're glad to see you, Mr. Monroe.

MR. MONROE: Thank you very much.

MR. WILLIAMSON: If, for example, one of these ranchers in this part of the world had been watching us all day and he was inspired or she was inspired to help us and she raced in and said, Tell you what, you've got this little triangle at the Heart of Texas Highway in Austin that's perfect for a restaurant and I want to help move I-37 along and I'm willing to give you a thousand feet of my right away right now for that piece of property, would we be able to do that?

MR. MONROE: Yes.

MR. WILLIAMSON: So we don't need to change the law.

MR. MONROE: We have the power to swap land for land for highway purposes.

MR. CHASE: I'll take that off the list.

Back to right of way, right of entry specifically with right of way, virtually every type of entity with the power of eminent domain has express statutory authority to enter the property to conduct preliminary surveying to determine right of way parcels. Except for toll roads, TxDOT does not have this authority.

Without property description of the proposed right of way parcel, we're delayed in preparing our right of way maps and parcel plats. Additionally, property owners are advised by counsel to refuse entry to the appraiser who is attempting to assess the compensation to which the property owner is entitled. Typically is done through for some perceived tax advantage in the condemnation proceeding.

Our goal is to offer property owners as accurate an appraisal as possible. If we are prevented from doing that, we are really not serving anyone's interests other than the condemnation lawyer who is paid on the spread between what we offered and what is ultimately granted.

TxDOT does not have access to real property sales information that would enable us to make the most accurate appraisal. There is no legal requirement in Texas requiring the purchasers of property to disclose the amount of sales. To correct the situation, you could recommend that property sales be disclosed and the information made available to parties in a condemnation proceeding and to tax assessment districts. That might raise some eyebrows but it would be something that would help us ensure we make more accurate offers up front.

A piece of legislation that left the House last session but went nowhere in the Senate was county planning authority. I should also mention again that the legislation would establish a mechanism for TxDOT and counties to work together to ensure that homes and businesses are not developed in future right of way for transportation projects. We've discussed that many times before but I think that would be important for a very, very large project.

We're entering a new phase in our history that we haven't been in in many, many years where we have to rethink how we do these things since the interstate system. This is the new interstate system, it's bigger and it requires more land and a broader way of thinking, and so we need to kind of clear out the law books on some of these and reposition ourselves so we can actually do these in a timely manner.

Also, in terms of delivering a new interstate facility, utility reimbursements. We've discussed this at length. Under certain conditions, utilities have a statutory right to be in state right of way at no charge because utilities had to be relocated to accommodate a highway improvement. The current law limits reimbursement to a utility for those who possess a compensable property interest or something you have to pay them for.

However, if the highway is being approved as part of the national system interstate and defense highways, taxpayers must pick up the tab for moving the utilities whether they have a property interest or not, whether or not they were allowed there free or whether they were there in the first place. Federal law allows this, however, we could free up more federal money for construction if state law is altered to ensure that relocations on interstate highways are treated the same as any other highway. On a project the scale of TTC-69, that could be a lot of money, quite a bit of money.

And we have also talked about concurrent jurisdiction. The commission's proposal was introduced by Senator Robert Duncan and Representative Sylvester Turner last session that would have allowed both district courts and county courts of law to process condemnation cases. I know this might sound kind of arcane to some people in the audience, but these are very important real-world issues for the department when it comes to acquiring right of way and building large roads. They're not glamorous issues like bringing in billions of dollars from wherever, but these are kind of day-to-day work issues that help us actually deliver projects.

There has been a development on this matter I did want to share with you. During Mike Behrens's testimony last week on eminent domain before the Senate State Affairs Committee, Chairman Duncan strongly encouraged the department to pursue that matter once again. He's willing to take that up once again, and it's tough, it's a tough issue.

As you know, there has been some discussion about cities and counties leasing their international bridges. The Chicago Skyway experience demonstrates that he lease of public facilities can provide vigorous economic benefits when the proceeds are committed strategically and in a fiscally responsible manner.

To achieve this, we would need to seek legislative changes that specifically authorize counties to lease their bridges to the state. Cities already have this authority. We'll further examine this proposal and identify the significant benefits that such an arrangement could have on a region's transportation system. This is a very important kind of new development, or there's growing interest in this type of program, and I think we need to be prepared to embrace it and see that it works.

And if I may just mention a little bit, Commissioner Houghton, at the Texas Transportation Forum, is hosting a breakout session on this very topic and has invited international experts on it to address it, so it will be a very good learning experience from that standpoint.

There are a couple of items you asked me to look into last month on this topic of billboards. A lot of municipalities restrict billboard ordinances precluding our ability to relocate an existing billboard. You asked if enhancement money, federal enhancement money can be used under federal guidelines for purchasing billboards. The answer is yes, absolutely.

Safety initiatives. Commissioner Johnson asked if we are examining any proposals designed to improve safety on our highways. In addition to the sobriety checkpoints ‑‑ that if former Senator Sibley is still here, he was the leader on that and he can tell you how difficult that is because he certainly was a very ardent supporter of that legislation when he was in the Senate ‑‑ some other things we are looking at is the US DOT recommends booster seats for children until they are eight years old or four feet, nine inches tall.

And you have to listen to this next sentence. Everybody here thinks about my daughter, she's 37 inches tall and she's three years old; we have grandkids that are about that size too, I think ‑‑ not I, some of our commissioners do. In Texas, safety seats are required for children up to five years old or three feet tall. We may want to encourage legislation that meets the US DOT recommendations. When you think about it, that's a much safer standard than we have here in Texas, and they are indeed our precious cargo.

Another proposal would authorize the department to set variable speed limits based on current conditions such as inclement weather, traffic crashes and work zones, and in the event the attorney general finds the use of automated enforcement technology unlawful, you may want to consider legislation that authorizes automated enforcement for highway intersections, railroad crossings, and HOV lanes.

Wrapping up, there have been some interim hearings, as you may know, we've all participated in. Here's a summary of what we've done last month.

House Transportation. House Transportation conducted a hearing on April 18 to continue its consideration of the aviation and rail needs of the state. Amadeo Saenz outlined the proposal by Cintra-Zachry to build a rail line as part of the TTC-35 project.

The Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on April 18 to consider several of their interim charges: naming of state highways, TxDOT programs designed to increase safety, the state's overweight truck fees, and TxDOT's ability to build, maintain and relocate rail facilities.

The committee also held a hearing on April 25 to review its Homeland Security related interim charges. At the close of the hearing ‑‑ and we testified regarding our activities, particularly hurricane activities ‑‑ at the close of that hearing it was requested by one senator that the next hearing of the committee should focus on comprehensive development agreements, so we might be talking about that soon.

And then finally, the Senate Committee on Transportation Financing met April 19 to review financing options for all modes of transportation. Chairman Williamson and Mr. Behrens offered our testimony which was very good and very instructive for a number of members.

That concludes my remarks for this month. Any questions or any input?

MR. WILLIAMSON: Additions, deletions, suggestions, areas of interest we wish them to explore the next month?

MR. HOUGHTON: Coby, I saw the list of the ‑‑ I think there were 46 to 48 different opportunities on the rail relocation, some a little out there, but one of the things that was in there is we need to bring the trucking industry in to talk about the future for truckers in this state as far as what they pay, whether they're captured at the bridges or coming into the state or around the state. I think that was one of the recommendations.

I sure don't see any one of those recommendations standing alone to fund a rail relocation adequately enough to make a lot of sense. I think it's going to have to be a combination of many different things.

MR. CHASE: I think you're right, the math isn't there.

MR. HOUGHTON: Yes. When you start working the math, you're talking about many, many different opportunities.

MR. CHASE: Absolutely.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Anything else, members?

Coby, I don't have any additions or deletions that you didn't touch upon. Thank you very much.

MR. CHASE: Thank you.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I'm hoping our partners in the Lower Rio Grande Valley will start thinking about things that you mentioned that we need changed. We'll need some help.

MR. BEHRENS: Go ahead, James, and talk about our Legislative Appropriations Request and how we're coming on that.

MR. BASS: Good afternoon. For the record, I'm James Bass, chief financial officer at TxDOT. This is one in an ongoing series of updates to the commission on our progress in developing the department's Legislative Appropriations Request, or LAR. The LAR is the official document that the department submits to the legislature once a biennium for the regular session and requests the funding and resources the department needs in order to carry out our functions.

If you remember last month, we looked at 2008 and 2009 and we began with revenue estimates to the State Highway Fund and then began peeling off different layers, first peeling off a layer that goes to other state agencies. The state gas tax and vehicle registration that go into the State Highway Fund do not all go to TxDOT, so we first looked at that first layer going to other agencies. We then looked at what it takes to maintain the existing system, what it takes to plan for the future development of the system, and what we were left with at the end was through our traditional sources what would be available for mobility or expansion of the system.

I told you last month that we were continuing to refine the revenue estimates, and what has happened in that last month, of course, is the legislature has come into a special called session and the comptroller has updated their biennial revenue which covers just 2006 and 2007. I'm sure most of us have heard that the surplus for General Revenue has grown and there's a positive outlook on the general Revenue Fund.

However, what has not been noted to any great extent is the updated revenue forecast for the State Highway Fund, and for 2006 and 2007, the forecast is actually roughly $300 million less than it was previously. If we then take 2006 and 2007 as a baseline and apply some growth patterns to that for 2008 and 2009, we're looking at roughly another ‑‑ if you continue the comptroller's projections which theirs stop at 2007, but if you were to continue that trend, you would have about another $200 million less over the biennium than what I spoke to you about last month.

We hold a slightly different viewpoint than the Comptroller's Office does on some of the growth rates and those patterns, but the long and short of it is, over the next 3-1/2 years there is going to be $450- to $500 million less going into the State Highway Fund than we thought just a couple of months ago.

Now, we still have an 80,000 mile system that needs to be maintained out there. The needs and the age of that system have not changed; the amount of money that it's going to take to maintain that system is going to stay the same. Likely the amount of money going to other state agencies to fund their operations is going to stay the same or possibly increase, if history is any indication. So what that ultimately means is for mobility, for expansion of the system over the next 3-1/2 years, we're going to have $450- to $500 million from our traditional funding sources.

MR. HOUGHTON: What's the mitigating circumstances behind her projection?

MR. BASS: The primary change of that $300 million in '06-07, about $225 million of that is from the state gas tax, showing a continued growth from where collections currently are but the growth rate is much lower than it had been previously forecast.

And so over the past few months, Mr. Chase and others, we've talked about unreliability and uncertainty associated with federal funding, we experience that as well even with our state funding and state financing through the traditional sources that we receive.

MR. WILLIAMSON: So the higher gasoline is, the higher price it is, the less the public people are going to buy in relation to the past.

MR. BASS: Correct. We haven't seen a dramatic downturn, and it's difficult to isolate one factor on the collections of gas tax, because at the same time the prices are going up, the population of the state is increasing, more goods flowing through the state, more vehicle miles being traveled, and so overall on an annual basis the collections are increasing, but not at a rate that had been previously forecasted. So it's still growing but just not as fast as some had hoped or projected previously.

MS. ANDRADE: James, I have a question. Are those numbers from our office or their office?

MR. BASS: They are from the Comptroller's Office, and we have a slightly more optimistic view in 2008 and 2009. We are forecasting rather than a $200 million reduction from what we saw just a couple of months ago, we're more forecasting just a reduction of $120- to $140 million over that two-year period.

MS. ANDRADE: Those are the numbers we think?

MR. BASS: Yes. And the difference really deals with the projected growth rate and what we expect to get in the current year, so there are some differences.

MS. ANDRADE: Thank you.

MR. BASS: As I said, ultimately that leads us to less money for mobility, giving us a stronger reliance to look to some of the new financial tools that the legislature has provided us, the Texas Mobility Fund and the ability to issue bonds backed by the State Highway Fund. However, both of those are limited resources, and so this just means that those tools will be depleted a little bit faster than what we had thought, and almost certainly by the end of 2009, both of those resources at their current nature and format would be exhausted for the near term.

Another item in the Legislative Appropriations Request, TxDOT has an opportunity to suggest revisions or deletions to riders in the Appropriations Act. Now, riders to the Appropriations Act is the ability for the legislature to send additional direction or limitation to agencies on how the appropriations can be spent. And what happens a lot of times is once a rider gets put into the bill pattern, it stays in for a long time, even that perhaps a rider at one point was put in as a test that's deemed to be a good idea and ends up being codified and fully put in the statute, yet it still remains in the Appropriations Bill, and the number continues to grow.

Some may say no harm, no foul, you have to do it anyway, however, at some point it becomes another barrier to our constituents, the public, senators and representatives understanding what it is that the department does and how we carry out our work, because when you pick up our section of the Appropriations Bill, you not only see the dollars going to TxDOT but you see a list of 50-some riders that provide additional direction or exceptions to other agencies.

We made a lot of progress last session. The initial numbers may not sound like it but for 2004 and 2005, TxDOT had 58 riders, and in 2006 and 2007 we have 53 riders, but of those 53, ten of those riders are what I would call one-time riders, if you will, contingency appropriation riders that if a particular bill passes the legislature, additional money that may be collected would be appropriated to TxDOT to carry out that program.

Another example of a one-time rider deals with ‑‑ there's probably six or seven of them dealing with special transportation enhancement projects in that if the funds are available that they be directed towards the Battleship Texas or county courthouses. Those ten would not be a continuing rider, one would not expect them to be, so in effect, we were able to reduce about a dozen of those riders. There's probably another dozen or so that we feel are unnecessary because they're also covered in statute and we will certainly make an attempt once again to reduce those to limit again the confusion and that barrier to the understanding of our budget.

In addition, there are times where we actually want an additional rider that will help streamline the operations or the efficiency of the department. Some of them we made an attempt at last session; my presumption is that we would do that again. The first one deals with the FTEs or full-time equivalents, the number of employees that TxDOT can have, and rather than limiting that to a hard cap number, the rider we attempted two years ago was to limit the percentage of our budget that could go to salaries and wages rather than dictating the number of employees.

In addition to that, dealing with the capital budget, rather than limiting the amount we can spend for highway equipment or to repair TxDOT facilities, that we're doing and projecting sometimes three years in advance, don't limit that to a hard dollar number but provide us flexibility as a percentage of our overall budget, or at a minimum, allow us the same flexibility offered to every other state agency that allows them to take money from their operating budget and transfer it into their capital budget if situation dictates. We're the only agency I'm aware of that does not have that particular flexibility.

Another rider we would probably look at deals with the Colonia Road Bond Program where TxDOT manages a program of the Governor's Office to provide paved roads to border colonias. There was a rider last time that limited the amount that we could expend. I believe at least two years ago the department's position was the voters of the state passed a constitutional amendment for this program, and as those projects come on line, we should be allowed to move forward with that project.

Another example of one that we would ask that's not currently in there, as we've moved forward and are very aware of the nature of construction and how disruptive that can be ‑‑ in a number of the metro areas we're doing nighttime construction, weekend construction, trying to keep as many lanes open as possible during the rush hour, and if there are any lane closures necessary, do those late at night or on the weekend, placing additional demands upon TxDOT staff. We would like the ability to supplement their pay for the employees who are required to work overnight or extended hours on the weekend.

And we're checking with all the divisions and offices in Austin asking them to review the riders right now and see if they have any ideas of some that can be deleted or be enhanced or any ideas that they can suggest be added to that, and here in the next month or so we'll be providing that to your offices as well to see if you have any ideas or thoughts as to how we might better operate or streamline the operations of the department through either a deletion of a rider or an addition of one.

The last item I have today, I believe blends in with the next agenda item coming up which is the structure of the Strategic Plan and how the Legislative Appropriations Request will blend in or tie into that Strategic Plan so the department is truly speaking with one voice to all of our audiences, both internal and external.

And the Legislative Budget Board in their instructions has allowed a de-linking, if you will, that the Strategic Plan and the LAR do not have to be exact word for word and in exact alignment, however, the Finance Division is working with the Government and Business Enterprises Division to integrate that as much as possible.

To be honest with you, it is difficult at some points because of the broad goals that we have of reduce congestion, improve air quality, economic development, most of the things we do on a daily basis touch most if not all of those goals, and so it may be difficult to break those up into the various pieces that will do a better job of tying those all together so people can see how construction activity that we do or maintenance activity direct us toward those broad, overreaching goals of the department. Rather than as they read now, one of our goals is transportation planning, well transportation planning is not really a goal, it's an activity to get us to a higher goal.

And so we're going to try and make that tie stronger and more direct between the appropriations request, the Appropriations Act, and the department's Strategic Plan.

MR. WILLIAMSON: We should work very hard on doing that.

MR. BASS: And those are the three items that I had this month. I'm open to any comments or questions that you may have.

MR. HOUGHTON: Well, that's pretty profound when you talk about the reduction or the forecast on the gas tax as to how it impacts projects down the road ‑‑ not down the road but now, right now, since we have to live with those estimates and our forecast is a little bit different from their forecast, but I guess they rule in that situation.

MR. BASS: Where we get to the appropriations and the legislature convenes, it's the comptroller's estimate that dictates.

MR. HOUGHTON: That's right. Have we seen what kind of impact it's going to have on projects, potential impacts?

MR. BASS: Not yet, but ultimately it would be $450 million or $500 million less in the next 3-1/2 years.

MR. HOUGHTON: In that biennium. Right?

MR. BASS: Correct, and that's for the remainder of '06, '07, 2008 and '09 for that $450- to $500 million.

MR. HOUGHTON: Right. That dovetails the next question, Coby. Are we going to take a position, Mr. Chair, on the ‑‑ I don't want to call it an index of the gas tax that certain folks around the state would like to see, but an increase in the gas tax that may be dedicated ‑‑ if you can dedicate it, I don't know if you can ‑‑ you could raise the cap on the State Highway, you'd have to leverage those dollars. So in other words, if you had a 10-cent increase in the state gas tax, I understand that's $100 million.

MR. BASS: It's $100 million per pennies; if you did a 10-cent, it would be about a billion dollars to the State Highway Fund.

MR. HOUGHTON: How far could you leverage out a billion dollars on a 20-year bond?

MR. BASS: A 20-year debt would be about $12-1/2 billion in proceeds.

MR. HOUGHTON: In proceeds. So that would be something to look at and that would be like a Garvey. People talk about Garveys, but our Garveys, we call them Garvey-plus. Something that I may be interested in pursuing but I'm not sure the legislature has any appetite for any tax increase, especially of gas approaching $3 a gallon. But it seems to be if you want to continually kick start and you look at the compression or the reduction of the projections by the Comptroller's Office, slicing off $450 million worth of projects, and with the $86 billion we keep talking about, there's got to be some, I would just say, intestinal fortitude to look at how we're going to fund these projects.

That's my thoughts.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I think Ted gave you an instruction and asked a question, and I think the instruction from any commissioner is to look into it, but I think the question sent to me was where are we on the indexing of gas tax. Historically, the commission has been unafraid of recommending to the legislature toll policy, we've been reluctant to recommend tax policy, although we've spoken, we think frankly, about what kind of tax policy it takes to pay for this stuff if you want to pay for it with taxes.

So I don't know that it would be a bad thing to explore the idea of using a special gasoline tax Garvey-bond type driver to jumpstart things like Interstate 37 or a railroad relocation in Houston or a railroad relocation in Dallas-Fort Worth, that wouldn't be, I think, inappropriate. We just have to make it clear to our friends across the street that we're not telling them what taxes to set. That's the only thing we need to steer clear of.

MR. HOUGHTON: And I'm not necessarily interested in index but a specific number that would be dedicated to leveraging. Because when you throw ‑‑ I don't say a billion dollars is not anything to think about, it's real money, but it doesn't go very far in the scheme of things, it really doesn't, it doesn't get you where you need to go. It sounds good.

MR. WILLIAMSON: You know, James, we might ought to give some thought to going ahead and notifying our partners about that drop in the gas tax collections.

MR. HOUGHTON: I sure would. I think that may drive support.

MR. WILLIAMSON: You know, if I'm David down here in the Valley trying to put together my RMA or if I'm trying to put together my I-37 thing, I think I would want to know pretty quickly that the global view of the state's transportation fund is the comptroller thinks the cash flow available to power all of our plans over the next four years is going to drop by $600 million, we think that's the most pessimistic view and that an optimistic view might be $400 million, so it's going to be somewhere in between the two and we should all begin to adjust our long-range plans accordingly. I think that's not a bad idea.

MR. HOUGHTON: We may need a few guidelines.

MR. WILLIAMSON: One of the things we try to promote is no surprises. People need to know where we're headed, what we're doing and why, not just from a legislative perspective but from a financial perspective as well, so maybe we need to do that.

MR. HOUGHTON: Basically, if you listen to Senator Ogden, this is right along his line of thinking of bonding up authority to fast-start these projects, and well, the way you do it is to have a dedicated source of revenue to do it.

MR. BASS: And hopefully a new source of revenue so you can work to shrink the $86 billion gap because, as you well know, if you bond off an existing revenue stream, you're accelerating your project which is very good but you haven't shrunk that gap.

MR. HOUGHTON: No, you have not shrunk the gap. And this is a way to shrink 86 minus 12 billion so you have a new source of revenue immediately. Now, you can't bond it all at once.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Anything further?

MR. BASS: No, sir.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you, James.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Michael?

MR. BEHRENS: We'll now go to agenda item number 4 which will be a discussion and recommendation on what our proposed structure and approach should be on our Strategic Plan that we touched on a few minutes ago. Coby?

MR. CHASE: Thank you, Mr. Behrens. Again for the record, my name is Coby Chase, director of the Government and Business Enterprises Division.

First of all, let me say when James and his people told us about the $400 million change in state revenue, so to speak, what's kind of sad is we just kind of shrugged our shoulders and that's just becoming knowledge, or it's just common news anymore. Unfortunately, I think it's almost reached a state of being predictable.

It's also kind of interesting in the context of at least some people have said publicly that we have enough money in the bank to build all the projects that we need, and then we find that we're $400 million short. Kind of interesting.

What I'm here to talk about is the Government and Business Enterprises Division, our research section, is in charge of the agency's Strategic Plan, and we spend a good portion of each commission meeting talking about the Strategic Plan, and it was brought to my attention ‑‑ and this is going to serve two purposes, three actually ‑‑ it was brought to my attention by our general counsel's office that we talk about five goals and then we talk about four fundamental strategies, and we say them as they are agency-commission policy, even though we do say them, every person up on the dais there has said it and repeated it over and over again, the commission would probably need to vote to make sure those are the broad goals and the strategies of the agency.

That solves one problem. That helps us do things like publish this, so we can say this is what the commission has said. But I think equally and importantly, it will provide the structure formally by which we will build the agency's preferred Strategic Plan on and deliver it to you soon. Instead of giving you an entire Strategic Plan that's been written and tweaked and massaged and say here, we hope you adopt this, we at least would have adopted the outline for it before we get to that point.

And it would be our four goals: reduce congestion, enhance safety, expand economic opportunity, improve air quality, and increase the value of our transportation assets. We've said that over and over again. It almost seems kind of silly to ask for a vote on this because we've said it so much, but we do need to do that.

And in support of these goals, we'd like to muddle in there these four fundamental strategies: use all financial options to build transportation projects, empower local and regional leaders to solve local and regional transportation problems, increase competitive pressure to drive down the cost of transportation projects, and demand consumer-driven decisions that respond to traditional market forces.

There is a minute order before the commission asking that you adopt these, and once that's finished, there's an ancillary issue about discussing the gas tax and what the rate would need to be meet our $86 billion. I'm not requesting a vote on that but just guidance and general understanding of how the agency will talk about the gas tax when asked. We can get to that after we wrap up the discussion on the Strategic Plan goals and strategies. And I'll take any questions if you might have them.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Members, you've heard Coby's explanation of the minute order. Do you have discussion? Do I have a motion?

MR. HOUGHTON: So moved.

MS. ANDRADE: Second.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I have a motion and a second. All those in favor of the motion will signify by saying aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: All opposed, no.

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Motion carries. Thank you.

MR. CHASE: Thank you.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Now what was it about the gas tax?

MR. CHASE: About the gas tax, what is interesting and having been in this occupation for quite a long time, we are called upon many, many times to ask what the gas should be or what the gas tax could be or if the gas tax is raised what would happen. The agency has very clearly established there's an $86 billion target, and that the assumption upon which ‑‑ you don't have to vote on it, just tell me that's fine and we can change it later if we need to ‑‑ but I have five assumptions that we base why the gas tax should be $1.40, and Chairman Williamson testified to that with the Texas Study Commission on Transportation Finance. I'd like to just get a recognition from the commission that that is how we should portray how far you'd have to raise the gas tax to reach that $86 billion goal.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Well, I think that the $86 billion is our best estimate of the gap between the cost inflated for the CPI over the next 24 years of all of the transportation projects of which we are aware or which we can project that would be necessary to reduce congestion, improve air quality, provide economic opportunity, preserve our asset value, or make things safer.

When taking the forecast amount of revenue from all of our sources ‑‑ that being the gasoline tax, the motor vehicle registration fee, federal reimbursements, and all other manners of revenue that flow into our hands ‑‑ and then deducting disbursements that were constitutionally or statutorily or regulatorily can project will occur, $86 billion ‑‑ and netting that back for cash ‑‑ is the magic number.

So when we talk to our transportation partners when we see Gary Bushell and we see Mr. Burleson and Mr. Allex in the RMA world and we say we've got to do enough money to do not much of our projects, we're $86 billion short by 2030, that's what we mean. And we understand that $86 billion can go up and go down with inflation, with technological innovation, with changing housing patterns, with changing population patterns, we understand that.

And we understand that ten years from now the legislature might look back and say, Hell, you didn't need $86 billion, you only needed $40 billion. Well, you're right, and we didn't realize that gasoline was going to go to $9 a gallon and people would start living in the city again and we didn't need so many highways, we couldn't project that in 2006.

But if you ask us ‑‑ which they did ‑‑ to project today what does it take by 2030 to build our way out of the problems we've set up for ourselves and the population increases that are coming, our answer is $86 billion generally is the gap.

And then when asked what it takes to do the gasoline tax to pay for all that, it's just a simple calculation. I think, as Steve Simmons said last night, it might be $1.32 next year, depending on how the economy changes. It could be $1.21 depending on how many projects drop off the list as the price of gasoline goes up. It could be $1.90 depending upon how the federal government redefines the Clean Air Program. But I'm comfortable with a buck forty and I'm comfortable with $86 billion.

Mike have you got anybody on your staff that wants to elaborate?

MR. BEHRENS: I might let Amadeo comment. I know he was involved in some of those calculations.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I think what you're asking for, Coby, is: Commission, clearly this is what we hang our hats on.

MR. CHASE: Right, and then the assumptions that we used in your testimony to calculate that number, knowing that they change from time and again. But from a little bit of a selfish standpoint, we publish things and put it in front of the public and say it's a dollar amount and so forth and so on, and we kind of keep using the same assumptions unless something really ‑‑ you don't vote on it because all of a sudden we lock in all of our ‑‑

MR. WILLIAMSON: Yes, Richard Monroe would probably come out of his chair if we started voting on the gas tax rate.

MR. CHASE: Right, and he would have a full recovery and strangle me.

(General laughter.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Amadeo, do we feel comfortable sitting on these numbers?

MR. SAENZ: I feel comfortable.

MR. CHASE: Unless there are any questions, that's all the direction I need.

MR. WILLIAMSON: You got it from the Hebronville Hero himself.

MR. CHASE: Apparently so.

MR. HOUGHTON: One thing I think, Coby and James, we do need ‑‑ and the chairman mentioned it ‑‑ was of that $450 million that we're lopping off, the pro rata to each district ‑‑ we've got to make it personal to them ‑‑ when they see $450-, they say, Huh, doesn't sound like it's going to affect me any.

MR. CHASE: And we learned last legislative session, the mere absence of $200 million can shut down quite a bit.

MR. HOUGHTON: Yes, and I think that's important that we start planning that process today to say that reduction takes Loop 375 project out of El Paso, or some other project ‑‑ I'm picking on El Paso because it's easy ‑‑ or some other project in Houston or Dallas or even in the Valley here, and we've got to get people inside to go in the same direction.

And I really believe ‑‑ and again, I just don't know if it's even possible to get some folks focused in on any increase in the gas tax has got to be leveraged. That, we've talked about, is new money, and we're looking for all of those pots of new money.

MR. CHASE: I think just running the calculations and those scenarios and in the context of possible legislative proposals, I think we can do that very easily with James and others.

MR. HOUGHTON: Absolutely.

MR. CHASE: I think so too. And the $400 million hit, however much it was the comptroller said, that's on top of just a recent federal rescission that we just got another one.

MR. HOUGHTON: That's on top of.

MR. CHASE: Yes. It's another 90-some-odd.

That's all I have. Thank you.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Anything else, members?

MR. HOUGHTON: No.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you, Mr. Coby.

MR. BEHRENS: We'll go to agenda item number 5 in which we have two rules for final adoption. The first one, agenda item 5(a), concerns our motor carrier operations. Carol Davis, please.

MS. DAVIS: Good afternoon. For the record, I'm Carol Davis, Motor Carrier Division director.

The final adoption package you have before you contains amendments to Chapter 18 concerning motor carriers and vehicle storage facilities. These amendments incorporate new vehicle storage facility requirements concerning fees, proof of ownership, notification, and acceptable forms of payment. They also incorporate modified liability insurance levels for certain commercial school buses and modify alternative motor carrier registration based on vehicle weight for household goods carriers.

The proposed amendments were published in the December 2, 2005 issue of the Texas Register and posted on TxDOT's website. The public comment period for the proposed amendments ended on January and four comments from two associations were received. Two of those comments were incorporated into the final adoption package.

As you know, additional comments were received at the February and March commission meetings, and our MCD staff members have worked extensively with that commenter, who I believe is here today, to address his concerns regarding auto liability insurance and other issues.

Based on those comments and the statutory requirements passed during the 79th Session, we are recommending moving forward on the changes with the exception of the auto liability insurance requirement, and those amendments have been withdrawn. MCD will hold a public hearing on the auto liability insurance issue and at a later date proposed related amendments based on input received at that hearing.

And at this time we are recommending approval of the amended sections.

MS. ANDRADE: Commissioner Houghton, before we move forward, we've got a citizen to be heard. Mr. Johnson?

MR. HOUGHTON: Could we have a palace coup at this time, or do we have enough votes?

MR. BEHRENS: We don't have enough votes.

MR. ROD JOHNSON: Good afternoon ‑‑ I would say Chairman Williamson, but he's gone ‑‑ members of the commission. My name is Rod Johnson, I'm president of a small local moving company called The Apartment Movers. We move people out of one apartment into another apartment. We use regular pickup trucks that are owned by independent contractors and they pull small trailers that are owned by us.

In Texas there are two classes of household goods movers: Class A, the large van lines using big semi trucks, over 26,000 pounds, generally long haul; and Class B, small local movers using small box trucks or pickup trucks, like we use, that are considerably under 26,000 pounds.

House Bill 2702 removed the distinction between Class A and Class B; it did not remove the insurance rate differential and it did not set new minimum insurance limits for any weight class; it did not give Texas DOT the authority to set any limits higher than the current standards; it did remove the requirement for any further study of insurance requirements for household goods movers. Why? Because the study has already been done.

Vernon's Civil Statute, Senate Bill 370, House Bill 1418 created regulations for all household goods carriers. These statutes required a study be conducted to determine the different insurance level for vehicles over or under 26,000 pounds. This applied to all household goods carriers. House Bill 2702 removed the requirement to conduct any further studies. TxDOT conducted that study in 1998 based on the current insurance requirements on that study.

Late yesterday I finally obtained that study. I have presented that study to the commission today. Here are some of the findings of that Texas DOT study titled Texas Department of Transportation Household Goods Carrier Advisory Committee Vehicle Liability Insurance Study.

Quote, "As with any vehicle operated over the public roads, streets or highways of Texas, the owner of the vehicle is responsible for complying with the Texas Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibilities Act." I do not own those pickup trucks.

Quote, "Texas DOT may not have the statutory authority to require vehicle liability insurance higher than those specified in Transportation Code Chapter 601, as explained in Exhibit 1."

Quote, "Additionally, the committee considers the feasibility necessary of holding the Class B, under 26,000 pounds, to a higher standard than the minimum vehicle liability requirements. The committee did not find any evidence indicating that vehicles operated by Type B, under 26,000 pounds, household goods carriers pose any different danger than any other vehicle under 26,000 pounds."

Texas DOT asked the DPS, Texas DOT asked the Federal Highway Administration, Texas DOT asked the United States Department of Transportation. No one could find any greater risk for small trucks or small box trucks.

Again quote, "We can interpret the lack of specific authority within the statute as an indication that Texas DOT has not authorized the legislature to establish vehicle liability insurance for the Type B household goods carriers for vehicles under 26,000 pounds."

Continuing to quote, "The committee recommends that the vehicle liability insurance limits apply consistently within similar weight classes of commercial vehicles, with the exception of vehicles operated by tow truck operators, hazardous materials transporters, and for motor carriers."

Those were all set out by the legislature, they're in statute.

Again quote, "We believe the minimum vehicle liability insurance limits specified in Transportation Code Chapter 601 is appropriate for Type B household goods carriers unless the legislature has the desire to review the vehicle liability requirements for all commercial vehicles."

Again quoting, "In the future, the committee recommends any increased limits should be established by the legislature in the Transportation Code, or the legislature should authorize Texas DOT to establish the increased limits through the Administrative Code." That has not happened, to my knowledge.

Again quoting, "If the legislature wants increased vehicle liability limits, then Vernon's Civil Statutes, Article 66758 would need clarification as to Texas DOT's authority to establish the increased limits."

Exhibit 1 answered two questions directly, quote, "Can the Texas DOT create rules to require Type B carriers, vehicles under 26,000 pounds, to carry or file proof of insurance limits other than 20-40-15." Answer: "No."

And I continue to quote, "Texas DOT has no inherent authority, only statutory authority. There is no statutory authority authorizing Texas DOT to require any carrier to carry or file insurance. Instead, Article 6675 and the Transportation Code laws created by the legislature specifically outline when and to what extent insurance levels may be set forth by Texas DOT." That's your school buses, your tow trucks, your HAZMAT, and that has not changed.

The bill's author, the clerk for the House Transportation Committee failed to come forth to refute any of these findings.

There were minority comments. Quote, "In closing, my colleagues on the committee should be commended for their work on the committee's document as there is much of it that is right on target. They arrived at their conclusions with thought, deliberation and insight." That's a dissenting opinion.

I respectfully submit that by Texas DOT's own study, Texas DOT lacks the statutory authority to set minimum liability auto insurance limits without specific legislature authority to set minimum limits. Texas DOT insurance requirements have repeatedly in this study and elsewhere, been recommended by Texas DOT to be referred back to the legislature for clarification if the legislature decides.

I respectfully request that the committee refer House Bill 2702, Article 6 back to the next legislature for debate, modification, clarification, if they see fit.

Thank you.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Now, Rod, I want to be sure I understand ‑‑

MR. ROD JOHNSON: Pardon?

MR. WILLIAMSON: I want to be sure I understand. what's before us right now is 5(a). Is that correct? Does 5(a) have anything to do with his insurance concerns?

MS. DAVIS: Out of the final package we've taken the liability insurance requirements out of those. We will be holding a public hearing on that issue and will propose rules at a later date on that particular piece.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Okay. And so Rod, you're just reinforcing that this is a good decision we've made.

MR. ROD JOHNSON: I'm reinforcing there's no statutory authority. With due respect, what you did last meeting was absolutely what needed to be done. I don't see in what I'm reading here that there's any statutory authority going forward for the Texas DOT, with all respect, to set any higher minimum standards than what's already there.

MR. WILLIAMSON: So that would be an argument you'll offer for the public hearing that's going to come up. Correct?

MR. ROD JOHNSON: I certainly will continue on with that argument.

MR. WILLIAMSON: But I don't want to interpret ‑‑ I know you marked "On" on the card, but you don't see anything in this 5(a) that gets back to the meeting of a month ago where you were so eloquent in explaining the problem?

MR. ROD JOHNSON: Honestly, I got that day before yesterday and it's 150 pages long. I stayed up most of the night and tried to read it and comprehend it.

MR. WILLIAMSON: But you don't think that our employees would lie to you?

MR. ROD JOHNSON: Absolutely not.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I mean, they'd be lying to us and they don't do that.

MR. ROD JOHNSON: Not knowingly, anyway. I believe that some people have some misunderstandings, but I think that's clarified in this report that was done in depth and it's quite a document. And it's prohibited ‑‑ not prohibited, that's not correct ‑‑ there no longer a requirement to do another study, they took that out specifically of 2702, they struck it out the requirement to do any further study of liability requirements.

MR. HOUGHTON: That's your opinion. We're going to do the hearings, we're going to do public input now.

MR. WILLIAMSON: It would be your position at the public hearing that there's no inherent authority, it might be someone else's opinion ‑‑ in fact, I think Carol needs to share with us what she thinks it is.

MR. HOUGHTON: Right.

MR. WILLIAMSON: If you want to do that, please go ahead. Although, I don't want to drag out 5(a) by having a discussion on this.

MS. DAVIS: Right. You can take this report which was done in 1998 and there's been a couple of sessions since then, and take out pieces of it, but if you read it in context, there are other pieces like on page 2, "The committee is concerned about non-compliance with auto liability requirements by Type B carriers. The Department of Insurance and the insurance industry has confirmed and suggested that a form of commercial vehicle insurance would be appropriate rather than the personal liability policy."

Also, our authority ‑‑ and Richard could probably talk more about this ‑‑ our authority for setting insurance limits, we didn't have any explicit authority for Type B prior to 2702, we had explicit authority for other carriers that weren't Type B carriers, and there was a maximum of what we could set it at.

Well, the Type B carriers are gone. House Bill 2702 removed that distinction between carriers, so one would assume that that ability to set those limits would apply to all household goods carriers.

MS. ANDRADE: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank our staff for going back and researching and listening and exploring and doing everything else, and I think we've asked them to do this twice and I'm ready to move forward with their recommendation.

MR. WILLIAMSON: And Rod, just be sure to go to the public hearing because we have a continuing interest in not putting small business out of work.

MR. ROD JOHNSON: I appreciate that. If I could make a little short comment, in the preamble, the last preamble there was a statement that there would be no impact on small businesses, I believe also on small minority businesses. You'll notice in the current preamble it's gone and it never was done, they never did a study on small minority businesses, they never did one, and we asked for it in writing and never got it.

MR. WILLIAMSON: We do appreciate your bird-dogging this issue for us. Citizens like you help us make better decisions.

MR. ROD JOHNSON: And people like you make it a better state.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you. That's kind of you.

MR. ROD JOHNSON: Well, it's true. Some very flattering things have been said about all of you, specifically yourself.

MR. WILLIAMSON: We appreciate that, and we're going to get the insurance thing worked out one way or the other.

And Carol, what we're fixing to consider, there's nothing in here that should affect what we understand to be his concerns about the insurance?

MS. DAVIS: Nothing about insurance.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Members, do you have other questions of staff?

MR. HOUGHTON: So moved.

MS. ANDRADE: Second.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I have a motion and a second. All in favor of the motion, signify by saying aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: All opposed, no.

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Motion carries. Thank you.

We look forward to seeing you again, Buddy. We know you'll help us.

MR. BEHRENS: We'll go to agenda item 5(b), another rule for final adoption. This is concerning state participation in toll-related relocations concerning right of way. John Campbell.

MR. CAMPBELL: Good afternoon. For the record, my name is John Campbell, director of the Right of Way Division.

I'd like to present for your consideration item 5(b) which provides for the final adoption of amendments to 43 Texas Administrative Code, Section 21.23 concerning state participation in utility adjustments made on toll-related projects.

The amendment is made necessary in order to implement the requirements of House Bill 2702 of the 79th Legislative Regular Session in 2005. This amendment provides for the department and utilities affected by toll-related state highway projects to equally share the costs of utility adjustments made prior to September 1, 2007. It also establishes procedures concerning the reimbursement for those. The new Section 21.23 requires the utility to enter into an agreement with the department prior to commencing the utility work.

These rules were presented for proposed adoption at the January 26 commission meeting and no comments were received before the deadline of March 13, 2006, and staff recommends your approval.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Now, did you notice the way he said that, that no comments were received before, so what was received after the deadline?

MR. CAMPBELL: There was one comment that was received the day after the filing deadline and the comment reflected a misunderstanding of the impact of the law. We prepared a department response to the comment.

MR. WILLIAMSON: And did the commenter seem satisfied?

MR. CAMPBELL: So far we have not heard anything back.

MR. WILLIAMSON: So far.

MS. ANDRADE: I'm just so glad we responded after they submitted after the deadline, so thank you for doing that.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Such precision in your employees, Mr. Behrens.

Okay, members, you've heard the staff recommendation and explanation.

MR. HOUGHTON: So moved.

MS. ANDRADE: Second.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I have a motion and a second. All those in favor of the motion will signify by saying aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: All opposed, no.

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Motion carries. Thank you.

MR. BEHRENS: Item number 6 is under Transportation Planning and Programming. This concerns a proposal to Hays County and the City of Buda to construct some new facilities on the system in their area, and Jim Randall will lay that out for you.

MR. RANDALL: Good afternoon, commissioners. Jim Randall, director of Transportation Planning and Programming Division.

Item 6, this minute order tenders a proposal from the City of Buda and Hays County to construct a new location facility on the state highway system from I-35 to State Highway 45, realign FM 2001, and construct interchanges at I-35 and FM 2001 and at I-35 and Main Street.

Both the city and the county have considerable interest in the development of these projects. This area is becoming increasingly urbanized and experiencing rapid development. The proposed projects will provide for improved north-south mobility by enhancing utilization of the State Highway 45 and the State Highway 130 toll roads. In addition, the projects for safer improved access to area developments and facilitate incident management along I-35.

The proposed projects consist of four elements: number one, upgrades to the I-35 overpass road interchange, number two, the realignment of FM 2001; three, the construction of the I-35 and Main Street interchange; and four, the construction of an eastern Main Street extension to State Highway 45.

The city and county will be responsible for all costs associated with these projects except for the construction cost of the two interchanges and 90 percent of the right of way and utility relocation costs associated with the I-35/Main Street interchange. In addition, the department will agree to take the newly constructed Main Street extension onto the state highway system and the county will agree to accept the abandoned alignment of FM 2001.

The estimated cost to the department is $22.4 million, and the costs to the city and county are $23.2 million. If agreed to by the city and county, the local governments will submit a SIB loan to the department not to exceed $15 million for the construction of the Main Street extension project.

Staff recommends approval of this minute order.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Amadeo, is this part of our large transaction we've got going with Hays County, or is this different?

MR. SAENZ: This is different.

MR. WILLIAMSON: What's to be gained ‑‑ how does this reduce congestion on the state system?

MR. SAENZ: It will reduce congestion on 35. By building Main Street, you will be able to feed that whole area that's developing around the Cabela's and provide them direct access. Instead of going up 35 and getting 45, they can take Main Street back over that way.

MR. WILLIAMSON: So it will take congestion off of 35, local road congestion.

MR. SAENZ: Local road congestion off of 35.

MR. WILLIAMSON: How does this enhance safety?

MR. SAENZ: Safety in that in the interchanges we're putting a turn-around. It also reduces traffic, it will reduce congestion. By reduced congestion on 35, we have a safer facility. We're moving them over to a separate facility that's built with adequate capacity that we're able to address both of them.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I'm sure we can quantify the reduced congestion, but can we quantify the enhanced safety? Not yet because we're still polishing our indexes?

MR. SAENZ: We have them already and I can run those for you. It will be a reduction in traffic on 35; based on the reduction in traffic, we'll see a reduction in accidents.

MR. WILLIAMSON: There's not an economic opportunity component here because it's already there, or is there?

MR. SAENZ: Well, the economic opportunity in that you're opening a corridor on Main Street to connect to 45 southeast that's under construction that connects to the 130 toll road.

MR. WILLIAMSON: So it is economic opportunity for the tax base of that city, county and school district.

MR. SAENZ: Yes, sir.

MR. WILLIAMSON: And it's also going to be some access to our 45 toll road.

MR. SAENZ: It provides access to our 45 toll road. Main Street provides new access to our 45 toll road, provides economic opportunity, it will reduce traffic congestion on 35, improve safety on both of the facilities. The 2001 project is just a realignment, it provides for a much better connection and circulation in the area of the Cabela's, and so now we're able to address and space the two interchanges on 35 at better distances than how they were connected before, so that's another safety improvement element. And of course, relocation of 2001 will add some additional economic opportunity. Also, we're removing that one sharp curve so we also have enhanced safety on 2002.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Okay, Jim. Members, you've heard the staff's explanation and recommendation.

MR. HOUGHTON: So moved.

MS. ANDRADE: Second.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I have a motion and a second. All those in favor of the motion will signify by saying aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: All opposed, no.

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Motion carries. Thank you.

MR. SAENZ: To add to that, if you look at it, it's a joint venture between the county and the city and TxDOT, and they're almost equally spending money to address congestion problems for that whole area.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Well, I just want us to be sure ‑‑ you know, we have to put our litmus test on every project, not just the ones that ‑‑ we're sitting here in Brownsville and there's about 15 projects like this in Brownsville they'd probably like to pursue and they need to hear that we use a certain value set for every project.

Okay, Phillip.

MR. BEHRENS: Agenda item number 7, these are toll road project recommendations in those minute orders. The first one is 7(a) for Cameron County, and this is a request from the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority to have the department help them with some toll equity. Phillip?

MR. RUSSELL: Thanks, Mike. Good afternoon, commissioners and Roger. For the record, I'm Phillip Russell and I'm the director of the Turnpike Division.

As Mike just laid out, we recently received a request for financial assistance from the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority. The request originally had asked for about $41 million for two projects: one is the West Loop ‑‑ that I think Mario may have talked a bit about in his district presentation ‑‑ from 83/77 all the way down to Palm Boulevard, as well as a second causeway connection.

The requested work is fairly straightforward development work, engineering, environmental. There were a couple of little elements in there that we thought were probably a bit premature, right of way acquisition and some relocation dollars, so through some discussions between my office, Mr. Saenz, the district and the RMA, we've been able to refine that back to what you see before you which is a request for $21.6 million that would be in the form of a loan, and again, we've taken out that right of way and relocation assistance scope.

So of course, on a request like this it's a two-stage process; this is the first, the preliminary request. And so staff would recommend approval of this financial request.

MR. WILLIAMSON: And there's nothing about this approach that's markedly different from the way we've dealt with Bexar County, Central Texas?

MR. RUSSELL: Absolutely not.

MR. WILLIAMSON: That same basic approach. Everybody in the state gets treated the same way.

MR. RUSSELL: Yes, sir.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Okay. Well, we have some witnesses, and poor David has sat back there and taken the brunt of two of my jokes and waited all morning long to get to this point, and I apologize, but believe it or not, we're running ahead of a normal TxDOT meeting schedule, we're going to be out of here before the sun goes down.

MR. ALLEX: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I do have a short presentation, Pete and I will. But I think it's important that I bring before you the six members of the Cameron County Regional Board of Directors that have been sitting here since nine o'clock for this to come up. So I'm going to introduce them to you. They're not going to talk, they're just going to come up here and stand with me because they're my partners in crime ‑‑ I guess you could call it that.

I'll start out with a new judge, Cameron County Court at Law elect, Laura Bettencourt; retired county judge and now business associate, Ray Ramon; transportation specialist, David Garza ‑‑ these are their specialities in their private lives; real estate developer, Scott Campbell; financial expert, Michael Skief; and the man of the cloth that prays for us to keep us out of trouble, Dr. Victor Alvarez.

And ladies and gentlemen, this is your Cameron County Regional Board of Directors.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Well, first of all we've got to give them a hand.

(Applause.)

MR. ALLEX: I'm most proud of these individuals because of the time they have spent, they dedication to the job at hand, and their vision of the future. I'd like to thank the Cameron County Commissioners Court also for appointing these fine people because evidently they knew what I was getting and I appreciate it.

In the last 15 months of our existence, we have had 17 regular and special meetings with almost 100 percent participation. Some came late, some left early, but we had them all there at one time every time. We made ten major decisions, unanimously, on all of the items that we had. We have presented our goals and objectives to all the major cities in Cameron County, chambers of commerce, economic development corporations. We have made three presentations to the governor of the State of Tamaulipas, we've made presentations to the mayors of Matamoros and Reynosa, and numerous other meetings with your staff here at Pharr and in Austin.

I especially want to recognize Mario and Amadeo for the help that they have given us in this organization time period. Without their help, we would have been lost.

Everybody has been talking about population but I with population, that's my job. I'm not a demographer but I work with the market, that's my job. And if you visualize the Rio Grande Valley and northern Mexico as an oval that starts at Padre Island and goes to Rio Grande City which is 80 miles long ‑‑ and these guys always get on me when I do my presentation, but that's all right ‑‑ and it's 60 miles wide, visualize that oval. And in that oval there are 4 million people, and the only thing that divides those 4 million people is a street with water in it.

I don't have to tell two of you commissioners what relationship we have on this side of the border with our friends, our business partners, our families on the other side of the river. Four million people right now; 14 years from now by the year of 2020, based on my projections and based on Mexico's projections, there will be 10 million people in that same oval.

Now, I can't tell you what kind of dynamic effect that's going to have on the transportation infrastructure in the Rio Grande Valley and Cameron and Hidalgo counties.

I'm especially pleased today ‑‑ and he's stuck with us here, you've already met him, the chairman of the Hidalgo County RMA, Dennis Burleson ‑‑ and it's really unique because we've had about three meetings together at lunch, in the morning at breakfast, talking about the issues of Hidalgo and Cameron counties, and it's really unique and I'm real proud to say that he shares the same vision that we do in Cameron County about making these two counties one single economic unit, transportation-wise, economic development-wise.

So we've got a partnership here that we can grow on and work on. We both the mayors of both Reynosa and Matamoros, they want to work with us also. So this is a unique relationship that we're dealing with in the RMAs on the border in that the engine that fuels our economy is Mexico, and so we've got to look at that when we start developing our own plans and specifications.

In fact, we were sitting there back in the back trying to figure out ways we could tap into some other markets, and I ask you and I ask your legislative people, how can the RMAs help pay for more of these developments on 77, 281 and 83 as they come into the Valley. There's got to be some other areas out there that we can get into.

And you talked about your gasoline tax. One cent ‑‑ I forgot what you said, Ted, $1 billion was what one cent was, or something like that?

MR. WILLIAMSON: One cent, $100 million.

MR. HOUGHTON: $100 million.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Statewide.

MR. ALLEX: Pete and I will take some of that and we'll do something with it, we'll make it work for you, I promise.

So I think it's important that we have this kind of camaraderie here in the Valley. You saw it earlier in the day, we all got in the same boat and we're all going in the same direction to try to get an interstate to the Rio Grande Valley. We've got the same thing with the two RMAs, and it's going to be exciting five, ten, fifteen years out.

So here we are. Our goals and ambitions are simple: to build a great urban society here in South Texas, giving all of our citizens an equal opportunity to be gainfully employed, jobs, jobs, jobs. We have a high unemployment but we have a more serious under-employment. We have 40 to 50 percent of our people working today have good work ethics, they have families, both husband and wife are working, and they want new jobs, they want jobs that are better paying. So our under-employment is just about as serious as our unemployment ‑‑ in fact, it's worse.

We're going to do all those things, and as the chairman said last night, you ain't seen nothin' yet, I promise you that. And so we've got effective mobility, we've got economic growth, and I want to do some magic for a few minutes, what you'll see on television in the next four or five years.

(Whereupon, a video was shown.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Bravo. That's great.

(Applause.)

MR. ALLEX: And I would be remiss if I didn't say that the people that put this all together basically are these six members right here. They're great people, and that's all I'm going to say.

Pete, come on up here.

MR. WILLIAMSON: That was pretty slick.

MR. HOUGHTON: Well done, Pete.

MR. SEPULVEDA: Mr. Chairman, commissioners, Mr. Behrens. Thank you for the opportunity to be here with you today. I have a real short power point just to give you an idea of what we've done the last 14 months to get to this point.

The purpose of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority is to respond to both the changes taking place in transportation management in Texas, as well as the exciting growth and economic possibilities in Cameron County. I'm happy to report there's much to which to respond.

We in the Valley like to say, As goes the economy of the Valley, so goes Texas. Never before in history has this been truer. As a result of NAFTA and other exciting economic changes, the Valley is more vibrant and exciting than ever before. However, that same vibrancy means that we must stay on top of the infrastructure needs of the area or the Valley, and therefore all of Texas, will be negatively impacted.

These changes mean that a whole new responsibility for the mobility needs of Cameron County and the economics of good transportation planning now reside with the local governments and local citizens of our area. However, this also means that the responsibility for funding mobility needs also rests squarely with the citizens of our county.

The Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority is the organization that's taken responsibility for funding mobility projects in our area. It's a large task that lies before us, but on behalf of the board and the staff of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority, we accept the responsibility and the challenge.

We've taken many critical steps towards organizing our agency to fulfill this responsibility. We had our very first regional mobility authority meeting on the 25th of February of 2005. In subsequent meetings we adopted bylaws, we finalized and adopted procurement procedures, we issued a conflict of interest policy to our consultants, we wrote a disadvantaged business enterprise policy statement, and we wrote a drug and alcohol policy.

There's two major milestones that we feel paved the way for us to be here before you today. The first one occurred on the 12th of January when the RMA board of directors unanimously selected the firm of Instala [phonetic] Hinojosa to be a financial advisor for the RMA. The second one came on the 23rd of January when again the board of directors unanimously selected the firm of HNTB to be the general engineering consultant for the RMA. On the 16th of February, the board unanimously approved a contract with HNTB and on the 1st of March, two weeks later, we submitted two toll equity grant applications to the district engineer in Pharr and to the Texas Turnpike Authority.

This is some of the projects that we're working on. The first project is the West Loop project. The West Loop project is about an eight-mile stretch of road that will add about a 40,000 vehicle a day capacity to the city of Brownsville in an area that desperately needs access. A byproduct of this project is the West Rail Relocation project where we will relocate the existing main through-line of Union Pacific away from the downtown area in Brownsville and Matamoros and locate it to a more rural area in the city of Brownsville. The second project we're working on is a second causeway project that would liken the town of South Padre Island with the city of Port Isabel.

Both of these projects, Mr. Russell mentioned earlier, are on the agenda. On the West Loop project we're requesting financial assistance so we can do environmental analysis and we can do preliminary engineering. The second causeway project, also requesting financial assistance so that we can do preliminary engineering and traffic and revenue studies.

In addition to these two projects, we've also sat down with your local TxDOT office and identified nine different pass-through financing projects that hopefully in the next couple of months we'll come back before you and bring those projects before you.

The other project we're working on is the North Rail Relocation project. This project involves the relocation of the main through Union Pacific line that goes through downtown Harlingen and San Benito. The idea is to relocate the line away from the urban area to a rural area, eliminate 80 at-grade crossings, and have much safer and less congested areas in Harlingen and San Benito.

A different project within the same project is the potential relocation of the switch yard in downtown Harlingen to the switch yard in Olmito.

Along with this project, we're also involved in the FM 509 Loop project. FM 509 begins at the Free Trade Bridge at Los Indios, it goes north between the communities of Harlingen and San Benito, and it ends in the industrial park area of the city of Harlingen right by Valley International Airport. What we're considering doing is taking that road, go about 17-18 miles to the north, and align it with the loop that's coming from Hidalgo County which would then allow us to have access from our international bridge up to Expressway 77 and into Hidalgo County.

What we're trying to do here is establish a transportation corridor that has the rail component and has the highway component, and we're trying to clear the project environmentally so that we can begin with the rail relocation and the construction of the loop.

We've got partners on this project, we've got Cameron County, we've got the City of Harlingen, the City of San Benito, and obviously the Union Pacific Railroad. The rail relocation project, we've got earmarked funds that we're utilizing to do technical studies. The FM 509 project, Cameron County is providing the funding to advance that project.

Now, Cameron County ‑‑ and you've heard it before and I'll mention it one more time ‑‑ we have an excellent, excellent working relationship with your district office in Pharr. About ten years ago, the citizens of Cameron County passed a bond, about $9-1/2 million. The idea was to leverage that money, do technical studies, advance projects so that TxDOT could then step in and take over the project and do construction. Of the $9-1/2 million that the voters authorized, we've spent about $6 million and we have gotten in return from TxDOT over $150 million worth of construction. So I tell you, that's a pretty investment for our money.

Action items that we have, two different ones. The first one is a strategic plan. We have completed the first draft of the strategic plan which includes a mission statement with an emphasis on economic development, strong relationships including international relationships, local leadership, local business resources, technical excellence, ethical business practices, increasing safety in our transportation system, assessing federal, state and other funding mechanisms.

We've set eight goals that we want to achieve between the year 2007 and the year 2011. We also have a statement about our commitment to transportation partnerships.

We're also working on a public involvement plan. Phase one would include issue identification through key person interviews, spokesperson training, materials development, database development, in preparation for a two-way communication program that will give everyone in Cameron County an opportunity to participate in the process.

Now, what's our promise to Cameron County? The Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority will make significant contributions to a high quality of life by providing our residents, businesses and state, national and international visitors with effective accelerated mobility improvements to encourage economic development in South Texas.

The Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority will see local leadership, management and local business resources to build transportation projects sooner, providing alternatives that will save time, increasing safety for the local traveling public, and creating a more pleasing destination for business and leisure travelers which supports job creation.

The Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority will work in conjunction with state, federal and local planning and funding organizations to develop a strategy and plan to generate revenue for maintaining and improving the total transportation system.

What do we envision? The achievement of an efficient, locally managed, world-class regional mobility organization that supports economic development, facilitates life-saving medical and emergency services, and promotes the overall quality of life in our region.

The resourceful use of federal, state and other funding mechanisms that maximizes local business resources to prevent congestion, improve and maintain transportation assets, reduce commute time during peak hours, protect natural resources, and encourage business and tourist travel.

The development of a customer-focused, market-driven mobility organization, utilizing local leadership, technical excellence, ethical business practices, and two-way communication with our public to build a transportation system that inspires creativity and encourages social and business interaction for the benefit of the region.

What are our next steps? As we work through each goal over the coming months and years, we will partner with the general public, other transportation agencies, area elected officials, economic development experts and many more to make sure we provide innovative regional solutions to our new mobility challenges. In doing this, we will enhance the economic vitality of life in South Texas which will positively affect our ability to compete in the state, national and global marketplace.

The last slide is a map showing the different projects we're working on. We've got nine different pass-through toll projects within the county: we've got two or three in Brownsville, one or two in the Harlingen-San Benito area, we've got a project in the La Feria area.

The next project is the West Loop project study area. That project will occur when the project is environmentally cleared and the rail is relocated. We also have the North Loop project that begins at the International Bridge and goes to the north and will eventually connect to the loop coming from Hidalgo County. We've got the rail relocation project, and then a long-term outer loop in Cameron County, and then of course, we have the second causeway corridor study area between South Padre Island and Port Isabel.

We also have the Valley International Airport in Harlingen, we've got the Cameron County Airport, and we've got the Brownsville Navigation District, the Port of Brownsville, we've got the Harlingen Port, and then we've got the Port Isabel-San Benito Navigation District.

Mr. Chairman, commissioners, Mr. Behrens, thank you for the opportunity, and this concludes my presentation.

MR. ALLEX: We tried to make it as fast as possible. I promise we won't do it at the next meeting, we just wanted to give you a real quick overview of where we're going.

MR. WILLIAMSON: It's long today, but we stay long at these meetings. We feel worse that you have to wait so long to get to us, but you take as long as you need to make your presentation. It's pretty fast-moving, kind of takes your breath away. That's a good job, Pete.

MR. ALLEX: Thank you very much. I appreciate the time you've given us and the work you're doing to promote jobs in this great state of Texas.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Well, no doubt Ted and Hope have something to add to this, but we're pretty pleased with the progress your RMA in particular is making, because I knew it from almost we're not going to do that to we can do that. You took off like a rocket. That's always pleasing to us.

Go ahead, Ted.

MR. HOUGHTON: Well, to coin the saying, you've come a long way, baby, in a very short period of time. And I've had the opportunity of working with all of you, and Pete, what a dynamic individual. I look forward to always somebody lurking back there in the background doing a lot of different things. I commend all the members of the board.

And with that, Pete, you get the other side of it too. Remember there's no sacred cows out there, we've got to bring them all in. Right?

Thanks a lot. Congratulations.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Hope?

MS. ANDRADE: I'm just so proud of you. I still remember when I first met you, David, and I didn't realize what a lead position you would take in transportation, but thank you for doing that. And it's great to see all of the board here.

I have to ask you, what are you doing, what efforts are you making in reaching out to the community and educating them on what you're doing? Any public education?

MR. SEPULVEDA: We're working on phase one of the public involvement plan; phase two will be just that, going out, reaching out to the community. We've done a little bit of that, we've gone to the Rotary Clubs, we've gone to the economic development corporations, we've gone to the chambers of commerce. But before we begin our first project, we want to make sure we've got a solid public involvement plan in place and take that to the community so that we can be prepared once we start going to public meetings and public hearings on some of those projects.

MS. ANDRADE: Does the community understand what you're trying to do and is it positive feedback?

MR. SEPULVEDA: Absolutely. To this point I have to say that they do and we have support from major cities and smaller cities in the county. We even have financial support from some of those cities and we're still working on that with a couple of other cities and economic development corporations.

MS. ANDRADE: That's great. Congratulations. You should be celebrating.

MR. ALLEX: It's kind of our philosophy that if you dream, you can do it. Well, we're going to dream but we're going to do it also.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Well, you know, it's kind of interesting because what I've seen in my two days in Brownsville this trip is something that Ted has been telling me about for a while. We've thought for several years that the triangle I talked to Judy about, Brownsville to Corpus Christi, across to Laredo and back, is probably going to be the center of economic development in the state. We believe San Antonio is destined to be sort of the economic activity center of the state, but that little triangle on the tip of Texas, we weren't real sure that you realized what was fixing to happen, but I think you've got a pretty good grasp now. This economy is going to change in ways that no one five years ago could have even fantasized about. There will be people from Dallas moving down here to go to work.

MR. ALLEX: I just want to reemphasize, don't forget the engine that's fueling South Texas' economy. When they're having 80 percent growth every ten years and we're having 45 percent growth, as far as Mexico is concerned, that's just going to compound itself, compound itself every ten years, and we've got to get prepared for it. And I know that these people that work on this board live and work down here and they feel it every day, just like I do, and Hope, you do, and so do you, Ted.

But you've got to realize what Mexico is doing and you can't really grasp it until you're there. You see the young men and women over there taking care of their own communities, professional people working, and I deal with them all the time and it's exciting to be around these young people, and they're making a name for themselves in Mexico. You know, it's not a panacea but they're going to do something in Mexico and they're going to do something in the United States, they're going to do something in the Rio Grande Valley, they're going to do something in South Texas. Some say just get out of their way. I'd rather work with them rather than get out of their way.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you for being so patient. Our meetings take time, that's just the way it is.

MR. HOUGHTON: Thank you.

MR. WILLIAMSON: And welcome to a new level of public service.

And Dewey Cashwell, where's Dewey? He went home to the island. The mayor of South Padre Island was here for a while and I think he was here to offer his support as well, and if you would, pass along to him that we appreciate the fact that he was here for a while and we understand why he had to leave.

MR. BEHRENS: We'll go to agenda item number 7(b), Phil, and this is to do some toll designations in Denton and Collin counties concerning State Highway 121.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Yes, I've got a question for you about this.

(General talking.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Oh, I'm sorry. Members, you've heard the staff explanation and the staff recommendation, and you've heard the testimony of witnesses. What's your pleasure?

MR. HOUGHTON: So moved, with pleasure.

MS. ANDRADE: Second.

MR. WILLIAMSON: We have, with pleasure, so moved and seconded on item 7(a). All those in favor, signify by saying aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: All opposed, no.

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Motion carries.

(Applause.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: See, I just thought it was a foregone conclusion that we were going to be in full support. Sorry.

MR. BEHRENS: Okay, Phil, 7(b).

MR. RUSSELL: Thanks, Mike. Agenda item 7(b) is possible toll designation of State Highway 121. This particular project is primarily in Denton County in the Dallas District, it stretches from slightly east of Business 121 all the way to Dallas North Tollway. DNT is about a mile, mile and a half into Collin County, so essentially it's that piece of Denton County State Highway 121.

The district did go back through an environmental re-evaluation; that was environmentally cleared as a toll road on April 14. And if you choose to approve this minute order, you do two things: you would designate this section of 121 as a controlled access facility, and you would designate it as a toll road.

I'd be open to any questions you might have, and staff would recommend approval of this minute order.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I'm going to have some questions. Members, do you have questions?

MS. ANDRADE: No.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Phil, I was on KRLD Radio the other day getting kind of gently chewed on about 121, and the guy kept referring to a stretch of 121 that's paved and ramped and ready to go. Is this the stretch he's talking about?

MR. RUSSELL: This piece of 121 is currently under construction, yes, sir. It's not open to traffic.

MR. WILLIAMSON: But it's not ready to be open to traffic?

MR. RUSSELL: No, sir.

MR. WILLIAMSON: How close is it?

MR. RUSSELL: Probably about June, July, somewhere in there.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Do you have anything to add to that, Amadeo? Because I had to confess ignorance to him. I told him I thought that there wasn't any of 121 ready to open yet.

MR. SAENZ: This portion of 121 in Denton County was identified in the MPO's long-range plan as a toll project, and we were going through the environmental re-evaluation. We just got environmental clearance. Now we can then designate it as a toll road. We're working right now on putting in place the video tolling equipment that will go on this project so when it opens we'll be able to then operate it as a toll road under video tolling.

MR. WILLIAMSON: And are we convinced we're doing enough public outreach for the community to understand that it's going to be an electronic toll and they'll be paying for it when they use it?

MR. SAENZ: Yes, sir. We have full support from the Denton County folks.

MR. WILLIAMSON: What I mean by that is we're not going to have a bunch of people hitting that thing thinking it's a tax road.

MR. SAENZ: No.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Like a big old yellow sign saying, "Toll, Toll, Toll".

MR. RUSSELL: The other thing, Chairman, that I think is very important, I think the district thinks this section of 121 as a toll road is going to be critically important because it feeds back into their near-neighbor, near-time program. There's five other projects that are going to be built as kind of spinoffs from tolling this particular piece of 121. So that's why I think the MPO has been full square behind designating this as a toll road.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Does this mean when this gets rolling, Amadeo, we're going to reduce our gap, we're going to close the gap?

MR. SAENZ: It will reduce the gap because of the projects that are going to be done near-time, near-neighbor were unfunded, so they're part of $86 billion.

MR. WILLIAMSON: So we're closing the gap.

MR. SAENZ: We are closing the gap.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Members, you heard the staff's explanation and recommendation. What's your pleasure?

MR. HOUGHTON: So moved.

MS. ANDRADE: Second.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I have a motion and a second. All those in favor of the motion will signify by saying aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: All opposed, no.

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Motion carries. Thank you. Thank you, Phil.

MR. RUSSELL: Thank you, Chairman.

MR. BEHRENS: Agenda item number 7 (c) is recommendation to accept the General Engineering Consultant quarterly progress report on the Central Texas Turnpike System.

MR. RUSSELL: Thanks, Mike. This is our standard quarterly update, construction update, prepared by the general engineering consultant, Post, Buckley, Schuh & Jernigan (PBS&J). I'm happy to say that the prognosis, the health of the project continues to be good. The project is on budget and on time.

I'd be happy to address any questions you might have, and would suggest approval of this minute order.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Members, you've heard the staff's explanation and recommendation. Do you have questions?

MR. HOUGHTON: So moved.

MS. ANDRADE: Second.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I have a motion and a second. All those in favor of the motion will signify by saying aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: All opposed, no.

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Motion carries. Thank you.

MR. BEHRENS: Agenda item number 8 is under Finance, and this is also recommending acceptance of the Quarterly Investment Report. James?

MR. BASS: Good afternoon. Again for the record, I'm James Bass, chief financial officer of TxDOT.

Item 8 presents the Quarterly Investment for the second quarter of 2006 which ended February 28. The investments covered in the report are associated with the 2002 project of the Central Texas Turnpike System and with the lease with an option to purchase for the Houston District headquarter facilities.

The details of the investments have been provided to you in the quarterly report, and staff recommends your acceptance of the report, and I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Members, you've heard the staff's explanation and recommendation.

MR. HOUGHTON: So moved.

MS. ANDRADE: Second.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I have a motion and a second. All those in favor of the motion will signify by saying aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: All opposed, no.

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Motion carries. Thank you, James.

MR. BEHRENS: Agenda item number 9 concerns pass-through tolling. This would be concerning Hidalgo County and to negotiate a pass-through toll with either Hidalgo County Road District No. 5 or Hidalgo County for improvements to various projects in the county. Amadeo?

MR. SAENZ: Good afternoon, commissioners. Again for the record, Amadeo Saenz, assistant executive director for Engineering Operations.

The minute order before you on item number 9 authorizes the department to begin negotiations for a pass-through toll agreement with Hidalgo County Road District No. 5 or Hidalgo County for improvements on several highway facilities that the road district and the county want to pursue and build and then request pass-through tolling.

These facilities include FM 494, FM 676, State Highway 364 and Abram Road. Abram Road is currently not on the state highway system, they're working with the district on an exchange to be able to bring Abram Road on to the state highway system and taking over some existing roads that are not operating.

These roads are collectors and arterials; they act more in a local capacity right now. One of the things that we want to work with the county on is how do we get some regional benefit for these facilities and also some statewide benefit, so that it probably will have to be lengthened, but we need to sit down with them and discuss them to see how we can tie to a more complete transportation plan.

With respect to congestion, the roads currently are at Level of Service F. By adding capacity, they'll go to C, so we will see a good improvement in congestion relief.

Safety, of course by going from these two-lane roads to four- and five-lane with continuous left turns, we will have a reduction in accident rates of 20 to 30 percent.

Economic opportunity, this area in western Hidalgo County is very congested already, it's pretty much built out, just the roads have not been able to keep up with the growth out there.

Air quality, because we're able to increase speeds on these by reducing congestion, we'll be able to improve air quality. Even though Hidalgo County is not in non-attainment, it is in a inland area, so we will still have an air quality improvement.

Staff has reviewed and recommends that you approve this minute order so that we may move forward and continue to negotiate with Hidalgo County and the road district.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Members, we have a most distinguished guest who wishes to comment for. Mayor Salinas? A good transportation local leader.

MAYOR SALINAS: Thank you, Amadeo, Mr. Chairman, commissioners. Thank you for working so hard for the state of Texas and giving us an opportunity to come before you again and ask you to support this pass-through toll road.

As you know, this is a very important project for us. I'm the chairman of Road District 5, appointed to this Road District 5 by a county commissioner on the commissioners court.

As you know, we have got a commitment from Mexico City to Washington, as the [indiscernible] has been approved. I'm on the Anzalduas Bridge board, we are working to start the agreement to advertise for proposals to build the bridge starting December of 2006. We have a commitment of construction ending in September of 2008. This is going to be a project that is going to bring a lot of economic development to our area, and working with the Pharr office, we feel that this is a very important project for us, for Hidalgo County.

We are working closely with McAllen, Edinburg, Pharr and the city of Hidalgo and Mission. We have an MSA there that we have unemployment of 4 percent, we have a lot of growth and we need some kind of help in this project. I think this would kind of put it together where all our traffic is going to come in through the Anzalduas Bridge, it will help us, especially the Abram Road, and it would help us grow.

So I'm here representing our committee and of course our county commissioner, and hopefully you will help us on this agreement that we would try to work out with TxDOT.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Yes, sir. Members, any questions of Mayor Salinas?

MR. HOUGHTON: Mayor, thanks for coming. Nice seeing you again.

I have a question of Amadeo. The project cost is $75 million. Are they requesting us to fund 100 percent?

MR. SAENZ: I guess before I answer that, Commissioner, just to kind of tie in a little bit to what the mayor has talked about, if you look at the map that's behind the cover sheet, the project on the east side is FM 494. FM 494 to the south has already been improved and it eventually will tie down to the area that will connect to the new bridge the mayor was talking about.

And of course, Abram Road is the one farthest to the west, and of course, what I mentioned a little while ago that we want to talk to them because the projects are limited to the boundaries of the road district, and to get some regional importance or regional benefit for these things, we'd like to hopefully work with the county to expand them so that we can get these corridors stretched further north so they can tie back to the corridors that will international traffic to possibly go north.

Now, to respond to your question, right now the way that the application has been submitted, it was a $75 million project. The metropolitan planning organization had identified about $24 million and they were requesting the remainder of it in their pass-through toll reimbursement.

Like I said, we're going to have to look at these projects because right now as they're shown, they're local. We need to tie them to some regional and then come up with, I guess, a determination of benefits for the local versus the state, and then come up with some ratio to that.

MR. HOUGHTON: Okay, thanks.

MR. SAENZ: Any other questions?

MR. WILLIAMSON: I don't have any.

MR. HOUGHTON: No.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you, Mayor.

MAYOR SALINAS: Thank you very much.

MR. SAENZ: Recommend approval of the minute order.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Members, you've heard the staff's explanation and the witness testimony and the staff's recommendation.

MR. HOUGHTON: So moved.

MS. ANDRADE: Second.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I have a motion and a second. All those in favor of the motion will signify by saying aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: All opposed, no.

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Motion carries.

I have to comment, Mayor. There's been so much said the last couple of days about everything we've done and everything that's going on down here, and we all appreciate that. But this to me is the perfect example of the system we started building a few years ago where a guy or gal with a local and regional following and the ability to help him or herself and the need for a partner has a system by which he or she can go to the commission and say, Here's my deal, here's why it makes sense, here's how it's rated. And the staff and the commission can move forward and nobody is begging, it doesn't really matter that it's the tip of Texas or Amarillo, it doesn't really matter if it's El Paso or Weatherford, it's just a deal for Texas.

I mean, we always like to come to Brownsville to see these deals work, but the truth is we're happy that it's just working because it's Texas, it's a problem in Texas that needs to be solved.

MR. HOUGHTON: Always glad to help a great mayor too.

MR. WILLIAMSON: It's always good to have a great mayor.

Okay, Michael.

MR. BEHRENS: Agenda item number 10 under Right of Way, this will be minute order recommendations for using options to purchase right of way on I-35E in Denton County.

MR. CAMPBELL: Again for the record, my name is John Campbell, director of the Right of Way Division.

I'd like to present for your consideration a minute order under agenda item number 10 to authorize the use of option contracts for the potential future purchase of right of way along the proposed route for the expansion and widening of I-35E in Denton County.

The minute order provides for the authority for the Dallas District engineer to negotiate the execution of option contracts and to extend funds for option fees and related expenses. Staff recommends your approval of the minute order.

MR. WILLIAMSON: You're not condemning Lake Lewisville, are you?

MR. CAMPBELL: No, sir. We do not have the authority to condemn for options.

MR. WILLIAMSON: We ought to change that.

MR. HOUGHTON: We need the lake. So moved.

MS. ANDRADE: Second.

MR. WILLIAMSON: There's been a motion and a second. All those in favor of the motion will signify by saying aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: All opposed, no.

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Motion carries. Thank you, John.

MR. BEHRENS: Agenda item number 11, our contracts for the month of April, both Maintenance Contracts and Highway and Building Construction Contracts. Thomas?

MR. BOHUSLAV: Good afternoon, commissioners. My name is Thomas Bohuslav, director of the Construction Division.

Item 11(a)(1) is consideration of award of Highway Maintenance contracts let on April 11 and 12, 2006 whose engineers' estimate is $300,000 or more. We had 18 projects, an average of 2.7 bidders per project. Staff recommends award of all the projects.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I notice it's down below our bids. Were our bids too high or are we seeing some competition we haven't seen in a few months?

MR. BOHUSLAV: Could you say that again?

MR. WILLIAMSON: Were our estimates a little high, or are we starting to see some competitive pressure?

MR. BOHUSLAV: We're probably moving our estimates up. We have some that are a little bit high as far as bids, but in the construction and maintenance area we're seeing increases in bid prices and trying to stay even with that on our estimates. But prices are up and we're seeing much more increase, and I can talk about that more in the construction arena, if you'd like.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Well, we estimated $13.8 million would be the low bids and they came in at $13.4-, so I'm assuming we're beginning to increase our estimates somewhat for the costs that have occurred the last few months, or if not ‑‑ I mean, this is 3 percent below, 3.2 percent below our estimate. What would be the competitive pressure that would have reduced that?

MR. BOHUSLAV: I believe that districts are adjusting in the maintenance area. They've been doing a good job in the maintenance area on keeping up with their prices and watching and seeing what they need to estimate, they see those pretty quick.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Any other questions, members?

MR. HOUGHTON: So moved.

MS. ANDRADE: Second.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I have a motion and a second. All those in favor of the motion will signify by saying aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: All opposed, no.

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Motion carries. Thank you.

MR. BOHUSLAV: Item 11(a)(2) is for consideration of award or rejection of Highway Construction and Building Contracts let on April 11 and 12, 2006. We had 91 projects, an average of 3.5 bidders per project. We have seven projects we recommend for rejection.

The first project is in Howard County, project number 3204. We had one bidder, it was 32 percent over, about a $10 million bid on this project. It's rehab of IH-20 in Howard County. We have some pretty tight sequencing of work in this project, we need to open up some opportunities for contractors to be able to move in and set up a plant and crushing operations to make materials, we need to make some changes in the plans to address that. We'd like to go back and re-let this project and solicit more competition, and hopefully by opening it up we will get more bidders on it.

The second project recommended for rejection is in Scurry County, project number 3243. We had one bidder, it was 69 percent over, the bid was $1.1 million. It's a pavement repair and surface with PFC on FM 1605, I believe, in Snyder. This is really high and it's going to hurt their budget in the district and they'd like to go back and they're going to consider possibly using state forces to do some work there and some other things to try to save some money on that project.

The next project recommended for rejection is in Travis County, project number 3037. Had one bidder on this project as well, 62 percent over, $3 million bid. It's for safety work on US 183 and FM 1327, includes some shoulders and SET work, left turn lanes, guard fence work. We only had one bidder, we would like to get some more competition and there were some discrepancies in the plans we need to address and fix and hopefully we can get more bidders and get better prices on that.

The next project recommended for rejection is in Brazos County, project number 3229. One bidder, 127 percent over, a small project, $167,000 bid on that project. This is landscape work and we need to get some other bidders on this project. In fact, we had talked to another bidder and they are interested in bidding it and we believe we can save some money by going back and re-advertising and re-bidding the project.

The next project recommended for rejection is in Hale County, number 3218. Two bidders, 41 percent over, $13.2 million bid. Rehab of State Highway 194 in Hale County. We need to do some redesign work to bring more clarity to the plans. The bidders had some problems understanding the work required in the plans. We'd like to go back and do that.

The next project recommended for rejection is in Wilbarger County, project number 3246. Had two bidders, it was 69 percent over, $830,000 bid on that project. This is replacing a structure on FM 91, only two bidders and the prices are significantly higher than a project we just let five months ago, and we want to go back and see if we can do something to save, re-advertise and solicit more bidders and get better prices on it.

The last project recommended for rejection is in Austin County, project number 3207. Two bidders on it, 44 percent over, $4.1 million bid on the project. It's a road widening on an FM road there, and we're looking at some redesign work on this project to see if we can go back and save some money on that as well.

And with that, we've been looking at our Highway Cost Index, as you discussed, primarily on our construction projects. We're seeing a 20 percent increase over the past year in the cost of all work, significant. In fact, probably pushing those today are asphalt prices and fuel prices, of course. In the last two years we've seen on our bid prices for surface work, asphalt for surface work, we've seen it almost double. On hot mix prices in the last year we've seen a 20 percent increase in the cost of hot mix on hot mix work out there. So we're seeing significant increases recently in true crude.

And what's happening a lot right now in the asphalt area is the bidders or contractors are not able to get quotes for the duration of the project and the suppliers are giving them a quote at the time of delivery. So we're seeing some impact of that, and there may be a little bit of risk in our bids for that as well.

Staff recommends award with the exceptions noted.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Members, you've heard the explanation and recommendation from staff.

MR. HOUGHTON: So moved.

MS. ANDRADE: Second.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I have a motion and a second. All those in favor of the motion will signify by saying aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: All opposed, no.

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Motion carries.

MR. BEHRENS: Agenda item number 11(b) is a contract claim. Amadeo?

MR. SAENZ: Good afternoon. For the record, Amadeo Saenz, assistant executive director for Engineering Operations.

The minute order before you for item 11(b) is approval of a claim settlement for contract by Kothmann, LTD. for Project CSR 924-00-34 in various counties in the El Paso District. The Contract Claim Committee met with the contractor on March 13, considered the claim, and made a recommendation for settlement. The contractor has accepted. The committee feels that this is a fair and reasonable settlement offer and recommends your approval.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I don't know how you could conclude it's fair and reasonable.

MR. SAENZ: Fair and reasonable.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I think you whacked him.

MR. SAENZ: Zane has done a better job than I have.

(General laughter.)

MR. HOUGHTON: Well, whoever did it, so moved.

MS. ANDRADE: Second.

MR. WILLIAMSON: There has been an explanation and recommendation. All in favor, signify by saying aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: All opposed, no.

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Motion carries.

MR. BEHRENS: Agenda item number 12(a) and 12(b), one in Maverick County and another in Starr County, is the way we're looking to improve some of our facilities by going out with proposals. Amadeo, if you'd lay both of those out.

MR. SAENZ: Thank you, Mr. Behrens. Again, commission, for the record Amadeo Saenz, assistant executive director for Engineering Operations.

Item number 12(a) is a minute order before you authorizing the department to issue a request for qualifications and proposals to select a private entity who can provide a 10- to 12-acre site and construct a maintenance facility in exchange for the existing Eagle Pass maintenance facility, and also to commence negotiations to enter into a development and exchange agreement with the private entity that offers the best value to the state.

Upon review of the proposals, we will evaluate them and then negotiate with the one that gives us the best value. Then we will come back before the commission for final approval of the property exchange.

Staff recommends approval of this minute order.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Didn't we have another one of these going someplace and never tied it up, maybe at Bull Creek or someplace else?

MR. SAENZ: Yes, sir. We're working on a project at Bull Creek and I don't believe we've come before you to ask permission to go out for proposals yet, but we will start working on that. This is in Eagle Pass and the next one will be very similar.

House Bill 2702 is what gave us the authority to be able to go out there and request proposals to do a property exchange with the private sector, so this is one of the new tools that the legislature has provided us in the last session.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Members, you've heard the explanation and recommendation.

MR. HOUGHTON: So moved.

MS. ANDRADE: Second.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I have a motion and a second. All those in favor of the motion will signify by saying aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: All opposed, no.

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Motion carries.

MR. SAENZ: Thank you. Item number 12(b) is also very similar to 12(a). It is also a request for the department to go out and request for qualifications and proposals to select also a private sector entity that can provide a 10- to 12-acre site and construct a maintenance facility in exchange for our Rio Grande City maintenance facility, also to begin negotiations with the proposer that gives us the best proposal, and then come before the commission at a later time to request your approval.

This maintenance section is in Rio Grande City, I have personal knowledge of it. It is a small facility, we've outgrown it many, many years ago, and in fact, there was a possibility of doing some property exchange many years ago before we had the authority, but now with the authority we can move forward and see what we can get.

Staff recommends approval of this minute order.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Members, you've heard the explanation and the recommendation.

MR. HOUGHTON: So moved.

MS. ANDRADE: Second.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I have a motion and a second. All those in favor of the motion will signify by saying aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: All opposed, no.

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Motion carries. And I know that we wouldn't do anything without an evaluation, but just out of an abundance of caution, just let me say before we go do anything, let's be sure we have ‑‑ separate and apart from the deal, let's have someone go out and give us a third-party evaluation of what the property is worth, separate from the deal.

MR. SAENZ: Yes. We have done that already and have values already determined for the facilities.

MR. WILLIAMSON: And the guy or the gal that did that evaluation is not involved in the deal?

MR. SAENZ: No.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Okay.

MR. SAENZ: Real property improvements are valued for our Eagle Pass facility at about $1.36 million, and for our Rio Grande City facility, right at $1.045 million. That's the value we're looking for.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Do we own the minerals under those properties?

MR. HOUGHTON: Not hardly.

(General laughter.)

MR. BEHRENS: Agenda item number 13 is our Routine Minute Orders. They've all been duly posted as required. If you have any of them that you'd like to discuss, we'll be happy to do that. We will be deferring item 13(d)(4) which is in Travis County where we're looking at exchanging some right of way. Hopefully we'll bring that back in May.

MR. WILLIAMSON: 13(a), the donation from Wal-mart, is that part of the Routine Minute Orders?

MR. BEHRENS: Yes, it is.

MR. HOUGHTON: That's nice that conference somebody is going to in Las Vegas.

MR. BEHRENS: With the exception of 13(d)(4), I recommend approval of the Routine Minute Orders.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Members, you've heard the explanation and the motion.

MS. ANDRADE: So moved.

MR. HOUGHTON: Second.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I have a motion and a second. All those in favor of the motion will signify by saying aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: All opposed, no.

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Motion carries.

Mr. Behrens, do we have any reason to go into executive session?

MR. BEHRENS: No, sir.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Mr. Behrens, do we have any general comments?

MR. BEHRENS: Yes, we have some.

MR. WILLIAMSON: McAllen city commissioner, Scott Crain. Are you still here?

MR. CRAIN: Since nine o'clock this morning.

MR. WILLIAMSON: You are magnificent.

MR. CRAIN: Actually I've enjoyed it. I've learned quite a bit today. I was unaware of the Panama Canal issue that's taking place and how that's going to affect our area.

But anyhow, my name is Scott Crain. I'm a member of McAllen City Commission. I'm here on behalf of our mayor, who is out of the country, and our commission just to extend a welcome and appreciation for coming to the Rio Grande Valley.

I wanted to give you just a brief update on four projects in McAllen, where we're at on those projects.

We've got a convention center that's about halfway through development. It's a $50 million facility on the freeway on Expressway 83, and I wanted to give thanks to Mario Jorge for helping us with enhancements to the access, ingress-egress and so forth at that project.

I wanted to touch on the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, as you're aware, has been working on a multimodal terminal. And I don't know if Mario is the appropriate person or yourselves, but to consider funding SH-115 ‑‑ to give thanks for the funding of State Highway 115 and the access that's going to provide to the multimodal terminal which is more commonly know here as South 23rd Street.

But we recognize the value that that's going to bring to our community and look forward to being more competitive really in the global marketplace by reducing transportation costs. It's estimated that by putting the trucks to rail, the transportation costs could be reduced anywhere from 25 percent to a third or so, and we feel it's going to make us very competitive in the global market in terms of recruiting manufacturing companies to our community.

And then I wanted to also touch on Mission Mayor Norberto Salinas's comment. We're partners in the Anzalduas Bridge that's going in, and we just wanted to reiterate the need to move forward with the connection from the Anzalduas Bridge to expressway Highway 83.

Then the last thing I wanted to touch on, there is a group Valles de los Terceros which has proposed to build a $23 million Class 2 horse track at McAllen. Should that take place, we wanted to put in the pipeline the request for some help on ingress and egress which would be State Highway 336 and Vickers Road.

And then again, just thank you for all you do here, to express our appreciation. And I also wanted to comment that I learned from you today in your time and the value and importance that you saw in acknowledging the children that were here this morning and bringing them and getting them involved, and I take that away with me today and intend on trying to practice the same behavior that you did today. So thank you so much for allowing me to comment today.

MR. WILLIAMSON: That's kind of you to say that. We're hoping one of those young people will go to Texas A&M or UT and get an engineering degree and come to work for us.

Any questions for this young man?

MR. HOUGHTON: Just thanks for your support.

MS. ANDRADE: Thank you.

MR. WILLIAMSON: And we really appreciate your staying so long.

MR. HOUGHTON: Yes, for sticking around.

MR. WILLIAMSON: It's very nice of you to do that.

MR. CRAIN: I did go to one previous meeting in Houston where Governor Perry gave a luncheon to talk about how he was going to take the Trans-Texas Corridor, if you will, to the financiers in New York and his vision for that and so forth. So this is my second opportunity and I enjoyed both times.

MR. WILLIAMSON: Thank you very much. We do appreciate it, Scott.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I think we waited Carlos out, unless he's laying down asleep. Carlos Arudes, I think to tell you, Mario, that he doesn't appreciate your median project on Alana. And we don't blame him about that. He waited right there in that chair for three hours.

Dan Miller?

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: He wanted to comment on posting, representing the Jones Ranch.

Jose Herrera?

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: "I think that all the improvements are excellent but think that when building at major intersections there should be ramps built to allow flow of traffic instead of creating bottlenecks. I don't know more costly but it wastes a large amount of time which is money." Which is a good observation.

Okay, Jose, we appreciate your having waited as long as you did, and your thoughts are noted for the record.

Anything else, Mike?

MR. BEHRENS: That's all.

MR. WILLIAMSON: No open meetings business. Anything else, Amadeo, last call?

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: The most privileged motion is in order.

MR. HOUGHTON: So moved to adjourn.

MS. ANDRADE: Second.

MR. WILLIAMSON: I have a motion and a second. All those in favor of the motion to adjourn will signify by saying aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: All opposed, no.

(No response.)

MR. WILLIAMSON: Motion carries. We are adjourned at 2:24 p.m.

(Whereupon, at 2:24 p.m., the meeting was concluded.)


C E R T I F I C A T E


MEETING OF: Texas Transportation Commission

LOCATION: Brownsville, Texas

DATE: April 27, 2006

I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 232 inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Penny Bynum before the Texas Department of Transportation.

                 05/02/2006
(Transcriber) (Date)
On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731

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