Texas Department of Transportation Special Commission Meeting
Ric Williamson Hearing Room
Dewitt Greer Building
125 East 11th Street
Austin, Texas 78701-2483
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Deirdre Delisi, Chair
Ted Houghton, Jr.
Ned S. Holmes
Amadeo Saenz, Executive Director
Steve Simmons, Deputy Executive Director
Bob Jackson, General Counsel
Roger Polson, Executive Assistant to the
Deputy Executive Director
MS. DELISI: Good morning. It is 10:02 a.m., and I would like to call this special meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission to order. Note for the record that public notice of this meeting, containing all agenda items, was filed with the Office of the Secretary of State at 3:57 p.m. on February 25, 2009.
Let me remind everyone that if you wish to comment on an agenda item, we ask that you fill out a yellow speaker's card available at the registration table in the lobby. There will be no open comment period during today's meeting.
One more thing before I turn it over to Amadeo. Please take a moment to put your cell phones and other electronic devices on the silent mode, please.
MR. SAENZ: Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would like to ask John Barton to come up and present today's agenda item. This is dealing with the selection of the remaining projects to be funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
MR. BARTON: Thank you. Good morning, members of the commission, Amadeo Saenz, our director. For the record, my name is John Barton. I have the pleasure of working for you at the Texas Department of Transportation as the assistant executive director for Engineering Operations.
In January -- I think we have some slides coming up -- I appeared before you here at the commission on what we felt might pass Congress in regards to the much anticipated federal economic stimulus program. I discussed with you at that time that we were working closely with our district engineers, our metropolitan planning partners and others throughout the state to identify projects for this anticipated program.
In February, I returned to update you on what had actually passed, which has now been known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, some referring to it as the stimulus program. And at that time I presented a staff recommendation for our maintenance, preservation and bridge replacement program, as well as some mobility projects that were developed through a staff recommendation by myself, Mr. David Casteel, our assistant executive director for District Operations, as well as our district engineers in considering input from the many sources that we had relied on, and of course, relying heavily upon the advice, counsel and opinions of our metropolitan planning organization partners and officials.
At that meeting you approved the recommended list of our maintenance, preservation and bridge replacement projects and directed staff to take and collect public comments on the mobility portion of that program that was recommended last week. So today I'm here to present to you the public comments and an analysis of those that were provided to us, also provide to you an updated staff recommendation for the mobility portion of the program, and suggest some changes in the approved list of our preservation and bridge replacement program in consideration of the recently received list of federally designated economically distressed counties that we received from the Federal Highway Administration last Thursday.
Just a brief overview. The act was signed by President Obama on February 17 and the clock started ticking at that time for the implementation of this program. On March 3, according to the guidance provided under the act, the Federal Highway Administration did issue apportionments to the states; therefore, the clock started ticking officially on the time that we have allowed in order to obligate 50 percent of the State's share of funding that was not further suballocated to the metropolitan planning organizations and rural areas of the state within 120 days of March 3. So the clock has started and we're 118 days and running from the time when we have to have those obligation commitments identified and made.
As a recap, the bill provides about $2.25 billion for highway and bridge projects here in Texas, of which $500 million is directly suballocated to our metropolitan planning organizations. That leaves about $1.7 billion at the discretion of the commission, and again, as I said, in February approximately $500 million of that was authorized by you for maintenance and bridge projects around the State of Texas.
The commission did authorize staff back in February, last week, to develop a more robust program of 250 projects across the state addressing our maintenance and preservation needs, as defined by our district engineers and the coordination, cooperation and consultation with our local leaders.
Last Thursday, as I mentioned just a few minutes ago, we did receive a map of economically distressed counties that was provided to us by the Federal Highway Administration, and using that information, staff subsequently reviewed the projects that had been previously selected, and giving priority to consideration to projects in economically distressed areas, as defined by that list, we identified ten projects that we felt like were appropriate and should be added to the list based on the priority given to economically distressed areas.
So with that, 62 percent of our projects in this particular portion of the program lie within economically distressed counties of the state, and a total for a little over $315 million in construction value. This adds about $25 million to the total anticipated maintenance program by adding those ten projects, so we don't want to back up on any commitments that had been made through the previous approval of the list that you provided to us. Therefore, we're committed to finding funding for those projects that would have to be moved in order to make room for these ten projects that were selected based on the priority of economically distressed areas, and we will fund those through our normal funding program through our fiscal year 2010 preservation program which will allow us to retain our commitment to all of the projects that have been approved by the commission.
And this vast majority of the projects that I've just mentioned will be under contract and meet that 120 obligation requirement of the bill.
MR. HOUGHTON: John, on the maintenance piece, the $500 million, there's been some criticism as to the use of these dollars on maintenance projects. Will you remind the commission and folks in the audience and listening across the state, did we not pull money out of maintenance about a year or so ago and put it to mobility?
MR. BARTON: Yes, sir.
MR. HOUGHTON: At the objection of one of our fellow commissioners to my right.
MR. BARTON: Yes, sir. I think, if you'll recall, late last spring, early last summer, in a series of commission meetings we discussed moving forward with allocations, if you will, for both maintenance and new construction activities, and at that time the commission made a decision to reduce our planned distributions to maintenance in order to allow that funding to be provided for new construction activities around the state. I believe that, in total, over the five-year period that was affected by this, it was a little over $1.2 billion.
MR. HOUGHTON: $1.2 billion.
MR. BARTON: Yes, sir.
MR. HOUGHTON: And we're repatriating $500 million.
MR. BARTON: That's correct. And of that $500 million, I think it's important to remember that approximately $174 million was suballocated through the act to rural areas of the state, and in most cases, their most pressing needs are those safety, bridge replacement and preservation activities to ensure that they have a system that's effective in meeting their transportation needs.
MR. UNDERWOOD: And John, I would dovetail on that, if I may. What does maintenance cover? To people, they think it's just potholes. Would you elaborate on that one more time, please?
MR. BARTON: Yes, sir. I appreciate the question, Commissioner Underwood. Maintenance, as we refer to it, or perhaps more appropriately referred to by the public is rehabilitation-type work. It's where we're resurfacing a roadway with a new asphalt surface, perhaps replacing a bridge that is old and in need of repair and replacement, putting up new safety features on the roadway, widening the roadways in some areas where we have safety conditions and edges of our pavements get beaten down with traffic running off the edges.
So it's not the normal maintenance activities that people think of where they see our own forces out there patching potholes or putting up signs. It's a more construction-oriented activity where we're resurfacing a roadway. In some cases, I know my grandfather would refer to it as "blacktopping" the road, and going out there and replacing bridges.
MR. UNDERWOOD: So as well as fixing the potholes, we're making the roads safer for the general public.
MR. BARTON: Yes, sir.
MR. UNDERWOOD: And we're protecting our investment that we already have.
MR. BARTON: Absolutely. They are preservation activities in order to maintain the value of that. It's just like taking care of your home or anything else you own, you want to make sure you preserve it and maintain it well.
MR. MEADOWS: Can I ask a followup question, Mr. Barton?
MR. BARTON: Certainly.
MR. MEADOWS: I know that many of the capital projects or all of the capital projects, in fact, on this other list of new projects are actually located in areas of the state that are covered by metropolitan planning organizations, and of course, that's the process that we employed to actually develop that list. But these maintenance dollars, could you just -- not scientifically exactly, but could you generally tell me what percentage you think of these maintenance dollars, this over half a billion dollars, would be spent in geographic areas of the state not covered by MPOs -- in other words, rural Texas?
MR. BARTON: Yes, sir. Again, I haven't done that analysis and will be happy to do the math on that, but just knowing the list of projects from my perspective and the map that we have -- and I think you can see them here at the side of the room where the projects are located represented by the blue dots -- in areas that I would consider rural outside of the Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin city limits and our metropolitan areas, it's probably anywhere from 60 to 70 percent of these funds are being directed to those areas.
MR. MEADOWS: So 60 to 70 percent of the funds, and then they're actually being utilized for projects, as Commissioner Underwood just inquired. These aren't filling potholes necessarily or topping a road, you're talking about significant capital projects, road expansion, bridge expansion, that sort of thing that really will make a difference in those rural areas of the state.
MR. BARTON: Yes, sir. I wouldn't characterize them as new construction activities. We are completely reconstructing some roadways; we're widening some with shoulders and that sort of thing. We may have one or two where we're actually adding lanes for passing opportunities or safety reasons. But it's those types of contracts that our county judges, county commissioners and rural citizens ask for and expect from us.
MR. MEADOWS: Thank you.
MR. UNDERWOOD: And I'm going to dovetail on that, what you're saying is we're putting people to work all over the state, not just in one particular geographic area. Isn't that correct?
MR. BARTON: That is correct, and certainly that's, I think, one of the most important intents of the legislation, of the act itself, was to get people to work quickly and to do it in a way that provides opportunities around the state, and certainly in those economically distressed areas.
Returning to my presentation, I would like to share with you that at our last meeting we shared with you a list of staff recommendations of about 21 major mobility projects, using all of your remaining commission discretionary funds available to you under the act. This $1.2 billion that was available to you, based on that recommendation, would have generated about $2.3 billion in total construction value for the projects that were on that list, and the delta or difference between the $1.2 billion of stimulus funds and the $2.3 billion of construction value came from other local contributions by cities, counties, toll authorities, toll funding and other contributions from local partners, so it was a strong leveraging and partnership opportunity.
I just wanted to briefly review those for you, and they're on the slides that are at the front of the room for the audience.
As a reminder, in the North Region of the state we selected projects on Interstate 35 to expand that facility to a six-lane interstate facility with frontage roads through Bell County. We selected a project and recommended a continuation of the Loop 49 project in Smith County. The RMA there is developing that network of roadways to generate additional revenues for projects in that area of the state. We also identified and selected a project on FM 691 in Grayson County, a local project that is of great importance to the MPO and that they were very interested in seeing promoted, so much so that they almost fully funded it.
And then a project that is -- I think others have used the term "legacy project" -- in Tarrant County, it's referred to as the DFW Connector. It's a project on State Highway 121 and 114 in Tarrant County and, again, it allowed us to have the North Central Texas Council of Governments consider leveraging their economic stimulus funds available to them for another much important project in that area of the state which is an interchange with Interstate 20 at Southwest Parkway, Chisholm Trail.
MR. HOUGHTON: John, on that one, do we not have active procurement going on -- that's the connector?
MR. BARTON: Yes, sir, on the DFW Connector.
MR. HOUGHTON: And how many state dollars do we have allocated to that project right now?
MR. BARTON: I believe we have approximately $667 million, something like that.
Amadeo, is that correct?
MR. HOUGHTON: So the leverage effect is what?
MR. BARTON: For an additional $250 million, you can expand the scope of that project and complete it to a level that is anticipated, needed and wanted by the community, and certainly, I think, supported by the department.
MR. HOUGHTON: How long has that project been hanging out there?
MR. BARTON: I have some additional information on that, but that particular project has been underway for quite some time. I think it was first identified in the metropolitan planning organization's scope of projects in the 1980s. And I have some additional information on that. If you'd like, there's a list of the mobility projects and kind of a history of each one of them in a handout that I provided to you as the commission.
MR. SAENZ: And I guess, Commissioners, that project in particular, the comments we received had to do with that is a toll project. The $667 million that was allocated for that project is what was building the managed lanes that are part of that CDA; the additional economic stimulus money that we're recommending to put on this project is to be able to build better connectors to get in and out of the airport and to make better flow of the traffic, and really the managed lane portion is part of the base bid and funded under the original program. The additional $250 million that we've recommended is to make those improvements to provide better access to the airport.
MR. BARTON: And just to add onto that, the official or, I guess, specific planning process started on that project in 1996, so that's when the first public meetings were held and the department hired HDR Engineering as a consultant to begin the planning of that project in 1998. So this project is one that's been engaged in engineering, environmental and planning processes.
MR. HOUGHTON: So $600-plus million begets $250 million.
MR. BARTON: Yes, sir.
MR. HOUGHTON: Not a bad deal.
MR. BARTON: Turning our attention to the South Region of the state, staff again last week recommended to you consideration of funding for a project in the Bexar County area at the intersection of Loop 1604 and US 281 to construct a direct connect interchange there between those two major roadways in the San Antonio area. We also identified and recommended a series of projects along US 281 and US 59 south of San Antonio from I-35 down to the McAllen area, and this is a series of corridor improvements to make US 281 and US 59 have a more free flow of traffic from the Valley where we have that international trade commerce into the northern and central regions of the state.
We also recommended the funding for a project here in the Travis County area on US 290 and 183, an interchange on the east side of Austin, and then a project in the Valley, again, on State Highway 550 in Cameron County. This is a project being promoted by the regional mobility authority there as well as the metropolitan planning organization that provides a connection between Texas and Mexico at an international crossing, and also provides access to the Port of Brownsville.
And then we also suggested funding for a project on the east side of San Antonio on Loop 1604 near Randolph Air Force Base in front of their main entrances there to provide for some safety improvements and additional capacity to address the congestion-related issues that occur there during the day.
Moving to the West, our staff recommendation last week was to look at replacing a bridge and doing some rail improvements on the South Orient Railroad in Runnels, Tom Green and one other county -- I can't remember the name of it right now -- but it's east of the San Angelo area. This is a project that facilitates some preservation and improvements of the rail that you own as the Department of Transportation, the South Orient Railroad, and also allows for an economic opportunity for a wind generator manufacturing company to move into that area and utilize the rail to support their industrial activities -- obviously a great opportunity to create jobs in that economically distressed area of the state.
We also suggested and recommended funding for a project on Loop 289 in Lubbock County. That's referred to locally there as the Northwest Passage project, and it's on the northwest side of the community there in Lubbock to provide for some growing economic and development opportunities and freeway congestion-related issues with the interconnections of the ramps and the frontage roads and such.
And then we also recommended funding for an interchange between Interstate 10 and Loop 375 in El Paso County. That is on the east side of El Paso, and as you know, Commissioner Houghton, more than any of us, perhaps, that Loop 375 is a major traffic carrier for the City of El Paso and that community, and this particular interchange will allow for a free flow and exchange of traffic between the interstate and what is referred to as the El Paso Loop to provide for some congestion relief and improved mobility on that major interstate corridor.
And then, lastly, turning to what we refer to as the East Region of the state, staff recommended funding for, again, another legacy project -- Commissioner Holmes would know much about this -- it's the Grand Parkway, as it's referred to; State Highway 99 is its technical designation, and this would be to support the development of Segment E of the Grand Parkway.
We also recommended a project on Interstate 10 in Orange County. Again, Interstate 10, much like Interstate 35, carries a great deal of commercial traffic between the Port of Houston and the eastern reaches of the United States of America, and this is a continued expansion and reconstruction of Interstate 10 on the east side of the State of Texas.
We also recommended a project at Beltway 8 and US 59 in Harris County to provide direct connections between those two major freeway systems. And also Interstate 10 in central Harris County -- this is to continue the rehabilitation of Interstate 10 through the Greater Houston area. The district and community have done a great job in developing the Katy Freeway and then on the east side doing some resurfacing and rehabilitation work, and this is one last piece from the downtown Houston area out to the east near White Oak Bayou.
And then the next project is a project on Interstate 610, or 610 Loop in the Houston area, and this is on the north and west side of Houston to do a reconstruction project there. Again, those that are familiar with the Houston area know that we've undertaken a massive reconstruction of the Houston 610 Loop.
And then, finally, the widening of FM 60 in Burleson County which is a roadway that runs south and west out of College Station, is a two-lane, two-way roadway. This project would expand it to a four-lane divided -- it's a safety-related issue, carries a lot of university-related, student-related traffic and has been a high priority for the district and the area for quite some time.
As directed by the commission, staff, primarily through our district engineers and our website and our Government and Public Affairs Division staff, have been collecting comments on staff's recommendations since last week, from our presentation to you in February, and I think located there at your seats you have a rather thick book that documents the comments that we had received through Tuesday. This is my copy of it, and as you can see, it's a rather robust document. I will say that it's not complete because since the time that this was published early yesterday afternoon, we have received additional comments through emails and letters and so forth, and I think that we're nearing a thousand comments that we've received since the release of the recommendations last week.
Each of our district engineers has considered these comments and has developed a report on the comments associated with the projects in their districts which is contained in the booklet that you have in front of you. As I said, we've received probably more than a thousand comments now. When I prepared these slides, it was a little over 700, and our district engineers have in turn reviewed them. They've met with their local leaders, contacted legislators in some cases and other elected officials, depending on the nature of the comment, as well as discussing these with the metropolitan planning organizations and other advocacy groups, and the general public, depending on what the comments were.
And I can tell you that yesterday as we received all these additional emails and letters, it's very easy for us, as I said, to probably anticipate that the comments ultimately received are over a thousand or at least in the neighborhood of a thousand. So that's the breadth of the public comments that we've received and I'm sure that we will continue to receive them throughout the day and perhaps even into the future.
The district engineers' summaries yielded some main concerns. I think one is obviously that there was a concern about utilizing any of the funding for toll or toll-related projects -- that was expressed by several of the commenters. Also, there were several comments urging and asking us to give consideration in selecting projects based on priority for projects that are located within areas of economic distress, and I think there's been a lot of talk about that over the last week. Others have asked that projects that were not on the list be considered by you today for inclusion.
Some expressed disappointment that not enough money was being directed toward the preservation of our existing system and too much was being spent on new construction. Others, of course, wanted us to spend more money on new construction or transit or rail projects. And then we had questions related to specific projects and the number of jobs each would create and just asking about the act itself and how it impacts job creation here in Texas.
So that's kind of a general summary of the comments that we received and have made available to you.
Staff recommendation for toll facilities on the projects that were on last week's list were coordinated with our local decision-makers and their bodies for transportation planning, the metropolitan planning organizations, the rural mobility authorities, and locally elected leadership. And with the exception of the 281 project in Brooks County, that particular project obviously lies outside of an MPO boundary, and so that was coordinated more specifically with the county judges and mayors in the Falfurrias area.
Based on the comments that we received and after the district engineers reviewed those and coordinated and communicated with their local leaders about these, staff is changing our recommendations that we're providing for you today by adding six mobility projects that allow us, we believe, to better utilize the $1.2 billion available to you for your consideration under the act. And by adding these additional projects, the total construction value is now $2.6 billion instead of $2.3-.
That additional $300 million, of course, is a question of where did it come from, and that additional $300 million in construction value is a result of the leveraging opportunities and partnerships that communities offered up to us over the last week as they were asking us to consider projects within their areas.
I just wanted to kind of run through those real quickly for you. Here are the additional projects that we are recommending be added to the existing list from last week. There's a project here in the Greater Austin area. It's FM 1460; it's in the Round Rock community up in Williamson County. The metropolitan planning organization here in Austin, CAMPO, asked us to give consideration for that project through a rather unique partnership. We received a letter from the chair of that MPO, Senator Watson, who laid out a plan that allowed that project as well as the next project that's shown there, I believe, on Interstate 35 in the southern area of Austin in Buda which is in Hays County. I might point out that's an economically distressed area by the definition we received from Federal Highway Administration.
And what the RMA and MPO and local elected officials suggested is that rather than committing the level of funding that we had anticipated to the interchange, that they could cobble together some partnerships there, put in some local money, and it would allow these two projects to be added to the list, retaining the original US 290/183 interchange as well. And they would actually be giving back for the commission's consideration $8 million from staff's recommendation from last week. So those are the first two projects that we added to the list.
The next one is a similar situation. It's State Highway 6; it's an overpass in the Bryan-College Station area -- I believe it's actually near the south and east reaches of College Station -- and this is a project that had a federal earmark on it. The metropolitan planning organization had developed this project and had it ready to implement. Actually, the City of College Station, I believe, had paid for the engineering work to be done, and so they've offered up their funding that they were suballocated through the stimulus program to be cobbled together with the funding that staff recommended on the FM 60 project.
They've re-evaluated the FM 60 project, identified some efficiencies, and they're asking that rather than any additional money be given to the Bryan-College Station area, they can take the money that was recommended last week from the staff and put it together to deliver two projects instead of one -- very similar to what the MPO here in Austin did.
The next project is a project that was brought to our attention by many solicitors. It's the Joe Fulton Corridor project in the Corpus Christi area near the Port of Corpus Christi. Again, the metropolitan planning organization there brought forward an opportunity to offer up some of their stimulus funding. The Port of Corpus Christi had offered to pay part of the project as well, and by taking those local available leverages and trying to apply the $8 million that was freed up from CAMPO to stay within the southern region, it was a good fit for this project to be able to able to be added to the list. It's a reconstruction of that trade and freight corridor near the Port of Corpus Christi.
And then the next one on the list there, I believe, is the Loop 20, locally referred to as Cuatro Vientos, in the Laredo area. This is a project that had a considerable amount of funding identified for it but not sufficient funding in order to be able to move forward to completion, so the City of Laredo approached us.
And as we gave due consideration to those economically distressed areas of the state and making sure we prioritize projects within those regions, this was a project that came to the top -- obviously an economically distressed area of the state, a project that had a lot of money committed to it through the metropolitan planning organization's stimulus funding, previous Proposition 14 allocations that you had given to the community to develop parts of the project, and then some Coordinated Border Infrastructure which is a federal program that they were able to cobble together. So they were short some money and the details are contained in the staff recommendation, but we were able to bring that forward as a priority project giving consideration to those projects in areas that are economically distressed.
And then the last one that I wanted to share with you is a project in the US 59 area in Texarkana. It's a rather unique opportunity. The Arkansas Department of Transportation is funding a project that they refer to as I-49. It's kind of a northern bypass of the Texarkana community in Arkansas and Texas. They believe it will be designated as Interstate 49 in the future, and they are putting it into their package as an economically stimulus funded package of projects that's a little over $20 million, I believe. The last few hundred feet of that roadway lies in Texas; it crosses the Texas-Arkansas border, and so they need about $500,000 from Texas in order to be able to connect to the Texas-Arkansas line road that's up there -- I can't remember the name of it.
But anyway, they came to us saying we need $500,000 in order to do a $20-, $21 million project, and so in partnership with our brothers and sisters in Arkansas, we thought that this would be a very good thing to do to allow them to get a fully developed project that they are funding almost in its entirety for very little contribution from the State of Texas from the stimulus package.
MR. HOLMES: John, before you go on, just looking at these projects in green, it looks like the local communities in total came up with about $100 million, or a little more than $100- to be matched by about $60 million of stimulus money. Is that kind of the rough numbers?
MR. BARTON: I believe so, and you have the numbers there in front of you. I'm not sure that I have that same data.
MR. HOLMES: Which meant that they put a high priority on those projects to put their hand in their pocket to come up with the $100 million or so.
MR. BARTON: Yes, sir. There were clearly, I think, a lot of good opportunities for people to offer up strong partnerships and put in more than their equitable share of a project, if you will, a lot of these local communities putting in 50, 60, 70, even some 99 percent of the project cost.
MR. HOLMES: Those are the ones that you added. In fact, the majority of the ones on the list had local contribution from one source or another.
MR. BARTON: That's correct, and that's why we're able to take the federal stimulus money of $1.2 billion and deliver actually $2.6 billion worth of projects which is a tremendous benefit for job creation here in the State of Texas.
Again, I kind of went through these -- I got ahead of myself a slight amount on the slides, but these are the projects from staff's recommendation of last week with the addition of the US 59 project that I talked about there in the Texarkana area. If you'll look at this one again, this is the project staff recommendation for the south area of the state, and it shows those projects there in Webb, Hays, Williamson and Nueces counties that I referred to and discussed and briefly laid out for you.
I would like to point out that on that slide, if you'll notice, there's a group of projects that are referred to, again, as the US 281/US 59 corridor projects, and then the Cuatro Vientos or Loop 20 project in Webb County that are ready to go, could take bids within the 120-day obligation window or at least be obligated within that time period, and so we've kind of adjusted the funding commitments, if you will, on those projects as well as the project in San Antonio on US 281/Loop 1604 to allow us to get more of our stimulus dollars out within that first 120 days that's required by the act to ensure that Texas gets every penny that's coming to it. As you know, there is a use it or lose it clause, and by taking those fundings that we are recommending you commit to all those projects; we are recommending to fashion them in a way that the projects that are most readily available to go forward quickest use stimulus dollars and those other commission commitments through Proposition 14 and other programs be put on those that may be a little later in the implementation cycle.
MR. UNDERWOOD: John, a followup on that. This use it or lose it, or whatnot, by us allocating this apportionment that we're going to receive, won't that also put us in a good position if some other state doesn't use their money, we'll be ready to step in?
MR. BARTON: That's correct, Commissioner Underwood. Obviously we need to make that obligation requirement just simply because we want to get people to work, but also important is that if you lose your apportionment, one, you've lost money for the State of Texas, but two, if you don't meet that, then you're not eligible to receive money from other states who aren't able to meet that commitment. And we want to ensure that Texas is in a position to receive other states' money if they fail to meet the mark rather than be the one that gives up money.
MR. UNDERWOOD: Just because we have that many projects and that great a need is my point.
MR. BARTON: Absolutely, and I think that certainly we can do that without any trouble.
Moving on the West, I'd just point out that we aren't recommending any changes to the West recommendation from last week. And then, again, here it shows the projects from the East Region that we recommended adding there in the Bryan-College Station area through that leveraging partnership that I've already discussed.
Again, the changes that I've talked about affect a lot of our planning partners from around the state. These were changes that were recommended to us either by the Texarkana MPO and the State of Arkansas, at the request of CAMPO here in Austin, obviously requests from Laredo and the communities there as well as their elected leadership for the Cuatro Vientos project and consideration during our ranking and analysis for areas that are economically distressed, and then, of course, a great partnership with the Bryan-College Station community and their ability to cobble together two projects for the price of one, if you will.
And then, of course, in doing this we feel like it's important, in order to get this full mix of projects, have more projects out there to provide job opportunities around the state for our citizens and for Texans, that we are asking the commission to consider the addition of some of your remaining available Prop 14 bonding authority into the mix of this stimulus package to replace some of the funds, as I said, on some of the projects so we can get those out the door early under the stimulus package and meet that 120-day obligation requirement and to help prop up these partnerships that have been offered for us around the state.
Just to give you a little bit of history on some of the projects -- we talked a little bit about that -- there's been some questions that are raised about where these projects came from that are being proposed for the stimulus package by staff and the communities that submitted those projects. A lot of these, as I said, others have referred to them as "legacy projects" and again, in front of you our district engineers have prepared a report that I pointed out to you on the history of each of those projects that are on the mobility list of staff's recommendation.
And just to give you a couple of examples, the Loop 49 project in Tyler there in Smith County has been worked on since I was in grade school back in 1960, so it's been around a while and I think I look like I'm a little bit aged here lately so that may tell you a little bit about the history of that project. We talked briefly about the State Highway 114/121 project in Tarrant County and the genesis of that project and the engineering work that started earlier in the '90s.
Other projects, again, included a lot of local participation and support, kind of talking about some of those. The 1460 project, obviously that we've recommended to add to the list, shows a lot of local support through the acquisition of right of way, other things like that. These projects are locally preferred projects in the metropolitan planning organizations and elected leadership, and they've been through numerous public involvement processes/meetings to discuss the design and operation of these projects, and they're well underway.
The Cuatro Vientos project down in the Valley, as well as the Joe Fulton Corridor, again projects that have been emphasized a lot on trade routes, those communities have talked about these things for quite some time, and they're important projects in order to get the freight and commerce of Texas moving more efficiently so we can have an opportunity to position the state in a greater economic advantage with our competition in other states around the nation.
And then another example from the East, just talking about some of those, the Grand Parkway, of course, is a huge priority for the region. I think David Gornet from the Grand Parkway Association is here, Commissioner Holmes certainly can speak to it, but this has been a great project of interest for the Houston metro area for many, many years, and adding this particular segment would be a vital part in not only improving immediately mobility and safety issues but it also will be an opportunity open up areas for development in the Greater Houston area, as well as start the continuation and completion of that larger network of roadways.
And then out in the West, just to point to a few of those again, these projects have been in various areas and development stages over a long period of time and funding has held them back from going forward. An example of that is the Northwest Passage project there in the Lubbock area, one that the community has been working on for quite some time, had put together a lot of resources to make available to it, and just didn't have enough money to get it across the goal line.
The South Orient Rail project and the bridge replacement there in Ballinger is another great opportunity for West Texas. It is supporting a growing wind industry that's out in West Texas and it's important for the economy of that region, will create many jobs, and it will help us to become more efficient in delivering that product and service out there so we can increase the nation's independence from the use of foreign energy supplies. So it has a lot of connections to a lot of important issues, I guess is the point I wanted to make there.
I wanted to point out that the metropolitan planning organizations around the state also have a responsibility in this particular issue, and they have tentatively constructed a list of projects that they perceive and want to move forward with with their suballocations from the funding available to them under the stimulus program, but many of them, quite frankly, are waiting on us to make a decision about the projects we're going to fund because of the partnership opportunities that they've offered up to us. So in many cases, they are offering or deferring their stimulus funds to the State, and they need for the commission to make a decision so they can know what they need to do to move forward with developing a final list of projects for the meaningful projects within their areas.
These partnership proposals, I think, again are a testament to the work of our district engineers who have done a great job around the state, working with the local leaders. This is just a map of the metropolitan planning organizations around the state and the regions that they serve, and both our MPO partners, our local planners, local elected leaders and our district engineers, I think, should be commended on working together on behalf of Texas and putting together a very robust list of projects and priorities that, unfortunately, we had to cobble down to the short list that can actually be funded.
So I'm not going to list every project that the MPOs have selected throughout the state for you, but I would like to let you notice that many of our MPOs are leveraging their funds with us through the staff's recommendation, and again, they're waiting on us to make a decision for their final project selections. The projects shown on this list highlighted in green also have individual histories that date back for many decades and some even include earmarks from Congress that have been waiting for quite some time to move forward. So that's just an indication of some things that are out there that decisions need to be made and those MPOs need to have answers so they can move forward with determining what they actually will do.
And I'll just flip through, that was for areas in the West, here's Hidalgo County, Lubbock, then North Central Texas. So these are the list of projects that are out there tied to staff's recommendation and those metropolitan planning organizations are waiting for a decision to be made, and so it's just an issue that I wanted to bring to your attention.
Again, the time requirements for obligation, we have 120 days from March 3 in order to obligate at least 50 percent of the funds that were provided to the State and not further suballocated to the metropolitan planning organizations. Priorities also should be given to the projects that are projected to be completed within three years of the bill enactment and that are located in economically distressed areas of the state. Again, today the plan that's being presented to you have 53 percent of the funding obligated within that first 120 days so we have a plan to exceed the requirements of that.
MR. HOUGHTON: John, how many days do we have left of the 120?
MR. HOUGHTON: One hundred eighteen, counting today.
MR. HOUGHTON: So we keep delaying, we shorten the fuse. Right?
MR. BARTON: Yes, sir, for moving forward with obligation.
MS. DELISI: Can we talk a little bit about what that 120 days entails, sort of can you work backwards with everything else you need to do in order to make that 120 days?
MR. BARTON: Sure. The first thing that has to happen is we have to identify the projects that we are commit funding through the stimulus package here in Texas, and then once those projects have been identified, we have to make sure that they are in an approved planning document through the metropolitan planning organizations or at the statewide level. And again, the ones that we anticipate you -- based on our recommendation -- approving meet those requirements, or at least 53 percent of the funding does.
We also then have to complete the design work or the engineering work in order to get the contractors a document to bid on within that same window of time, and all of that has to be done sufficiently in advance to make sure that the environmental processes have been completed and all the required environmental approvals have been received. And if there are rights of way associated with the project, that we've either actually acquired the right of way or we have the right to use it, or at least a sufficient amount of that to allow the contractor to occupy the project and begin construction and not be delayed in the future due to further utility adjustments or right of way acquisitions.
Once we've got all that information together, we then would submit that information to the Federal Highway Administration for their consideration, and if they approve that everything has been done that's federally required to allow federal funds to be spent on the project, they issue to us what is referred to as a federal letter of authority, and the date for receiving that federal letter of authority has to occur before June 30 which is, I believe, 120 days afer March 3 which was the date the apportionments were received from the Federal Highway Administration.
So all the engineering has to be done, all the planning requirements have to be done, all the environmental clearances have to be received, any right of way that's necessary to allow the contractors to begin work and not be delayed have to be secured or the right to occupy those, we have to provide and prove all that to the Federal Highway Administration, and then they have to issue us a letter saying they concur. And on these projects, those are the activities that have to occur within this first 120 days for more than 50 percent of the funding that was delivered to the State and not further suballocated.
MR. HOUGHTON: The big question is are the resources there to accomplish that.
MR. BARTON: We believe so. Again, as we developed this list of projects from around the state that was winnowed down finally to this staff recommendation, a big part of that consideration was projects that were sufficiently developed to comply with these time frames. And early on, the House version of the bill said 90 days, the Senate version said 180 days, so we knew there would be a short fuse with that. These projects, many of them, as I said, and certainly our preservation projects are developed, designed, ready to go, have environmental clearances, all of those sorts of things.
So I think there will be a strain on some of the federal partners, but we've been working hand in hand with our federal partners at the Federal Highway Administration, we've also been in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and other resource agencies, and we have a great deal of confidence, and a backup plan, if you will, to ensure that we're able to meet those requirements.
MR. HOLMES: The backup plan, John, let's talk about that a little bit, because, clearly, we do not want to fail to meet either the 120-day time line or the one-year time line.
MR. BARTON: Right.
MR. HOLMES: And let's talk a little bit about the backup plan. Do we have some alternative projects in the event that there is a stumble somewhere along the line?
MR. BARTON: Yes, sir. It's not a part of the official action that you would be taking today, but one of the things I wanted to talk about at the conclusion of my presentation was the steps forward, and one of those, I think, is to always have an alternative plan in place to make sure that we don't fail to meet the requirements of the act in terms of the windows of opportunity or the intent of the bill itself. And so, as you will recall, prior to last week's meeting on the mobility side we made available for consideration and for public purview a larger list of mobility projects.
What we would like to discuss with you and perhaps bring back for further action at a subsequent commission meeting, either another called one this month or your regular meeting this month -- and I know many of you would say let's just leave it at the regular meeting so you don't have to travel back to Austin more than necessary -- but we would like to kind of bring forward a list of those other projects that are priorities for the communities around the state that are very close to being ready to be implemented, that can fill in the window if we have a problem in the first 120 days, as well as within the remainder of the act which is through March 3 of 2010.
And that way, if we run into any problems, we have a project that for whatever reasons, unknown utility issues, right of way acquisition problems, the engineering work just doesn't happen as quickly as we think it does, we run into a planning or environmental issue, that we have a set of alternatives that can be then considered and brought forward to the commission for consideration to fill in, if you will.
And then we'd do the same thing on the preservation side. This whole thing started in November when I submitted a response to a survey that AASHTO sent out saying we had over $6 billion worth of preservation projects we could deliver quickly if funding was made available, and those projects are still out there, and again, many communities, rural areas of the state have many more needs that are readily available, could go to contract within this first 120 days to allow us to meet the requirements of the bill.
MS. DELISI: John, can you talk a little bit, again briefly, about -- let's go through the time line. You talked about this process started in late October, early November. Can you talk about a little bit of the process and the work we've done with the MPOs, and also, you were talking that you've worked hand in hand with our federal partners since this last four or five month period, the process that you've gone through to get us to this point?
MR. BARTON: Sure. Again, knowing that the stimulus bill was something that Congress was considering and the president-elect certainly had voiced strong support for. And even back in January of 2008, from the previous Congress and under President Bush, there was a stimulus bill, if you'll remember -- it didn't provide for investments in transportation infrastructure, but that was considered at that time. And so this issue was out there for a little over a year now and we have been talking about that with our transportation partners at the federal level, at our local metropolitan level, and just with the engineering and construction community.
So in the October time frame -- actually, I think a little earlier than that -- there was a governors conference where economic stimulus was discussed, the idea that infrastructure development would be an important and good part to be considered in that. And so we started asking our district engineers to get with their local communities, their local planning partners, and thinking about what projects are available in Texas that we could deliver quickly within 180 days if we had an opportunity to do that and all the money in the world was made available to us. And so back in October we kind of started the discussion of this issue around the state with all the transportation partners.
In November, I did respond to a survey that AASHTO, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, sent out saying that Texas and all other states, if you had all the money available to you, how many projects and what value could you deliver within 120 days to contract, actually get them bid out to contract. And working again with our district engineers, we cobbled that list together -- that's known as the $6 billion list that many people referred to.
That kind of got the discussion, I guess, a little bit more heightened because we provided that information to the members of Congress and others, and so they said, you know what, we know the stimulus is coming but let's take a different approach. Commissioner Meadows said let's talk about projects that really affect communities, that provide long-lasting benefit to Texas. People like Chairman Dunnam said we need to be building those monuments like we did under the work program where they have libraries and museums that have been around for decades. We don't want to do just preservation-type activities. Commissioners Holmes and Meadows and the Chairwoman and Commissioner Underwood said that's a great idea, let's start talking to our partners.
So in December and January we started putting together a partnership with our transit authorities, our tolling agencies, our regional mobility authorities, all of our metropolitan planning organizations, and we started conducting face-to-face meetings here in Austin, as well as conference calls on a weekly basis to talk about the discussion that was occurring. And we committed our Government and Public Affairs staff to monitoring the discussions in Washington, D.C., analyzing the bills. We started meeting with our partners at the Associated General Contractors -- I met with Tom Johnson and several leaders from the construction industry -- to talk about the types of projects and what could be delivered, to talk about their needs and how many people they were laying off.
And so on a weekly basis we've been developing this process, and part of that was to reach out and come up with a consensus of how we should select projects and how we should prioritize them. We knew that we could identify the universe of projects, those that would be ready to go within a year, 50 percent of which could be obligated within 120 days, projects that put people to work immediately. So we cobbled together this list of billions and billions worth of projects and then we had to winnow it down to something that we knew would be a smaller number.
And so we worked with them and came up with the screening document, if you will, the tools and priorities that take the act's requirements of economically distressed areas, those projects that are ready to develop and implement within the three-year time frame, providing geographic representation around the state, addressing safety needs, projects on corridors of national and regional significance, statewide importance, that create those long-lasting economic opportunities, those monuments that our children and grandchildren will look back at and say: They built that under the 2009 stimulus package, Obama's plan -- much like we do the WPA program today.
And we used those tools to come up with the staff recommendation and we put that out for public review and comment, then we made our staff recommendation to you last week. Again, we solicited that comment, we continue to have conference calls and meetings -- we had one this week and we have one scheduled for next week, and we'll continue those until we work this through because it's going to take a team effort of all the people involved.
And again, all along through this way, our local elected officials, metropolitan planning organizations and other transportation partners were engaged in the process. And I think, what I've heard, the feedback from them is that this has been a great opportunity to build partnerships, to strengthen relationships, to do this the right way through a consensus process, and they feel like it's been very successful.
MS. DELISI: Building on that a little bit, you talked about how many of these projects, if not all of them, have been on the books for years, if not decades.
MR. BARTON: Yes, ma'am.
MS. DELISI: What type of public participation and involvement goes into these projects even getting to the point where they were they were available for consideration by us?
MR. BARTON: A great question, and I'll just take one off the top that is one of those legacy projects that we talked about already, the DFW Connector. Again, the planning process started back in the middle 1990s, the project was identified as a need earlier than that, consultants were hired, they started putting together the planning documents. The first public meetings were held in 1997; since then there have been numerous public hearings and meetings held on that. Just most recently, the district reported that there were meetings held in May of 1997, September of 1998, December of 1998, April of 1999, July of 1999, as recently as February of 2006, and then they had the public hearings after they did all the final environmental work in February of 2009.
And they've provided that information throughout the community up there. They've been working through the Regional Transportation Council which is the governing body of the metropolitan planning organization on that, for many, many years, and it was first placed -- which is kind of interesting to me -- into the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan -- which you all know is an anticipated four-year window of time in which projects will be developed -- this project was first identified and put into that plan in 1998, so at that time they envisioned this project being under construction no later than 2002, and so it's been an ongoing project.
This is just one example of many, and as I said, all these projects have had numerous public meetings and engagement to get to a point where they can be delivered now between now and March of 2010.
Just a few more slides, I think, and I'll wrap up my comments. A lot of discussion has occurred in discussing the economically distressed areas of the state. Upon receipt of the federal map that we got last Thursday, we did an analysis of the projects that we had already identified, reviewing those and making sure that we took those projects, as well as others, and gave priority to projects located in economically distressed areas of the state, as the bill does require. And our staff compared those projects again to that map and that information, and re-evaluated other projects, making sure we gave priority to projects in the areas that are economically distressed.
And our analysis shows that 31 percent of Texans live in those areas of the state that are determined to be economically distressed, counties based on the map that was provided to us, and over 37 percent of the funding that we are recommending through our staff recommendation is being directed toward those counties for much needed projects within their communities.
If you look at that compared to those same distributions to the non-economically distressed areas, the numbers are there on that slide, and I think a lot of people have been interested in this and so I wanted to make sure that we laid it out for everyone completely and succinctly.
But basically, at the end of the day, when you look to the right, the distribution of funding in those economically distressed areas versus the non-economically distressed areas, shows that per capita, per person, our staff recommendation to you would put $85.76 per person into those economically distressed areas and $65.53 into those non-economically distressed areas. So if you want to look at it in terms of a premium, if you will, this proposal puts a $21 premium into those economically distressed areas.
And I think it's important, I have a footnote there at the bottom, the challenge we faced was complying with all the requirements of the bill as well as the intent of getting jobs created and providing great job opportunities, and I think it's important to note that by the federal definitions that come from the Department of Commerce, Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Travis and Bexar counties -- just to name a few in our metropolitan areas -- are not considered economically distressed, and yet I think it would be foolish for any of us to believe that projects and communities and neighborhoods within those metropolitan communities are not economically distressed.
So using that tool that was provided to us is great and I think it's important and we have been and will use it in order to comply with the act, but I think it's also good to note that communities like Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin lie within areas that are not considered economically distressed by the Department of Commerce map that was provided to us but still have pockets of economically distressed communities that would be well served by projects being placed in those areas.
And then lastly, to name just a couple of communities, Galveston, Chambers and Harris County, Montgomery, Jefferson, Orange, obviously have been affected dramatically -- and Liberty and others, I don't want to leave anyone out. But Hurricane Ike, Hurricane Dolly and other disasters have greatly affected the economy of several regions of our state that technically, under the map that was provided to us, are not classified as economically distressed.
And I think you might have had a comment or a question?
MR. HOLMES: Well, that was really the comment I was going to make. Clearly, there are some areas that are economically distressed in each one of those five counties that you've listed, but there are also some projects in those counties and in those areas. As I recall, each one of them has a portion that runs through an area that I would consider to be economically distressed, and so I think from my view, not counting the federal definition, it's probably actually a higher percentage of dollars are going into economically distressed areas.
MR. BARTON: I think one of the next issues that I said a lot of comments were received on and we tried to make sure we had done a full review and analysis on and certainly are interested in making sure we're open about, is the use of stimulus funding for recommended projects that are associated with or are toll roads. And this is just a slide of information showing that, as an example, the Loop 49 project there in Tyler is one of several that are on the list, and that particular one is a toll project that I mentioned earlier.
But approximately 27 percent of the funding in the staff recommendation, 27 percent of the stimulus monies in staff's recommendation would be directly related to toll projects -- and again, some of these numbers, I think, are the things that people are interested in -- another 37 percent would be spent on projects that have toll elements associated with them.
And as an example, the Loop 1604 and 281 corridor interchange in Bexar County, while it is going to be built as the RMA and MPO are proposing it as a non-toll interchange and it will stay that way in perpetuity, it will tie into and have the ability for people on a future toll road that's being considered -- certainly hasn't been decided upon -- but managed lanes or HOT lanes in the middle of 1604 and then the similar type of arrangement on the northern reaches of 281. Should those become a reality -- and that decision has yet to be made -- this project would be designed with that in mind so that it would allow those tolled lanes to be able to use this interchange as well. So it's associated with a potential toll road but it's not going to be a tolled facility itself.
And then, of course, the remaining 35 percent are on non-tolled jobs and are associated just with transportation needs around the state and are not part of any future toll road.
As you can see, local areas are leveraging their funds against these projects to make them more viable -- that's through toll revenues and others, as well as local contributions -- and non-toll projects are increasing the values here in Texas when you put all that together to, as I said, the $2.6 billion with $1.2 billion being brought forward through the stimulus package.
I wanted to talk a little bit about job creations, I talked about that last month, and again, the purpose of the bill, quite frankly, is to stimulate the economy through the retention and creation of jobs, and our construction industry, I think, as you know, is currently in the process of suffering through a lull in the construction industry and has had to lay off many workers over the last several months, according to AGC representative that spoke to you last month. And this bill and this tool will certainly help us retain some much needed jobs for citizens of Texas, and we want to make sure we act quickly to get those projects under contract.
And so when you put the dollars available, when you cobble the mobility side of the program as well as the maintenance portion of the program, as well as with the projects the MPOs anticipate being able to bring forward, it's about a $3.4 billion total value -- and that's approximate because we don't know exactly what projects the MPOs ultimately will do and the value of those -- but if it is around that $3.4 billion area, then more than 90,000 direct and indirect jobs will be created.
And I wanted to share, you know, boots on the ground is the smallest number, actual people working on the sites would be much less than 90,000, probably 29- to 30,000 would be those that are associated with the construction activities, crushing the rock, making the materials, working in a factory that packages them and ships them out, that kind of thing. And then the remainder of those are that spill-off, if you will, where it's the persons that sell the food to the men and women as they travel to and from work every day and sell the hard hats and the steel-toed shoes and gloves at the retail outlets for those type things. So the 90,000 is the total impact to the economy.
MS. DELISI: John, I'm sorry to keep on interrupting you, but I see Tom Johnson here, if you don't mind, I'd like to call Tom up.
MR. BARTON: I'd love to take a break.
MS. DELISI: So we can have a real quick conversation about the job creation, what that means, because I have some questions about the industry and what you've been facing, and what you're looking at currently for job losses, and if we delay, what that would mean to your industry -- further delay to your industry, what it would mean.
MR. JOHNSON: Yes, ma'am, thank you. In December we laid off 5,000 people, and these are direct jobs, these don't include indirect jobs. In January we laid off another 5,000 people, and in February we were scheduled to lay off a third thousand. Our normal direct workforce back 2-1/2 years ago was around 60,000 direct employees on your projects, so this is a pretty substantial drop.
As a result of this commission moving forward the projects that you had scheduled, not stimulus but other projects for the next three or four months, you moved the March letting up from a $200 million letting to roughly a $500 million letting. As a result, what our industry did was keep people on the payroll, quit selling equipment for the month of February to see what happens next week during the letting of some $500 million.
Now, obviously that's not going to turn things around, one letting alone, but the department's schedule if this commission acts today and they're able to move forward of having two lettings in April and particularly going in with maintenance work, we're expecting a $500- to $600 million letting in April as well. If that happens, in April we'll start hiring these people back. The $500 million in March is a wash, we're still holding, we're still moving, but if we see April coming the way it's supposed to, and what the department and the staff are recommending and if you all adopt it today, we'll start hiring people back. And it's just that simple. If the commission doesn't act today or for whatever reason this is postponed, we don't have any choice, we'll start laying off.
I can't speak for the support industries except I can tell you that the Caterpillar dealer that covers the biggest part of the state announced this week a 30 percent layoff, so these ripple effects are, in fact, there.
It's kind of interesting to note that the Federal Highway Administration last year conducted a major study on jobs created and whatnot, and normally those studies don't necessarily track what the actual job creation is or where we are, interestingly enough, this one did. And the actual numbers that they have are 34,779 jobs for $1.2 billion or 11,921 jobs produced directly for $1.2 billion. So our layoffs, based on reduced workload, does track that.
If I could take just 30 seconds and tell you, the commission doesn't really have much work on the books right now. Two and a half years ago you had roughly $16 billion under contract, $7-1/2 billion was uncompleted. You were letting, roughly, on a calendar year $4.8 billion a year and you had since 2004. For the last two years, our earn-out has continued at somewhere between $350- and $400 million a month, and your lettings have dropped to well under $3 billion. Last calendar year was $2.4 billion.
So that's the reason that these layoffs track and that's the reason that timing is so critical right now because you now have $11 billion instead of $16 billion under contract, instead of 55 percent earned out, or a roughly $7 billion backlog, you have 70 percent earned out on $11 billion, the rest are completed, you have about $3 billion that's uncompleted work. That's virtually no backlog because you've got some long jobs. And that's the reason these layoffs are coming so heavy, and they're going to do nothing but increase unless it turns around.
Now, the $3.4 billion, what does that do this year? It really brings you up to -- forget about inflation -- to where you were three years ago, the same letting level, but it brings our employees back to where we were at that point and it gets us back to the 60,000 employees. And one of the things we've talked to the department about, and I think it speaks well, Congress didn't earmark these funds, they left them to you all to get them out as quick as possible, and of course, you recall with the 2030 Committee, the amount of maintenance work and we're falling behind. This year we're probably going to lose 20,000 lane miles because the department doesn't have the money to do it.
So that initial amount of maintenance projects is going to give us a chance not just to employ people in Houston but statewide, and I think that's going to be really, really important. We're going to see jobs in Lubbock, we're going to see jobs in Presidio, we're going to see jobs all over the state with the way you have structured the letting of these projects going after the maintenance first and then coming with the major projects.
But again, I thank you and I appreciate what you're doing, and my plea with you today is don't hesitate because we can only pay employees for so long when there's no work for them to do.
MR. HOUGHTON: Tom, your industry is just but one industry that's affected directly and you talk about direct jobs. Can you or Amadeo or John talk about the designers and engineers, how it affects them, our consulting engineering community?
MR. JOHNSON: Absolutely. Consultant engineers, the equipment dealers, fuel dealers, everybody, and it affects the local community because when we go to Lubbock, obviously we're going to buy commodities in Lubbock, so the ripple effect -- and some people use a three-to-one to five-to-one effect, but it's the local businesses that we're going to do business with. And one of the beauties about the way this department works is we don't bring all our materials from one area, we buy materials in each area of the state, so with the job creation for us or job retention, the local community is also going to realize jobs coming back that they're losing.
MR. HOLMES: Tom, just listening to those numbers about layoffs in your industry, it strikes me if I look at unemployment numbers in Texas, on average it's around 6-1/2 percent or something such as that, and it sounds like your industry is triple that, and maybe going towards quadruple. I mean, it's 16 or 17 percent layoff now and headed to 25.
MR. JOHNSON: Absolutely. And you can tell if you have -- well, I'm going to take Travis County as a very, very good example, Travis County construction here, we were building 2-1/2 years we were working on 130, we were working on the T project, we were working on 45, we were working all of these projects; Travis County now we're 90 percent earned out. For all practical purposes, the entire district has less uncompleted work now than the residency would have in some areas, and so it's a bad situation, there's no question. It's one thing to just talk about jobs, but when you've got to look at 5,000 people and say sorry, I don't need you next week, next month, next year.
Now, we're trying to retain as many of those people as possible right now, with the hope that with the stimulus package the work program will be there and then we'll be able to utilize these crews, but you can only pay so many people such a short period of time with no income before you're out of business.
MR. HOUGHTON: Thanks, Tom. Madam Chair, based on the leveraging issue, I'd like, with your permission, to ask the tolling authorities that are here. There's Pete with Cameron County. I'd like to talk about that leveraging. Pete, are you here -- Sepulveda?
MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER: Madam Chair, can we find out who the last speaker was?
MS. DELISI: I'm sorry. That was Tom Johnson with AGC. And a good reminder to everyone who comes up and speaks, please, for the record state your name and who you represent when you speak?
MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER: AGC is?
MS. DELISI: Associated General Contractors.
FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER: And the next speaker is?
MS. DELISI: Excuse me. Folks, please --
FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER: What was his name?
MS. DELISI: Hold on. He will state his name for the record. I'm asking everybody in the audience their patience, please do not call out in the middle. If you want to speak, you will be recognized to come up and speak. And again, I ask everybody to state your name and who you're representing for the record. Thank you. Go ahead.
MR. SEPULVEDA: Chair Delisi and Commission members, good morning.
MR. HOUGHTON: I haven't asked you a question yet, just give your name. This is the question: Tom is talking about leveraging and leveraging the monies. I think the allocation to Cameron County's spur project is $34 million?
MR. SEPULVEDA: $36.4 million.
MR. HOUGHTON: What does that do for the I-69 leverage up to Corpus Christi?
MR. SEPULVEDA: That will be the start, as your staff knows, FM 511 that comes from Expressway 77 to the Port of Brownsville years ago was designated as Interstate 69. This spur, four-mile stretch of road, will be the first leg of I-69. These funds would allow us to leverage and utilize excess revenues from this project to fund some of the improvements of the $750 million that are needed to complete the 120-mile stretch between Corpus and Brownsville and upgrade US 77 to an interstate standard corridor.
As you all know, the Rio Grande Valley region is probably the largest region in the United States without an interstate highway, and we're also an economically disadvantaged region. What you will allow us to do, if you approve this project, is leverage those funds, allow us to utilize those excess revenues so that we can improve 77 to an interstate standard corridor. Not only that, those excess revenues will also allow us to fund projects at the Port of Brownsville and throughout the communities in Cameron County.
And the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority, working in conjunction with all the cities in Cameron County and developing partnerships, have developed a strategic plan and have developed a system map for the next 20-30 years that this one project alone will help implement some of those and utilize excess revenues to leverage additional funds from other funding sources.
MR. HOUGHTON: Pete, state your name again. Commissioner Holmes says I interrupted you and you didn't get your full name into the record.
MR. SEPULVEDA: My name is Pete Sepulveda. I am the Cameron County administrator and I'm also executive director for the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority.
MR. HOUGHTON: You guys have done enough work on the dollar issues, the $34 million will leverage what immediately?
MR. SEPULVEDA: The amount needed to complete the upgrade of 77 from Corpus to Brownsville is $750 million, and that is only on one project. I can talk to you about two other projects that hopefully will be funded with stimulus funds from the local MPOs. One is the West Rail relocation project that is located in Brownsville, and we've got a partnership with the Union Pacific Railroad, with the Federal Highway Administration and with the Texas Department of Transportation. The stimulus funds, if we're able to utilize the local MPO funds, will allow this project to move to a construction phase. This project is a safety project, it's a congestion project, and more importantly, it's an international project. We've got a partner in Mexico that is also ready to go to construction sometime during this summer.
The other project is what we call the North Rail project in the Harlingen area, and that project is to relocate the existing Union Pacific switchyard in downtown Harlingen and relocate it to Olmito, consolidate all the switching operations for Union Pacific at one location. This is also a safety and a congestion project and will greatly improve the safety in the downtown area of Harlingen.
MR. HOUGHTON: Pete, thank you very much for coming.
MR. SEPULVEDA: Thank you.
MS. DELISI: I'm sorry, John. Do you want to come up and quickly finish your presentation? We've got a lot of people who want to speak.
MR. HOUGHTON: I thought you were finished, John.
MR. BARTON: Well, I will wrap up quickly, Commissioner.
I just wanted to briefly go over the deadlines associated with the bill. And again for the record, my name is John Barton, the assistant executive director for Engineering Operations at the Texas Department of Transportation.
The guidance that we received from our Federal Highway Administration partners require that the bill would require us to submit a list of projects to Washington, D.C. by March 17 -- that's what's being asked for. As discussed, this list would include the projects not only from the stimulus funding at the discretion of the department but also from the MPOs and they are waiting on us to make some decisions so they can finalize their lists.
On March 19 of this year, the governor will be required to certify that we are continuing with our normal programs and maintaining our level of funding, if you will, for projects of the type selected under the act and that we will not supplant or set aside any previously approved 2009 state funding for projects.
By April 3 of this year, the governor will also be required to submit a request for the funding for the projects provided on the list and to certify that those projects are of public value.
Our plan then is to go to contract in mid April with approximately $450 million of identified projects that I shared with you to help get people back to work in the construction industry and other sectors of our community, and each month thereafter we will work on projects to put them out for bids to ensure that we meet the time lines required associated with the bill, and we will report back to you in your regular meetings, or otherwise as you would like, on the production of jobs and provide a complete report on the use of the stimulus program here in Texas, as well as provide that information to the federal government as required by the act.
The projects discussed up to now do account for the funding available to the commission under the act for highways and bridges. This list, we have intentionally labeled those projects of staff's recommendation of importance, and those are anticipated to go to contract with the requirements of the bill if you choose to accept staff's recommendation.
As I mentioned earlier, though, I think one of the things that's important for us to talk about -- if not today at some time in the very near future -- is the creation of a much larger list of potential projects to be substitutes or available substitutes should something happen on the preferred list, if you will, and we think it would be prudent to do some extra planning for those projects and make them ready and available to move forward should something happen. Therefore, as we are presenting this information to the commission, I would suggest that you consider that recommendation from staff and provide guidance to us on the development of a larger list of potential projects to serve as substitutes for your consideration.
So moving forward, our next steps are to ask you to approve the revised maintenance list, preservation program. As I spoke about earlier in the presentation, that is an attachment to the minute order. We are also looking forward to beginning the letting of projects, as I said, in the very near future, getting approval for more than 50 percent of the funding available to us through obligation within the 120-day period of time. In the upcoming weeks we will be working with the MPOs to help them finalize and submit their lists to us for consideration -- not for consideration but for inclusion in our submissions to the federal government for the certification process.
Another outstanding issue is the enhancement projects that are required to be part of this package. As you know, $67-1/2 million must be set aside for enhancement improvements, projects such as hike and bike trails, rest areas and other improvements, and I think it's critically important that the commission provide direction to the staff on how we want to move forward with that. And all of the goals, as I said, are working toward this March 17 deadline to submit a list of projects to Washington, D.C., as our current guidance from FHWA suggests -- excuse me -- I should say probable the Office of the Secretary of Transportation.
And as I said, the two attachments to the minute order before you are the revised preservation list, taking into consideration priority for projects located within economically distressed areas, as well as staff recommendation on the major mobility projects that I've described to you. So with that, I'll conclude my presentation.
MS. DELISI: Are there any other questions for John?
MR. MEADOWS: I just have one question, you just need to remind me. In the process you described earlier where the metropolitan planning organizations and the toll authorities in the state came forward with projects that they had identified, their local leadership had identified as being qualified to meet some base criteria set out, the shovel-ready sort of concept. What was the total cost of those projects?
MR. BARTON: The total cost for all the projects identified I think was in excess of $13 billion, and it actually continues to grow as people continue to submit projects.
MR. MEADOWS: Right. So those were qualified projects brought initially through that process was $13 billion.
MR. BARTON: Yes, sir.
MR. MEADOWS: And we are looking at the distribution today of $1.2 billion. So there were $10 in available projects for every dollar that we actually have to distribute.
MR. BARTON: Yes, sir.
MR. MEADOWS: Okay, thanks.
MR. BARTON: And I think you may want to take comments before you take action.
MS. DELISI: Absolutely. At this time I'd like to call up Representative Richard Raymond, and I understand you're here with the county judge and the mayor. Would you all like to come up together?
MR. RAYMOND: Thank you, Chair Delisi. For the record, my name is Richard Pena Raymond, state representative, District 42 in Laredo. It is my great hope that you will recall, Commissioners, that I testified last week, so I don't want to repeat everything I said last week, but I do want to add, again for the record, that I am in support of the staff recommendation regarding the Cuatro Vientos project in Laredo. We will have testimony in a minute from our Laredo mayor, Raul Salinas, our Webb County judge, Danny Valdez.
And for the record, also we have in the audience City of Laredo council members, Gene Belmares, Hector Quito Garcia, Mike Garza, who will not testify but are here in support of the recommendation. We also have our Laredo city manager, Carlos Villareal, who did testify last week, and of course, supports the project. I also have in the audience my colleague state representative, Ryan Guillen who supports the project and may be joining us up here in a minute.
And I want to say for the record, again, that through the years -- well, I'm beginning my ninth year representing Laredo, and through those eight and some odd years we've been working on this project. This is not something new. The Cuatro Vientos project has been around for a while and we've worked very hard to make sure we do our part, maybe even more than our part to make this project a reality. We appreciate working with Mr. Saenz and TxDOT on this, look forward to other endeavors in the future so we can complete Loop 20, especially with an additional international bridge coming on line in the near future.
Also, I came up here, Chair Delisi and Commissioners, because our state senator, Judith Zaffirini could not be here. She asked that I present a letter to each one of you. Given the constraints on time and the many people who want to testify, I thought I would read just the pertinent part of the letter and then hand the entire letter to you, and the pertinent part is "Please support the proposed Cuatro Vientos Highway project. May God bless you."
MR. RAYMOND: We're praying for you, but through the years in Laredo, we have done more than pray for other parts of the state. I have gladly supported billions of dollars of investment in other parts of the state and I've done so proudly, and hope that you will move forward on the recommendation for the Cuatro Vientos project in Laredo.
With that, I'll yield to the mayor, Chair, if that's okay.
MS. DELISI: Thank you.
MAYOR SALINAS: Good morning, Madam Chair, honorable board members of the Texas Transportation Commission. My name is Raul G. Salinas from the great City of Laredo, Texas.
Your border, my community. The activities that occur on your border are varied and often extremely complex. However, one aspect of your border that places unique burdens on my community is surface transportation. Laredo moves; we move trains, trucks and automobiles across your border on a daily basis, and the economic viability of Texas and this nation is dependent upon the efficiency with which we perform this task. That efficiency is completely dependent upon the local highway transportation network.
At this time, I wish to appeal to you to make all efforts to ensure that movement of commerce is enhanced. And improvement of the highway system in Laredo is not just a one-time opportunity for creation in the construction industries but provides an opportunity for Laredoans, Texans and Americans to prosper through all trade and manufacturing industries. One project that accomplishes all objectives of the economic stimulus bill is a new roadway construction in south Laredo. The project known as Cuatro Vientos will provide congestion relief to US 83 and enhance mobility for this rapidly developing commercial corridor.
The project can be implemented with approximately $30-plus million allocation of stimulus funds to be matched by MPO stimulus allocation up to $5.2 million, the $27.7 million in coordinated infrastructure funds, and approximately $2.5 million in other local resources. Therefore, as this is our top priority project and as the allocation constitutes a mere 3.1 percent of the discretionary resources under consideration today, I respectfully respect this funding of resources that a much needed relief parallel to US 83, known as Cuatro Vientos, can be realized.
Our elected representatives in Austin, State Senator Judith Zaffirini, State Representative Richard Raymond, and State Representative Ryan Guillen, as well as our good congressman, Congressman Henry Cuellar, and the city have been working diligently to bring about the solution to bringing this project to fruition. Your endorsement of TxDOT staff's recommendation to accomplish this certainly will be appreciated.
Again, I thank you for this opportunity to present your border's needs and hope for your favorable consideration. Thank you so very much, and God bless you.
JUDGE VALDEZ: Good morning, distinguished members of TxDOT Transportation Commission. For the record, my name is Danny Valdez, county judge of Webb County, Texas.
First and foremost, let me thank you for giving me the opportunity to present our reasons why this worthy infrastructure project should be included in the recommended projects list for Webb County.
Roadway infrastructure is a key component of the community's growth and economic prosperity. The Cuatro Vientos, or Four Winds, roadway is a testament to this statement. I come before you today with my colleagues from the City of Laredo to request that this commission recommend the inclusion of Webb County/City of Laredo Cuatro Vientos roadway project in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act projects list. The Cuatro Vientos roadway will significantly reduce existing traffic congestion on US Highway 83 South, while concurrently eliminating a hazardous traffic barrier through the creation of an alternative truck route to and from south Laredo.
In the last 20 years, the City of Laredo has expanded in a southward direction along US Highway 83. The southernmost communities of Rio Bravo and El Cenizo have a combined population of approximately 16,000 residents. Most of these residents are employed in Laredo and must travel to and from work on US 83 on a daily basis. During this time, US 83 has remained the only significant thoroughfare that serves this growing population. The Cuatro Vientos roadway will intersect with Loop 20, the Bob Bullock Loop, to create a direct artery for commuters from south Webb County and the city of Laredo to travel northwards, bypassing US 83's bottleneck at the three points intersection.
As the largest inland port in the United States, Webb County and its county seat, the City of Laredo, experience high volumes of commercial tractor traffic along its major roadways, including US 83. The 6.5-mile Cuatro Vientos roadway will impact economic growth through residential and commercial development opportunities within this part of the county. The Cuatro Vientos roadway project has been proposed and recognized through several studies and reports by prominent and reputable companies and organizations as a priority project, due primarily to the significance of its impact and benefits for Webb County and the City of Laredo.
The primary goal of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding directed through TxDOT is to stimulate the economy through job creation associated directly and indirectly through infrastructure improvements project. The economic distress of a region, county or city should be part of the equation when recommending funding for the project. Webb County is recognized as an economically distressed area due to its high priority levels, lack of substantial life wage employment opportunities, and a per capita income of $12,673 which is below the Texas state per capita income of $20,486.
We believe that the inclusion of our project satisfies the intent of this historic legislation and will represent a fair and equitable distribution of TxDOT's stimulus funding that is, in fact, a once in a generation opportunity to improve our roadway infrastructure while stimulating our economy through job creation.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here.
MS. DELISI: Thank you.
MR. GUILLEN: Thank you. Ryan Guillen, state representative, District 31, Webb County, the Rio Grande Valley, and some other rural parts of South Texas.
I just wanted to thank you and commend you for working with us and for your favorable consideration of this project, the Cuatro Vientos project in Laredo, and to thank Amadeo for his work with us. This is a very important project to us that we've been working on for a long time, and your favorable consideration is greatly appreciated. Thank you.
MR. HOUGHTON: Representatives Guillen and Raymond, I'll put you on the spot, based upon the project that you have here and its importance, would you like us to delay this vote another couple of weeks?
MR. RAYMOND: Commissioner, if you so choose to postpone the vote on the other projects for a couple of weeks, we certainly respect that.
MR. HOUGHTON: He's good, isn't he.
MR. RAYMOND: We don't, however, want you to delay for another minute the vote on the Cuatro Vientos project.
MR. HOUGHTON: Good answer. I concur.
MR. HOLMES: Just as a point, I am very impressed with the allocation of locally controlled funds that comes from an economically distressed area. It's very impressive, it's great. Congratulations.
MS. DELISI: Thank you.
MR. RAYMOND: Thank you, Madam Chair.
MS. DELISI: I'd like to call up Representative Doc Anderson.
MR. ANDERSON: Thank you, commission members. Let me say I really appreciate your time and efforts in a difficult situation, and there's confusion across the board, not just in the transportation world but in the whole stimulus package, and so it's a difficult thing to deal with. But let me say, with referring to the stretch of highway between Lacy-Lakeview and West, we were very disappointed when that was not included on the final list, or supposedly what will be voted on today.
Let me say there were some problems of transparency and communication, and be it intentional or not, it was quite perplexing. Initially we heard that the requirements would be the engineering studies and the environmental studies and the right of way acquisition and then to move those closer to the gate, if you would, and then it became total dollars, and now the last couple of days you hear about the economically distressed issue -- and this stretch of road is in an economically distressed area, according to the feds.
It's also important -- you are well aware -- that the general public knows that the federal rules are kind of confusing and there still is rules yet to be written -- they won't even be finished for another 65 days or something. And Tom, in his testimony, mentioned about the crisis, we need the jobs, we're all concerned about jobs, I'm a small business guy, we're certainly concerned about the jobs, I understand how that affects the economy. However, be it on a state level or a federal level, the argument that we're in a crisis, we've got to do it right now is starting to pale -- it's starting to pale with folks I talk to, it's starting to pale in the media.
It's more important that we do these things correctly rather than quickly, and I say that in the environment that we find ourselves, and I know you are trying to do a good job and spend this money and stay within the boundaries of the federal requirements, but we really need to take a deep breath and look at things and let the people out there have a say or at least an understanding of what's going on.
TxDOT staff, I believe, is very much up to speed, as much as they can be in this shifting paradigm that we find ourselves. However, most Texans are not, and let me say the state representatives and state senators are not, and it's very perplexing because we're getting the question as to what's going on here and it's hard to say for sure what is going on.
The Select Committee -- and I'm not on that committee; thank God for small mercies -- but I audited just about every one of those committee meetings, and it's perplexing to find out that 70 percent of this money, in excess of $800 million, is being spent on toll roads, and that was something that's not really understood. And there may also be some federal compliance issues that we want to be sure, as Texas goes forward, that we're in full compliance with these rules that have yet to be completed.
It's also important to note that TxDOT is under Sunset currently and there may be possibly some changes down the road. I'm not suggesting you wait until May or so when that bill comes out on whatever changes may be to the agency, but it is kind of unusual that in this scenario that this much money, this many projects and the effect it will have on the State of Texas is in that parameter.
I would respectfully request that the commission put off the decision for a week or so, allow the representatives to communicate with our people, allow the people to communicate with us, and allow us to communicate with you. And I think it would be good on a good faith scenario, particularly with the history we've had and where we are politically that rather than rushing to a conclusion in a good faith situation to slow things down, let's think about this, let's see -- not that there would be a whole lot of changes per se, but it's important that we bring the people onboard. They get left out in all of this. Everybody's intentions are well and they have the plans and they have the studies and they have the time lines, but the folks out there, it's important that they're in the loop and it's important that the legislature is in the loop.
Yesterday on the floor we had a resolution that was pulled down, the resolution was pretty explicit, somewhat inflammatory, I thought, but 90 percent of that was very accurate, and out of the frustration that our legislators don't have a role or a perceived role in this, and that's important. It's important that we don't blow off our state reps, because in doing so, you're blowing off the folks out there. And I would daresay that that would have broken the century mark yesterday, I'm sure it would have had over a hundred votes, may have had more than that.
So I'd just send up a little flag that perhaps it may be wise to slow things down a little bit and see if we can have more folks involved in the process, and I think that would serve the state well, I think it would serve you well.
And let me say with respect to this project we're talking about, I'm not suggesting that that project is scrapped for the rest of mankind, I know that it will have a priority and hopefully will have a priority in the next few months if there's not stimulus money included in that. But I also want to bring to the commission's point of view that that area is economically distressed.
And with that, I'll thank you for your time and appreciate being able to visit with you.
MS. DELISI: Thank you very much.
(Applause from audience.)
MS. DELISI: Please, it's not an appropriate venue, I'd ask that you hold any applause.
I'd like to now call up Representative Ralph Sheffield.
MR. SHEFFIELD: Madam Chairman Delisi and commissioners, thank you very much for being here. I am Ralph Sheffield, state representative of District 55. I would like to also call up my fellow Bell County colleagues who are here with me today. Thank you. We have several other commissioners and we do have a representative from Senator Fraser's office here as well, and the Belton mayor as well as the commissioner, and the Salado mayor too. So as I make my comments, I would like them to have a few extra words as well.
This is a very, very hard decision for all you guys to do. I want to say that Bell County, in general, I-35 always seems to be left off the back burner every time we need to move forward on project. We have an opportunity here to be able to do a portion of I-35 that's very critical to us, and that's the that portion from 2484 in Salado to 190 there in Belton, and I'm very much supportive of that and I think it desperately needs to be expanded.
As you know, we have one of the world's largest Army bases there in Fort Hood that relies on I-35 transport down towards Corpus Christi as well in times of critical emergencies. To expand this segment from four lanes to six lanes is very, very critical as part of expanding I-35 in general through Bell County. With the funds coming from the federal government, this is a great opportunity to pay for some of these much needed projects, and I believe that the project has definitely gone through all three levels of independent review, is shovel-ready, it meets the criteria to receive the funding from the stimulus package, and I strongly encourage you to approve this vital project and not wait one day longer. It's very important we do it now and not wait.
The expansion will basically cost $121 million. I think it's very good use of monies from the federal government to help TxDOT continue to expand I-35 through Bell County the rest of the way, and compared to other projects, this project is very, very doable and can be done in the time limit that's required as well. And I think this is a project that is good for all Texans because I-35 is very much traveled, especially through Bell County, and when we get to Bell County, again, we get bottlenecked. You come out of Williamson County, you've got your six lanes; you get to McLennan, you get your six lanes; in Bell County we don't have that and we need it very desperately. And I urge you to vote for this very favorably and in a timely manner, and that's tomorrow, today, whatever.
Thank you very much for your time.
MS. DELISI: Thank you.
DR. BROWN: I'm Dr. J. Brown, I'm district director for Senator Troy Fraser. Commissioners, Chairwoman, Mr. Saenz, I'd like to commend you and all the people that work for Mr. Barton for the work that they've done in putting this together in a dynamic situation.
When you think about going up I-35, for those people that are down here that like to go in October to Dallas, think about how nice it would be on I-35 if you have those extra lanes that are going through there.
The project on I-35 has been vetted at all levels, it meets the criteria. To use the cliche, it is shovel-ready, it is good for the area, it's good for the state, it's good nationally for trade at all levels, and quite frankly, it gives us the biggest bang for the buck around there. So we urge your support and vote today for the staff recommendations. Thank you.
MAYOR COVINGTON: Jim Covington, mayor of the City of Belton. Chairman Delisi, Executive Director Saenz, and members of the commission, thank you very much for your service to the State of Texas, thank you for the opportunity to come here and talk today.
My points are the same as other folks standing up here with me today, I'm not going to go over them and over them and over them. We want you to vote for this. I've been on the city council in Belton for 15 years, we've been talking about I-35 improvement for 20 years, we've been planning it for 10 years, and it's time to do something, it really is. We would appreciate your favorable vote on this today. Thank you.
MAYOR STALCUP: Good morning. I'm Merle Stalcup. I'm the mayor of the Village of Salado. We're at the corner of 2484 and I-35. If you haven't been there, let me invite you to be there, come by in the audience out here and bring your spouses and your credit cards, because the only thing that we have as an economic stimulus is small retail stores. And if we have I-35, the improvement to I-35 there, we will have more people, we will have the X factor in economics of money running off of the people working on that to come into the village and have additional services.
Let me recommend and suggest that you vote positive for this measure. Thank you.
MR. REED: Thank you for the opportunity to address you, members of the commission. My name is Jim Reed and I'm the Central Texas Council of Governments executive director and the MPO director of the Killeen-Temple Urban Transportation Study, the MPO that serves Central Texas, and I'm proud to speak to you on behalf of the communities that make up the MPO who have provided their unanimous support for the staff recommendation, not just for our project but the entire staff recommendation.
We're home to one of the largest, if not the largest economic engine that the State of Texas has in the form of Fort Hood, and as soldiers are coming back from overseas, we are working very hard to keep them in Texas and expand Fort Hood, and our ability to move soldiers and goods and equipment in and out of that post are going to be vital to our success in being able to retain them in Texas and not lose them to another post.
I-35 is not just service to our region, it serves the State of Texas and the nation and internationally as well. Our region's projects have been thoroughly vetted through at least three levels of public participation, and I find it interesting that people are encouraging you to slow down. The very definition of shovel-ready to get on the list to be considered means that these projects have been in transportation plans, have been in transportation improvement plans, metropolitan plans and state plans for years. For the public to say that they have not been made aware or had a chance to comment on these projects is just disingenuous. These projects have been well vetted and we very much support the process you have gone through.
Finally, as partners in your transportation process, we have been making the case for decades that with proper funding we can provide a system that Texans can use to move goods and people through this state. We have an opportunity through the action that you have in front of you to make good on that promise because you have the funding now to take some projects that have long been wanted and long needed off of the list and get them moving forward, and we encourage you to accept the staff recommendation and let us show the community what we can do to get Texas moving.
Thank you for your consideration and for your time.
MR. HOUGHTON: I have one question.
MR. REED: Yes, sir.
MR. HOUGHTON: What was the allocation under the stimulus to the MPO?
MR. REED: We received approximately $11.8 million and have dedicated every penny of that to this project to leverage your money.
MR. HOUGHTON: And Fort Bliss is catching up to Fort Hood.
MR. REED: They're getting close but that's why we want to retain those soldiers and keep them at Fort Hood. But thank you very much for your time today.
MS. DELISI: Thank you.
MR. HOUGHTON: So Representative, you're saying delay a couple of weeks and get to it later?
MR. SHEFFIELD: Can we vote on this one hour from now?
MS. DELISI: Thank you. I'd like to call up Virginia DuPuy.
MAYOR DuPUY: Good morning. My name is Virginia DuPuy, and I'm mayor of the City of Waco. Commissioner Delisi and other commissioners, and Executive Director Mr. Saenz and your staff, we very much appreciate having this opportunity to be here.
I wanted to be clear that even though I'm the immediate past chair of the MPO, I'm here speaking on behalf of the City of Waco today. I was in the meeting this last week and I'm very aware of all of the comments, but I just wanted to make sure I'm clear that it's the City of Waco.
First I want to just say how much I recognize and appreciate your work. It's pretty mind-boggling to me to think of all the decisions that you have to make and that you are working with, with too little resources and too many needs and the pressure of discerning which projects first and the voices of Texas, of course, scrambling to have their project here. We just appreciate that this is not an easy decision. What you've been doing and what you're in the middle of is not easy decision-making, and we don't envy your position. And we're painfully aware that the economic stimulus funds came nowhere close, in fact, not even a fraction of the shovel-ready projects that are ready to go in this state.
We recognize also that all of I-35 of Bell, Hill, McLennan counties needs to be widened and restructured. We appreciate the recognition by the administration, Commission, that I-35 is a statewide priority and has identified funds for widening and reconstructing one section of I-35 even though it's not physically in the City of Waco or in McLennan County -- which was in some ways a surprise that we didn't have money coming at all, but nonetheless, all of the projects on I-35 are terribly important.
We would prefer that McLennan County have some of the funding, some of the economic stimulus funds that are at your discretion, and additionally I just wanted to point out that the MPO policy board authorized our use of the $7.2 million to leverage some of the stimulus funds if that becomes appropriate at some point.
I want to, again, commend you and express appreciation for your focusing on I-35, the development of I-35. Actually, it's not a local issue or a county issue -- frankly, it's even beyond the state. It's very much used throughout the country and so it's a very, very important segment in our state. So much of the population is up from San Antonio up to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as you know. So I urge and hope that you will continue to put resources there.
There are over 100,000 vehicles that cross the Brazos River right there in Waco. That's daily, 100,000 vehicles a day are coming across there. And that's right at the point in our community where there is both economic distressed areas as well as economic stimulus opportunity on down the line.
I wanted to ask that you consider working with us. As mayor, I am willing to gather some of the local elected officials, other community leaders, whoever you'd like to work with to help provide and build a vehicle. We would like to help discern and access options for funding and help with the communications relative to these options. I'd like to build a vehicle for better local leadership interaction with TxDOT. I think that that's going to be important as we move forward.
I know that you have heard some emotional comments from our area. I wanted to just say that the feelings run deep because our number one priority is I-35. So much of our whole economy is built around that highway there, and I just hope you'll understand some of the feelings and depth of feelings of people in our community. It's just that it's the number one priority.
Therefore, I would like to conclude with just saying that we respectfully request that I-35 receive priority consideration in all current or current alternative and particularly all future appropriations. It is very, very important to our community.
I was going to ask that we delay -- and this is just me -- I've not taken a poll of Waco, but I do say that I think that jobs and job creation and keeping our economy healthy as quickly as possible is terribly important. So thank you for the time and I appreciate that even this one week has been somewhat helpful to our area. Thank you.
MS. DELISI: Thank you, Mayor. I just wanted to say -- and I appreciate your coming and I appreciate Representative Anderson coming and still being here, and I know there's one other person from your area who is about to testify and I'm about to call him up too -- but I want to make sure you understand and Representative Anderson understands and everybody in the state and everyone who lives up and down the I-35 corridor that it is, without a doubt, one of the top priorities of this commission. Commissioner Meadows has talked about it a lot in his brief time on this commission.
And in conversations with Representative Anderson over the last week and longer, he's made it clear his deep interest in I-35, and I committed to him, and I think I speak for the rest of the commission when I told him that this section is still critically important for this state to build, and if it can't be built with this pot of stimulus money, I would personally like to see us make a priority for it to be built as soon as possible, and making a pitch -- and I should have done this when Representative Raymond was still here -- hopefully the legislature will see fit to fund the Prop 12 bonds that the voters approved a couple of Novembers ago, and with that significant infusion of resources into the transportation system, we have talked as a commission that a top priority of that $5 billion in bonds needs to be connectivity issues particularly up and down the I-35 corridor, so hopefully, if the legislature sees fit, we'll have those funds available to us beginning in September.
And I know I would very much like to continue working with you, Representative Anderson and other leaders in the Waco area to ensure that we make sure that segment and the entire 35 segment is a priority.
MAYOR DuPUY: Thank you very, very much. I look forward to taking that news back.
MS. DELISI: Thank you.
MR. DEVORSKY: My name is Russell Devorsky, I'm deputy mayor of the city of Bellmead and vice chair of the McLennan County MPO.
I'd like to reiterate State Representative Anderson's comments and I also fully support Mayor DuPuy's comments. I'd respectfully request that the commission reconsider its ranking. Your own matrix showed that the I-35 through McLennan County was deeply important, and given the fact that the economic stimulus package specifically deals with the fact that economically depressed areas should be given precedence, I think it's something we need to look at. Every highway project throughout the state is extremely important, and I realize that.
Mayor DuPuy mentioned the fact about a lot of people have a lot of emotion on this project, and when she said that it actually brought up some different feelings for me that I wasn't prepared to speak about but I really want to mention today, and that's the fact that when we talk about highway safety -- excuse me -- lives are lost on highways every day. This is something that's hit my family especially hard in the last couple of years. This exact section of I-35 that we're talking about, I lost a cousin there two years ago, my sister was recently killed because of increased truck traffic and my niece is currently in a coma because of that.
We realize how important highway construction and safety is and it's for those reasons and for the lives of different individuals that I would request that you reconsider this section through McLennan County on I-35. Thank you.
MS. DELISI: I'd like to call up Michael Marcotte.
MR. MARCOTTE: It's still morning. Good morning, Chair Delisi, commission members, Executive Director Saenz, staff members. My name is Michael Marcotte and I am the director of public works and engineering for the City of Houston, and I appear before you at the request of our mayor, Bill White, with a great appreciation for the extremely difficult task you face in allocating a finite and limited sum of funding to a very much longer list of competing projects. I can assure you we face those same challenges in Houston.
Like others throughout the state, we've seen over the last several years delays in some much needed roadway projects as TxDOT and other transportation organizations have grappled with funding issues. We express sincere appreciation for the inclusion of the long planned improvements on Little York Road from Airline to Hardy within the MPO suballocated funds, as well as the improvements to the Beltway 8 linkages, IH-10 and IH-610 within the statewide funding.
On behalf of the City of Houston, I urge you to consider several points as we move forward. First, we urge a thoughtful and consistent position on what constitutes shovel-ready, or maybe more specifically, what's ready to be shovel-ready. I can fully admit that Houston does not have large numbers of projects for which construction documents can be released for bids today, nor would it be responsible for us to do so.
In one of the few cases where we did have such a project in near northwest Houston, our request to consider this project for stimulus funding for this project was rejected because the project is already largely but not fully funded in current state programs. With many much needed projects well into the design process, it's important that all such projects be given a fair chance to move to that coveted shovel-ready status.
Secondly, we urge that you give serious consideration and great weight to projects that will address existing congestion and mobility issues in the state's population centers, especially in economically disadvantaged areas, and I pointedly used the term differently from economically distressed areas. As Mr. Barton pointed out, Harris County does not meet that criterion, but as you correctly pointed out, there are many areas within our city limits and in our state's urban centers that are in significant need of capital infusion.
And finally, we urge that you give attention to expediting the TxDOT review processes that if streamlined for particular worthy projects could allow some projects to quickly advance to that coveted shovel-ready status.
We thank you for your consideration of our request, for the inclusion of the projects, and for your diligence going forward. Thank you.
MS. DELISI: Thank you.
MAYOR McCARTT: Good morning. I'm Debra McCartt and I'm the mayor of Amarillo, Texas. We're going to go to the other end of the State of Texas for just a minute. I appreciate the opportunity to come today and it seems like when I come to Austin, I'm always the one that comes the farthest from anywhere else in the state. I do appreciate your consideration of all the projects that you're giving to the State of Texas. I think it's a wonderful opportunity for all of us.
I'm here to speak specifically about the projects in Amarillo, Texas, and we, as well as the other cities, diligently put together a list of approximately six projects that did meet the criteria that TxDOT set forth for the City of Amarillo. I'm here to talk specifically about one of those. None of those six were considered on your final list, but I do want to talk about the one that has been the top of our list for several years since the '70s in Amarillo, and this is a rail relocation project in Amarillo, Texas. And I would like to leave some information for you before I leave, because it is information that you have not had the chance to look at and to receive.
But I want you to understand the importance of this project for the City of Amarillo. It has posed a serious safety issue for our city. We are a growing community, growing at a pace that we're able to keep up with, however, this area of the community has suffered a serious safety issue because of this rail line that goes through the City of Amarillo. It has access to a 25 square mile area of Amarillo, Texas, and this area meets your criteria of being an economically depressed, minority and low income neighborhood as set forth by the federal guidelines. Also, we have a probability that is growing because train collisions are becoming very high in this area. We also have learned recently that the railroad has said that they're going to put more rail lines through the City of Amarillo, and so more rail lines will be set forth in the Amarillo area.
The City of Amarillo has also, for your information, we have expended some significant funds to go towards this project. We have put up $5 million. The total project was $27-, we brought it down to $22-, and I think what's of major significance for me and hopefully for you all is that we have had the ear of the Burlington Northern Railroad folks and they have come to Amarillo and they have been working with us. We have put together a study that cost the city quite a bit of money, it was about $98,000, and we did that ourselves for the city just to do a study to make sure the feasibility of this railroad track relocation was what we thought it was.
The Burlington Northern is continuing to work with us, and you talk about shovel-ready, they have given us a guarantee that they will begin work with us in 90 days if only we have some support from TxDOT and from some of the other resources that we have available to us in Amarillo. We feel the railroad line has met all the criteria, particularly the economically distressed, as I've already mentioned before.
As far as economic growth, I know that's something that you all are very concerned about in the economic development for the projects that you look at, and in the City of Amarillo, this rail line location has adversely impacted our industry in that particular area. We in the Panhandle of Texas are going to turn wind into magic and it's going to be wonderful for the State of Texas and for the rest of the country, but because of this rail line, we have been stymied in being able to put heavy industry over in that area and so that is another important reason for the economic growth is one of the things that you have mentioned.
And as I have told you, more than 72 percent of our residential population in that area is below poverty level -- that's more than 70 percent; more than 60 percent is classified as minority in the 2000 census.
This project addresses all the criteria, as I have already said, within the suggested guidelines and most importantly, it increases public safety and economic opportunity to a very large segment of the population. I might mention also that as the rail line comes through Amarillo and as we continue to add the tracks, as Burlington Northern has said that they are going to do, it will adversely affect the transportation from the south part of Texas into our area as well as into the east coast, as the coal trains continue to come through and as they add more trains to the rail line.
Again, we had six projects that were of major importance to our community. Not a single one of them were even considered or put on this list, and this has been, again, at the top of our list since the 1970s. We are very close to getting it approved and getting it done, but we need your support, and in the Panhandle of Texas, we sometimes feel like -- people ask me did you drive here this morning? Well, they don't realize how far Amarillo is, and it is a long way and we do need your support, and I'm here to strongly ask you to please reconsider this main project.
We will work with you financially, we have other resources in place that will also work with this with TxDOT, and we are ready to do that, we're ready to step up and make this project work for us. It will also, again, affect the rest of the State of Texas as well as the east and the north and the west part of the country of the United States. And we look forward to becoming the wind capital in the State of Texas, but in order to do that, we need an area to have heavy industry there and we need to be able to build over there. It's a safety issue, our first responders can no longer cross the tracks because the rail lines are blocking that area. It's a quality of life issue as well as meeting all of the criteria that you all have set forth for a project that you want to support.
So that's why I'm here, we're not on your list. I would like to leave these with you because this is probably information you do not have because it is not on your list for whatever reason, and we were very frustrated about that but I'm here today and I did come from Amarillo and I'm glad to be here. Thank you so much.
Can I just leave these up here with you?
MS. DELISI: Thank you.
MR. ALLEX: Thank you, Madam Chair and commissioners. It's a pleasure to stand before you again. I'll try to make this brief -- in fact, I will make it brief.
I'm David Allex, chairman of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority, and just last month I accepted a third term as chairman of the authority, and I did that for several reasons. One is it's a tremendous challenge from a national and international perspective, it's an opportunity to create jobs, and I will emphasize quality jobs, and to implement the vision that the authority has and that is where every citizen in Cameron County and the Rio Grande Valley will have an opportunity to be what I would call gainfully employed over the term.
Let me just say this and I know that Commissioner Houghton and the mayor of Laredo can testify to this, we're in a tremendous area of international growth, not just on the U.S. side but in Mexico. If you look at the Rio Grande Valley of Texas -- Commissioner, you've heard this story before but I'm going to do it one more time -- if you know the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, it extends from South Padre Island to Rio Grande City, and that's 90 miles long. And it also has a width of about 60 miles so it creates a great big oval.
There's a population center on the U.S. side of about a million one and on the Mexican side about three million. That four million people are only divided by a street with water in it. And you've got to think about that a minute because it's the same way in Laredo, it's the same way in El Paso, it's a street with water in it where nationalities have no barriers, all the people in Mexico use our streets, and of course, we use their streets, we shop in Mexico, they shop in the United States. So you've got to look at these geographical areas as an area that has tremendous challenge as far as our growth and prosperity over the next four or five generations because this, indeed, is only a street with water in it.
I'm here to recommend and to support what you have done, I think it's admirable, I know it's admirable, I know it's difficult. It's not easy being chairman of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority either, so I know the anxieties and the tough job you've got to do. But I commend you on that, I commend you to keep your faith in what you need to do.
The population growth of that oval I just got through describing to you will be ten million people from four million to ten million people by the year 2040. Now you know what the challenges are to your job and to my job in creating what I call the important transportation arteries to implement that tremendous growth over the next several years -- and it's short years. And I can remember when I was chairman of the 77/281 Coalition, some 30 years ago, 25 years ago.
I can remember when I sat with Bill Summers, the partnership executive, in the nation's Capitol in the third basement and we wrote into that year's Federal Highway Administration -- you remember this, Amadeo -- that Highway 69, Interstate 69 will begin at the border of the United States and Mexico, and that is still the law. That is the reason why we're here today, I'm here today to say I-69 is so important to the economy of the United States, Texas and Mexico.
So I remember those things, and everybody talks about, well, it was 12, 15, 20 years ago. I can talk to 25 years ago when we tried to get an interstate highway to the Valley. We're going to get it and we're working hard to get it.
So I say to you that you've got a tremendous job ahead of you, you'll do it because you're dedicated as a citizen of this state, you're dedicated because you have a challenge to do, just like all of us do in this room, and it's not a simple job. So I ask you to support what you've just decided to do, we support you and we're going to stand beside you and make it right for Texas, not only for Texas but the nation. We want to make sure that our friends in Canada, the United States, Texas and Mexico are all in this boat rowing in the same direction, and from my standpoint, I'm not going to let anybody jump ship. So I'm here to say thank you very much for your support and we support you.
MS. DELISI: Mr. Sepulveda, did you have anything else you wanted to add? Did Pete leave? All right, well, we'll move on. Jeff Austin.
MR. AUSTIN: Good morning, or soon to be afternoon -- it is afternoon. I'm Jeff Austin, III, chairman of the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority in Tyler. Many of you know, we started out as two counties and have expanded to twelve.
This project that is listed with your recommendation, we support, we thank you, but we're also asking the question -- not just because it's on here -- what are we going to do with this? We are planning to go additional and issue bonds to move up to Interstate 20 to complete a complete relief route in addition to the funding here, so what we're trying is move forward and really add additional jobs to this area.
This $37 million started out as $42- and I think it's important to talk about cooperation within our region because it's been reduced to $37- because the MPO has taken already taken action to allocate their entire $4.7 million to this project. But this was not because of recent action, it's been because of what's been happening in recent years. This project has been a number one priority for the city, the MPO, the RMA, the county, the chamber and the EDC, even through visioning processes that have taken place for many years with the city and TEDC and the chamber. I say that because we take our partnership with the MPO -- it's a wonderful relationship and we would not be here without them and I never want to lose the opportunity to reinforce that commitment.
This project of Toll 49 will be the backbone for a larger project in East Texas that we will ultimately expand this into portions of Upshur County, Gregg County and over into Harrison County as we complete the East Texas Hourglass. Our community has embraced this project greatly and for years. We look forward to having this ready to go. It is shovel-ready and in East Texas, shovel-ready means let's saddle up, let's put a hitch in our get-along and vote. We're ready. So thank you, and I'll be happy to answer any questions.
MR. HOUGHTON: Jeff, one of the things that we've been talking about is the leverage effect. What is the leverage effect of $37 million worth of stimulus dollars?
MR. AUSTIN: We had a construction gap and this is basically filling that gap so we can now go issue bonds that would be viable. Our financial advisor has given us projections, we've already had some traffic and revenue studies. We will be able to go and issue $80 million of construction bonds and also we're looking for $25 million in TIFIA. The total, including this, will get us up to almost $150 million, so we're able to really leverage this project.
MR. HOUGHTON: So $37- buys you $150-.
MR. AUSTIN: Yes, sir.
MR. HOUGHTON: Good leverage.
MS. DELISI: Thanks.
MR. HEILIGENSTEIN: Madam Chair, commission, thank you for pulling my card. I'm here to thank you and to encourage you to move forward. I've been between population growth that demands roads, demands them quickly, for 23 years -- 28 years of my life now. I can't imagine a reason for delaying this, it doesn't make sense. People aren't going to quit moving to Austin or Central Texas if we delay this.
I would like to share with you what our request that went through the MPO and as recommended by the MPO does is leverage $90 million, so our $30- that we are into the short-term market now for is leveraging $90-, that will eventually leverage $600 million. That's a huge project for us. Right now your RMA in Central Texas has the largest capital improvements plan in the entire region, bar none.
By way of proof, let me just share you with one issue I haven't heard yet today, and that's sustainability and what does that mean. To me it means you're approving projects that have the promise of not only creating jobs now but creating jobs in the future. To me that's incredibly important. What we did on our first project -- which this one mimics in some ways -- 183A, we created 2.19 million square feet of developed space, we added almost 3,000 jobs to Williamson County and north Austin. There are still 1,150 acres to be developed along that corridor with an additional million square feet of space. That's sustainability. Those are real jobs, real people, real economic development growth. That's what this $90 million does, it helps us move that ball forward in the 290 East corridor, and we encourage you and my board encourages you to move as quickly as possible.
MS. DELISI: Thank you, Mike.
MR. HOUGHTON: So you're telling me that the $90- from economic stimulus funds gets you $600-?
MR. HEILIGENSTEIN: It will eventually get us there as we complete the next two segments of the 290 East project. If you recall, Commissioner, we had about $100 million in deeply subordinated debt which we all know is expensive. What this does is replaces that and it gives the ultimately user the opportunity for lower toll rates. I mean, that can't be lost in this.
MR. HOUGHTON: Those are the things we need to talk about.
MR. HEILIGENSTEIN: Yes.
MR. HOUGHTON: Thanks, Mike.
MR. HEILIGENSTEIN: You're welcome.
MS. DELISI: Hank Gilbert.
MR. GILBERT: Hank Gilbert, Texans United for Reform and Freedom, or TURF. Madam Commissioner, commissioners, thank you for allowing me to be here today.
President Obama and his administration would be tickled to death to know that the State of Texas does indeed support his stimulus package, contrary to most reports nationwide, because we see an interest here today of a lot of people, a lot of elected officials from all over the state who are needing projects done.
We've contended, as an organization, for several years that we believe in the growth of the state, we believe in added infrastructure for the state, we just don't necessarily believe that it needs to be built by foreign investors nor built as toll projects.
You know, we've listened to TxDOT, of which you're the governing body of, for the last five years basically telling Texans that cannot build free roads anymore because we don't have the money to build them with, yet here we are at a date and time in which $1.2 billion -- or over $2 billion, actually -- is being allocated through a federal stimulus package, however it may be tax dollars, tax monies from somewhere, but over $2 billion allocated to the State of Texas for infrastructure projects and improvements. Why can't those be free roads?
We saw by your own graphics and in several testimonies today that between $700- and $800 million of that $1.2 billion that you're going to decide upon today is going to go in the form of toll projects. When you look at where those projects are, a lot of those projects are going to be in economically distressed areas, some are not. I think the provision of these funds says, according to Representative Oberstar -- or Congressman Oberstar and his committee that they need to be used in economically distressed areas as much as possible.
We see several projects on this proposal for the DFW area which, based on the 2000 census of per capita income, ranked 68th out of the 280 largest cities in the State of Texas of per capita income. However, we see a town like Waco in which the mayor came up here and asked for funding that's like 253rd out of 280 and not receiving any of these funds or major stimulus funds for projects in their area.
So one has to wonder, you know, what are we trying to create here or where are we trying to go. Several of these projects, when you look at the location of where they are, look to be future connector projects to either TTC-35 or TTC-69. Now, I know one of you is probably going to tell me that the TTC no longer exists, and we're not going to play that shell game, but they are going to be figured in at some point in time or they're being done in lieu of, one could perceive, as future projects along either one of those two corridors. However, we have areas across the state -- which many of asked for today -- that need projects in their area now but they don't happen to be in the most convenient or right places to either create revenue or add to a future project that's on the outskirts somewhere along the line.
I'm tickled to death for the people of Laredo and the people in the Valley that they're getting these roads, they're also in the hardest economically depressed area in the state, and I would hope that those roads remain free for those people to use rather than toll roads that they'll never get to use.
I think what has happened and the image that this commission is creating in lieu of representation of this agency is that you are creating a fundamental fraud. When you take $1.2 billion of taxpayer money that's given to the state to use on shovel-ready projects that are much needed across this state and you decide to toll 70 percent of those projects, that is fraud and that is misuse of funds and violating the trust of the people that you've tried to convince for five or six years that you would do these roads if you had the money to do them for free.
And what we perceive, what Texas TURF perceives, the end goal of this whole orchestration of roads and toll projects is just another means to create an outside revenue source for the agency, outside the state budget -- which we don't know whether or not that is even legal to do, therefore, we're going to seek a remedy or some such from the State Attorney General's Office as well as the U.S. Justice Department on these projects and opposed to the stimulus monies.
And we would hope that you would delay a vote on this today, even though a lot of these communities -- and I sympathize with them -- need these projects going now, but that you would rethink the idea of using 70 percent of these funds for toll projects and see how far you can leverage this money to do free roads for the people of the State of Texas. Thank you very much.
(Cheering from audience.)
MR. HOUGHTON: Don't get away.
MR. GILBERT: Okay.
MR. HOUGHTON: With your permission, Mr. Meadows?
Are you for the stimulus package on a federal level?
MR. GILBERT: I think there's a lot of things that could be done for a lot of good with the stimulus money. Would I have voted on it? Probably not.
MR. HOUGHTON: But basically the $800 billion that came out of Washington and now we've got $400 billion in the budget and we're looking at a $1.9 trillion deficit, and you're talking about you don't like foreign ownership? Who do you think is going to buy that debt? Who's going to buy it?
MR. GILBERT: Commissioner Houghton, I respect the question or the line of questioning that you're asking me, but that's not the political platform that we're discussing today.
MR. HOUGHTON: No, it is. Who's going to buy the debt? This debt right here, the debt that is being foisted on the American people, who is going to buy the debt?
MR. GILBERT: Who do you think is going to buy it?
MR. HOUGHTON: Chinese, the Japanese.
MR. GILBERT: That's right.
MR. HOUGHTON: The last time I heard, they're foreign.
MR. GILBERT: Yes, sir.
MR. HOUGHTON: But you're okay with that.
MR. GILBERT: I didn't say I was okay with that. I believe that I said when you asked me that I had a vote, I would have voted against it. Isn't that what I said?
MR. HOUGHTON: You want us to appropriate the money to free roads, you're all for that.
MR. GILBERT: Yes, sir, sure am.
MR. HOUGHTON: But who's going to buy that debt?
MR. GILBERT: You know, you and I had this discussion about a year ago
MR. HOUGHTON: No, we didn't have this type of discussion.
MR. GILBERT: Not this discussion but you're talking about --
MR. HOUGHTON: I'm just going to make people know what you and your group really are.
MR. GILBERT: Yes, sir, and I told you.
MR. HOUGHTON: Your group is a bunch of bigots is what you are.
MR. GILBERT: Sir?
MR. HOUGHTON: And I'm sorry.
MR. GILBERT: I'm what?
MR. HOUGHTON: And that's unfortunate.
MR. GILBERT: What did you say? I didn't hear you, I'm sorry.
MR. HOUGHTON: You heard what I said.
MR. GILBERT: No, I didn't.
MR. HOUGHTON: Yes, you did, and it's unfortunate that people don't see that when you talk about foreigners and you talk about our friends across the Rio Grande River. It is unfortunate.
MR. GILBERT: I don't believe that's what I was talking about, Commissioner. You and I had a discussion about a year ago in one of these meetings where you asked -- kind of the same line of questioning as far as about half smart-aleck -- well, how do you think that we need to pay for these roads. And I mentioned to you that President Ronald Reagan created a gas tax years ago which he called a user fee on the federal level as a fair way to build, maintain and operate this country's infrastructure. The states, consequently, went along and did the same thing. And I told you that had we indexed the state gas tax since 1990 that we probably wouldn't be looking at the problem that we have in infrastructure in our state, the same thing on the federal level. And you made the comment: Now, how do you think we're going to do that with gas at $3-and-something a gallon. And I reminded you that had you taken that initiative sometime before then and after 1990, gas was a whole lot cheaper than $3-and-something a gallon.
I know this is being discussed now in the Texas House and the Senate and hopefully will come up with some type of legislation to do something with the gas tax, adjust it for inflation, where we don't have to look at toll roads. However, if we're going to continue to tax -- and that's what it is -- if we're going to continue to tax the people of this state to use these roads, then we don't need a gas tax, we don't need both because that's double taxation. And in the form of what you're talking about doing with the stimulus money in the way of toll roads is triple taxation because you're taking federal tax dollars, building toll roads and charging the people of Texas to drive on them, as well as still collecting a state gas tax.
Now, I don't know what you called me a while ago, Commissioner, because I was talking when you were talking, but I will tell you if you believe in that scenario, then you are a hypocrite -- you are a hypocrite to yourself; you are a hypocrite the people of the State of Texas.
Thank you very much.
MS. DELISI: Thank you.
MR. KALLERMAN: Good afternoon, commissioners and Director Saenz. My name is Dick Kallerman and I'm transportation issues chair for the State of Texas Sierra Club.
The stimulus package obviously, as the discussion has been going on, is to get maximum use from the $1.2 billion in new projects. It's for workers without jobs and the businesses without work. Not to get too preachy here -- because I can see that might be dangerous -- this is not for special interests, it is not for pet projects that have been decades and decades old, and probably for good reason.
In our list of new projects, we do have a bad apple. The Grand Parkway Section E in Houston is $181 million and that's 15 percent of all the new projects we have on our list. On Tuesday there was a rally at the Capitol of a number of good citizens from Houston and Houston citizens were saying in the rally that they didn't want Section E part of the new projects. The New York Times yesterday had an article on non-stimulus stimulus projects -- in other words, stimulus projects that aren't going to do the job, and Section E was well represented on that list in the New York Times.
It's too big, it's not shovel-ready, and it diverts a lot of money from more appropriate projects, many of which have been brought to you this morning, people asking to be added to the list. $181 million can cover a lot of those.
The justification, I notice, for Section E of the Grand Parkway -- and it was put right up there on the board -- was to open up areas for development. If that's not special interests, I don't know what it is. And besides, urban sprawl is so last century, that's old-fashioned stuff. I don't have to tell you why that is, and in fact, Roger Baker, who will be speaking to you this morning, is an expert on how times have changed.
So I would suggest you've got a bad penny here on that Section E Grand Parkway, and that means it's going to come back to you again and again. That's going to be a tough one to justify in the future. Thank you very much.
MS. DELISI: Thank you.
MR. KEENER: Thank you, commissioners. My name is Justin Keener. I'm vice president with the Texas Public Policy Foundation; we are a 501(c)(3) policy research institute based here in Texas.
First, I really do want to thank you for a very transparent process throughout your deliberations. I've been extremely impressed with the work you've done with local communities and laying out your criteria and making your decisions accordingly.
To the stimulus specifically, I would like to first say that we think the stimulus package is absolutely the wrong thing for America right now, we think it is the wrong way to solve a problem, we think the government should create an environment that is good for business and people to prosper, not to add them with loads of debt.
But that being said, we do think that since Texans are not able to withdraw the taxes they pay to the federal government for the stimulus plan, if those stimulus funds are going to be used at the state level, certain criteria needs to be followed, and first and foremost, we agree with Governor Perry that the first criteria should be no future financial obligation on the state from the use of those funds.
There has been a discussion about toll roads and whether or not that's appropriate, and there's been public debate and what just occurred up here. We take a different view, we think it's a very appropriate use of stimulus funding because, as I've heard TxDOT engineers and others say for many years, maintaining a road, especially over its lifetime, can be much more expensive than its initial capital cost, and creating a mechanism that covers for the maintenance, operations and eventual expansion of that road is a good thing because it's based on a user fee and it can't be diverted through the legislative process, typically -- at least yet -- and we find that beneficial.
However, it does create the question of double taxation, an issue that does need to be addressed, and I was very glad to hear Mike Heiligenstein mention that by using these funds it may allow them to lower their toll rates accordingly so that citizens aren't paying for the initial capital costs that have already been covered by the stimulus funds. And so we hope in your deliberations going forward, as these projects are developed that do rely on tolls, that that is considered when the toll rate is set.
One other matter I'd like to raise is that unlike the other stimulus funds that their use is being debated over at the Capitol, the citizens have not been presented with an analysis of what the future obligation to the state, especially the gas tax fund, will be from the expenditure of these funds. Especially the new capacity projects that do not rely on tolls, what is the obligation going to be on the state of the gas tax funds specifically, and is that unsustainable, or is it negligible. Because it could be very well that the increased use, and the gas tax that people pay for the fuel as they drive on the roads may supply it, but I tink that the public could very much benefit from that information, just like they're going to learn about for unemployment insurance, for education, for energy issues as well, and I would hope that you would consider that.
And for that reason, I begrudgingly do ask that you postpone your decision until that type of information and analysis can be performed and provided to the public. With that, I close my testimony just by, again, thanking you for a very transparent process. I know how difficult this has got to be with people all across the state calling you, asking for projects. Our transportation problem is real and solving it is crucial to our future economic development and prosperity, and I thank you very much for your time.
MS. DELISI: Thank you.
MS. ANDERSON: To the honorable commissioners. Thank you for hearing all the comments this morning that you've heard about the importance and urgency of the many projects in the various communities around Texas. I'm not here to ask you to delay all these projects because of a few bad apples, but I would like to ask to please reconsider withholding funding on some of the specific projects that came up from the speakers who brought these up for you to reconsider.
Some of the specific ones are the toll projects, some of them that Mr. Gilbert brought up and that some other people have brought up, the Grand Parkway that they want to put in Houston that we think has been just thrown in at the last minute.
I'm a very proud owner of this little pin and I'm sure you all have seen it. It's 50 years of Interstate Highways in Texas that we had funded through our taxes and our gas tax and federal taxing, and I really am not in favor of selling our debt to the Chinese. Someday all that debt will belong to our grandchildren and their grandchildren, and I'm not in favor of passing that on to future generations. I think that we need to be responsible for what money we spend now and I think that we need to be able to figure out ways to have roads and jobs without toll roads being just oh, this is the band-aid fix for a lot of jobs right now. I don't think that's really going to work.
And by the way, my father-in-law and my husband have been highway contractors, and my dad was a chemist and a building contractor, so I'm not against industry and so I'm not against progress. And I am very proud of TxDOT the way it used to be, but TxDOT has not upheld their good reputation. I know that my husband got out of contracting with TxDOT because he was aware of a lot of graft, a lot of --
MS. DELISI: I'm sorry, I don't want to interrupt, but can you state your name for the record, please?
MS. ANDERSON: Sure. Mary Anderson. I'm with Texans Against Tolls, I'm with Independent Texans, I'm with TURF of Texas.
MS. DELISI: Thank you.
MS. ANDERSON: We feel that having sat through twelve hours of hearings, the Sunset hearings that TxDOT had to go through, we heard firsthand all the problems that TxDOT was having and citizens were able to bring this forward to our legislators and to report on this. This has been a constant problem within our communities for years and years, I don't mean just the last five years when I've been involved but the last ten or twenty years, this has been going on, and it's just gotten worse.
In the last five years we have witnessed firsthand TxDOT manipulating the MPOs and the MPOs manipulating the board itself and how they're going to vote. When they have hearings -- people have come up here and told you they've had hearings in their communities. These hearings, when we go to them, they're fake hearings, they manipulate our information that we want to put in, they destroy the information we want to put in, they only let us speak for a very small amount of time, they don't let us ask questions, they don't answer questions, they don't give us information we ask for. When we have people that come up and they lived right there in the neighborhood where the road is going to be built and they say this is not designed right, this won't work for us, and we've even brought engineers in to say this won't work, and they have it built with a huge problem in the road.
After it gets built people from TxDOT go: Oh, we don't know what could have happened; that must have just been inadvertently drawn wrong on our maps. No, I'm sorry, our neighborhoods tried to tell you, you still put these flaws into the roads. We need signs up, for example. That would help alleviate a whole lot of traffic. We're missing our signs that we need.
There's a lot of projects that could go in besides toll roads, and we feel like the toll roads are like a double taxation. For example, we're getting this stimulus money and that's coming out of our taxes to pay for that. Why should we be taxed again on it as toll roads. And it's almost like what you might call triple taxation because they're taking those toll roads and putting them on roads that we already own, that we've already paid for.
We would really like to have the gas tax indexed so that we can pay for the roads with gas tax. And we would also like a review further of the local TxDOTs and MPOs and how they treat the people that come in to make comments. There have been a lot of problems with that. So I'm here to answer any questions if you need to ask me.
MS. DELISI: Thank you very much, appreciate it.
MS. HOFFMAN: Chair Delisi and commissioners, thank you for this opportunity to comment today on your impending vote. I want to respectfully request to you if you would use the power that you do have today to take up the gentleman's suggestion from the Valley and consider delaying on certain projects.
The Sierra Club is a statewide organization -- Dick Kallerman is our transportation chair, and I'm primarily here to represent the comments from our air quality chair who couldn't be here today, that's Brant Mansion, and that's about the Grand Parkway -- but I also want to just speak generally about the process.
I do think that there's some improvements that need to be made in the transparency and accountability to public input. I know that, in all due respect, the executive director asserted that the process has been very open and there's been opportunities for public input, but I think that those opportunities have actually been minimal and that there could be and should be more opportunities. I know that we're under a time frame here with the stimulus funds and we do want to accept this money and create jobs in the state and that should be done through a good process and that we don't need to rush to the trough, we need to decide first what we're going to eat before we order, think about it more carefully, and there is time in the process to do that.
And I think that the time line that was laid out earlier is under your authority and can be adjusted to delay on three projects in particular that I'm asking you to strike from the list today, pause, reconsider those three projects, and then vote on those three projects in the future. And the projects are a expensive toll interchange that's proposed to be built connecting 183 and 290 in Austin in an area where traffic is already down and a corridor where rail is planned for the future to the suburbs outside of Austin. So this interchange would potentially drive sprawl in that area, but right now there just isn't more traffic in that area and this project isn't needed and it's expensive and we wouldn't want to see that built.
The other project is in San Antonio between 281 and 1604. We'd like to see that project stricken; it's over a sensitive aquifer where development shouldn't be happening, and neither of these, nor the Grand Parkway -- which is the concern that I'm going to speak to the most -- is in an economically distressed zone, so delaying on these projects isn't going to get you in trouble on that account.
So when I address the Grand Parkway, that's going to get at why Sierra Club opposes these projects. We're an environmental organization, our mission is to explore, enjoy and protect the planet, and the Katy Prairie is a great concern of ours. The big State of Texas has a lot of open spaces but not that many with the rich diversity that we have in some of the prairies like the Katy Prairie, so I'm just going to go point by point.
Someone mentioned before that the Grand Parkway -- which has been controversial and it's been delayed -- was thrown into this package at the last minute. I didn't realize that and I'm kind of amazed at that because the Grand Parkway would take up 14.48 percent of the funds that we're talking about, and that's a huge percentage for a project that could get thrown in at the last minute. And I know that you could add more of the maintenance that you've put in the package that you're requesting. And I want to commend you on those maintenance projects because that's where our priority would lie for transportation is to fix the infrastructure that we have right now before building any new projects.
Segment E of the Grand Parkway is a loop on the outside of Houston, a proposed loop, that would run through currently undeveloped farm and ranch lands. That area of the Coastal Plain serves as a natural retention basin which prevents flooding of Houston, so it's important ecologically and to pave it over would possibly bring about future flooding problems. It's not shovel-ready, all environmental reviews are not complete, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hasn't received or approved a wetlands dredge-fill permit for this Segment E of the Grand Parkway -- or porkway, or whatever you want to call it.
The other reason is that it would destroy the habitat for hundreds of thousands of duck, geese, songbirds, herons, egrets, bald eagles, hawks and many other forms of wildlife, and that's serious and important. The wildlife is what keeps our ecosystem in balance and there are some projections that we're going to see species migration in the future which would bring more insect populations from the Caribbean to Texas, and so that's got to be kept in balance by having plenty of birds to eat those insects.
So we don't want to develop in lands that are currently uninhabited and not developed, and that's the new way of doing business in transportation, and I think that the stimulus funds, the stimulus projects, the spirit of that is to not do things the old way, to do things a new way that's going to be both good for people and the environment.
So I'm just asking you if you can use the power that you have today to delay on these three projects that I've mentioned: the connector between 183 and 290 in Travis County, the expensive toll over the aquifer between 281 and 1604, and the Grand Parkway Segment E. So please consider removing those from the list, and if you need to delay on those for a couple of weeks and move forward on others, then maybe that's a possibility that you should consider amongst yourselves in executive session or right here in front of all of us, but I hope that you can do that today and not move forward on irresponsible environmentally unsound projects that aren't good for people.
MS. DELISI: Before you leave, will you do me a favor and state your name and who you represent for the record?
MS. HOFFMAN: My name is Donna Hoffman. I'm the communications coordinator with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.
MS. DELISI: Thank you very much.
MS. STALL: My name is Linda Stall, and I'm co-founder of Corridor Watch. Chairman Delisi, thank you, gentlemen, Director Saenz, guys. It's nice to see you all again. We haven't had a hearing for a while and I've missed seeing you all.
It's a serious issue that you're talking about and I've listened to what everybody else has had to say. We are concerned, of course, that these are tax dollars, that generations of Texans and Americans will pay them back somehow, some way. The numbers keep growing and it is a concern when I look at my grandchildren to wonder how it is that they're going to pick up the tab for all of this.
And on that basis, it concerns me when I hear the discussion about leveraging those funds to build road projects because as Corridor Watch began, it was in opposition to the Trans-Texas Corridor, but when we learned it was the funding mechanism it that really caused us more concern, the public-private partnership, the CDAs, the equity partners that invest the money and create a more expensive project. If a toll road is the most expensive way to build a road, a public-private partnership toll road is even more expensive, and there are figures worldwide where construction costs on those types of road projects are paid back to the contractor within three years on a 30-year project. There's a bridge project in New South Wales in Australia where the payment to the private contractor will be double the construction costs.
I heard one of the earlier speakers -- well, I think it was your very own TxDOT person, whose name I missed, I apologize -- said that $85.76 per capita was a number they came up with that would be the benefit to the individuals in the areas where these projects were done, but the average individual who uses a toll road to go to work pays $1,200 a year for that privilege, and the more and more of our road projects in this state that are done as toll projects, and the most expensive, the public-private partnership toll projects, the more our citizens are going to bear additional and greater costs to get to their jobs. Just when we're having economic difficulties, we're now going to impose yet another cost on the working middle class who seems to keep paying the bill over and over.
And as to the projects, my heart breaks when I hear the Valley begging for projects, begging for roads. I served on the Trans-Texas Advisory Committee for many years, I heard the Dallas and Houston people talking about the importance of having roads quickly, the voracious appetite for roads and economic development, but I have to believe that if the Grand Parkway Segment E was a viable project that the Harris County Toll Road Authority would have already built it. I lived in Houston for decades, the Harris County Toll Road Authority is a good model for building toll roads, I think it should be everybody's model for building toll roads. It was put to the vote of the citizens, the citizens approved it, and it's answerable to the county commissioners, and if there's a toll increase and the citizens object, they can go immediately to their commissioners court and make that objection and have some impact on the toll rates being set.
Public-private partnerships are 50-year agreements, toll rates or methodologies are set and there is no recourse for the citizen, for you or for the legislature to address those issues. And those are the concerns that we have right now: the financing and the fact that a few of these projects probably would have been done a long time, because I heard some of them have been around since the '60s, if they were really viable projects. I think you should invest the money in areas of the state where they will never have the opportunity to do a toll-viable project because they don't have that level of economics, and that they need road projects now, not waiting for 40 years in the future when they might have the money to afford or attract investor.
And I appreciate the opportunity. Thank you very much. I saw all you look at each other when you said my name, so I hope that wasn't too horrible.
MS. DELISI: Thank you.
MR. BAKER: I have an energy economics handout. I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak today and to tell the commission that you need to seriously rethink how you spend your shrinking federal transportation funds. If there's one thing that's caused the commission problems, it's probably from not focusing on funding trends seriously enough. I think you need to use your Obama stimulus to fix deteriorating Texas transportation infrastructure first instead of risking money on toll roads. The commission already had to bail out the Camino Colombia Toll Road back when George Bush was governor, so you should be aware of the risk involved.
We're in the midst of a severe global economic crisis. Detroit is going broke, which means the parts suppliers are going broke, which means the cost of driving will increase sharply, no matter what. Moreover, world oil production has probably peaked forever, meaning that fuel revenue has peaked too unless you tax it more. In other words, the era of car domination is passing, just for economic reasons. These factors all tend to decrease toll road revenue, making them super risky, long-term investments. If you want to spend money on smart stuff, spend it on transit inside Texas cities. Travel on Texas roads in general is stagnant, whereas, transit use is growing rapidly. Lots of Texans would love to break their car addiction if they could, and you guys can help.
In Houston there's a plan to fund the Grand Parkway toll road through undeveloped land. Speculative suburban roads should rank up with sub-prime loans as a risky investment, sure to default on their long-range bond debt.
The 290 East/183 toll road interchange in Austin is, if anything, an even worse way to spend federal funds than the other toll roads. You have the money to get one end of this toll road started but no one knows where to get the money to finish it. In fact, travel demand on this existing road has been flat for years, and with current economic trends is likely to keep shrinking.
The CTRMA won't even make the traffic and revenue studies on this toll road public. Why? We do know that 290 East is considered too risky to insure so its promoters are trying to prop it up with another toll road which is 183A that, in fact, 183A may be in trouble too.
I wrote about the politics and the economics of the US 183A toll road on a blog called the Rag Blog. If you want to learn about the downside risk of 183A, just go to the Rag Blog and put 183 in the search window and it will tell you a lot.
So I think the toll roads are extremely risky long-term investments, and I'll be happy to answer any questions you have.
MS. DELISI: Thank you, sir, appreciate it.
MR. PRIEST: Chair, commissioners, my name is Morris Priest, for the record, and I'm speaking on my own behalf.
183A cross-collateralization of the 290 East toll road came up on the December 1 CAMPO meeting. Prior to the December 1 CAMPO meeting, one week before, we got to see the agenda item posted. CAMPO had four public hearings and these public hearings were based on a statement of purpose drafted by the CTRMA and drafted by the CAMPO staff.
When we get to the public meeting to speak and sign up, the chair of CAMPO, Senator Kirk Watson, had abstained from this item. He didn't recuse himself, he abstained. He left the meeting, left the meeting in control of the vice chair, Commissioner Cynthia Long, Williamson County commissioner. When the item came up for discussion, Commissioner Long said that there would be no public comments due to the fact that we had already previously had four public hearings.
The facts are that we did not have four public hearings on that item, we had four public hearings on a statement of purpose drafted by the CTRMA and the CAMPO staff. The public has never been able to give input publicly to this date to the CAMPO policy board.
The situation with this road -- this 290 road which I oppose -- in this package that you have, the stimulus package, is that the documentation I'd like you to look at a book called Spy Chips written by Katherine Albritton. I personally think that this is more about tracking and tracing than transportation. This road has absolutely no future as far as something that's needed to be expanded this drastically. It is just unbelievable that this has gotten this far through the process. There was overwhelming public opposition to this road being tolled -- because it was considered to be one of the first roads that we did feel was tolling an existing road, but the numbers aren't there, the numbers aren't there in traffic.
And I do believe that there will be lawsuits in some of these stimulus road projects and I do think that this would be a clear Title 6 violation and I do think it would be a federal case. And I just have to ask you to absolutely pull this project. It's so weak they had to do a cross-collateralization of funds from 183A.
And I also think that since we're talking about tax dollars and wasted money, many of these cash toll booths have generated in this area around $120,000 a month and recently, after about 15 months or longer, 183A pulled those cash booths off of 183A, so this is like hundreds upon hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars that have been wasted through these cash toll booths.
So there is a lot of waste in building these roads. The enormous debt is pushed out so far, so long-range that we don't have any idea what these tolls are going to be. They are tolls that our elected officials do not have control over the amount of the increase or the frequencies of these increases. It's been a financial and environmental nightmare. I really am disappointed in my legislature for not passing House Resolution 708, because I do believe that it's circumstances just as I've discussed with you because I want to remind this board -- and this will be the last thing I say -- that our engineer, Bob Daigh, for this area was sitting on the board, and when Cynthia Long said that she wasn't going to let us speak, then it was asked by one of the board members, Commissioner Sara Eckhart, seconded by a Hays County judge, to allow us to speak. This is a 20-member board, only several people on that board raised their hands that we could speak, and Bob Daigh wasn't one of them.
And I do believe that this is actually pretty much how everyone in the state has perceived communication with TxDOT. So I would like if anyone on this board has any connection with speaking with Mr. Daigh, or think that they may influence him, I would ask him the next time when the public asks to speak that he be encouraged to allow us to do so.
Any questions or comments?
MS. DELISI: I don't think so. Thank you.
MS. KENNEDY: Hi, Chair Delisi and members. My name is Lauren Kennedy and I'm with Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation. We're a statewide advocacy coalition for transportation infrastructure in Texas.
We recognize the enormous need for roads and funding in Texas and strive to promote sound transportation policy, much like you do, that will increase mobility and decrease congestion, help people not be sitting in their cars and can be home with their families or at work.
You have my written comments but I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you and TxDOT for your outstanding work in this difficult process. We especially applaud the equitable work you've done to bring everyone to the table over the past four months. This isn't an instant process of snapping your fingers and finding hundreds of projects to give funds to.
And we applaud you for picking regionally diverse projects across the state that will create the most jobs and bring the most prosperity to Texas now and in the future. We're excited by the innovation that you've shown in using these economic stimulus funds to leverage other funds throughout the state and the MPOs and RMAs, and being able to build more and bigger projects.
We hope you approve this list of projects and look forward to working with you in the future.
MS. DELISI: Thank you, Lauren.
Last but not least, Lawrence Olsen.
MR. OLSEN: Madam Chairman, members of the commission. My name is Lawrence Olsen with the Texas Good Roads Association. And I want to commend the staff for its exemplary work over an extended time to choose these projects, and I also want to commend you, Madam Chairman, in making your decision on behalf of your fellow commissioners to delay for a week the consideration which obviously added some additional needed projects, and you're to be commended and I would ask for your favorable consideration today of the projects. And thank you for your time.
MS. DELISI: Thank you.
MR. UNDERWOOD: Madam Chair, I've got a note somewhere.
Amadeo, I want to ask a question of you, and I don't know if this is the proper time to do this or should I do this after the vote, whichever way the vote goes, but I want to talk about the DBEs and issues of that. Would that be a good time after every which way we vote?
MS. DELISI: No. I think we can go ahead and have the conversation now.
MR. UNDERWOOD: Okay. Amadeo, this job stimulus is to get people to work, get people back to work. We've heard about how many thousands of people have been laid off or whatnot because the lack of construction jobs, lack of money for construction jobs. You and I had a conversation last night. Would you like to elaborate on that, please, sir?
MR. SAENZ: Yes, sir. Thank you, Commissioner.
Amadeo Saenz, executive director of TxDOT. And you're right, the goal of the statute is to get people to work, and of course, these funds are federal dollars, they came not from the regular Federal Fund 6, but they do have all of the federal ties to them, including the Disadvantaged Business Enterprises portion of the funds, so we will have the same DBE program that we have on our current construction projects that are federally funded.
In addition, I have staff trying to identify a mechanism of how do we get more people to work, and we have an on-the-job training program but what we're looking at for this program is to expand that job training program so that these jobs have a project-specific job-training program so that we can go over there and at the end of this program we have additional people that have come and learned some of the trade of the industry in the construction area. As we move forward and we get more money, hopefully, from whatever other sources we can, it's going to be good that we have a good well-trained workforce.
MR. UNDERWOOD: That's going to be my recommendation that staff look into that, and I want to make it a part of public record that they look into the fact that part of the contracting process -- and Bob Jackson, if I get this wrong, you come slap my hand -- that they look into the contracting part to where they do have a program as part of when they bid on a project that it shows where they are training more people than just the federal guidelines. Does that make sense?
MR. SAENZ: Yes, sir. We will do that.
MR. UNDERWOOD: And the second part I have of this -- Amadeo, while I've got you on the spot or whatnot -- right now, if my figures are right -- and you can correct me, these are ballpark -- we've got about 1,200, almost 1,300 DBE firms. Right?
MR. SAENZ: Yes, sir. I think we have right at 1,300 firms that are registered as Disadvantaged Business Enterprises, DBEs.
MR. UNDERWOOD: Of those, only 90 are qualified.
MR. SAENZ: Well, what we have is 90 of those firms have gone through -- 90 to 93 of those firms have gone through and gotten pre-qualified to be able to actually bid on construction work as primes.
MR. UNDERWOOD: Right, but I know we have programs in place to qualify these people. I would like to direct staff if we can make it an even stronger effort. I know we have the programs there forward to help these 1,300 firms to be qualified, but I would like to direct staff to also figure out, make sure we really reach out to them to get more qualified than 90 out of 1,300.
MR. SAENZ: Yes, sir, we will do that also.
MR. UNDERWOOD: I appreciate it, thank you.
MR. HOLMES: Amadeo, did I understand you to say that 90-some-odd are qualified to bid as primes?
MR. SAENZ: Yes, sir. What we have is to be able to bid on a TxDOT project, both state and federal funds, we have a pre-qualification process, and what that does, there is a review and approval that sets basically the amount that a firm can bid up to -- we have basically a bid limit, a bidding cap. Of the DBE firms that are included in the DBE program, only 90 of those firms have gone through and submitted their paperwork to be able to bid on the projects. Now, they do come in as subs to the general contractors, but that is not a bid price to us, the prime would have submitted that to us in their bid and have a separate contract.
MR. HOLMES: There were basically two points that I was going to make. One, I certainly support Commissioner Underwood's concept of helping additional DBE firms to qualify to bid as primes, but also -- you made the point that I was going to ask about, and that is that a significant number of DBEs are actually participating in work from TxDOT as subs under another prime.
MR. SAENZ: Yes, we do have the DBE program. The DBE program will be administered as part of these projects just like our other regular programs.
MR. BARTON: And if I might add, just for the record -- again, my name is John Barton, assistant executive director for TxDOT -- part of the stimulus package, part of the act itself has an amount of $20 million established to be used by states to provide training, on-the-job training -- Commissioner Underwood, as you suggested -- and then it has another $20 million that can be utilized by the states to assist disadvantaged business enterprises in establishing their ability to bond for the work that they need to do. And Ed Serna, our assistant executive director for Support Operations, has been working with our Business Opportunities program office to come up with some really creative ways to get additional companies, minority-owned and women-owned companies, pre-qualified.
As Mr. Saenz, pointed out correctly, that requires a lot of money, they have to pay for a lot of accounting certification and that sort of thing. And this particular opportunity in the act may give us a chance to help a lot of those companies that don't have that financial resource to be able to spend $7- or $8,000 just to turn in a business plan for us, to get that done and to become pre-qualified to bid on projects as primes. So there's a great tool in the act that might be able to help us do some of the things you've recommended that we do.
MR. HOLMES: Amadeo, may I shift gears for just a moment?
MR. SAENZ: Yes, sir.
MR. HOLMES: John, there have been several projects on the list that have been challenged today, in San Antonio and Austin and Houston and Dallas, various places, and people have had concerns about them that those projects lack environmental approvals, that they lack community support, public support from those various areas. Let me ask two questions. The projects that we have that you have on your list, the ones from MPOs, those have been recommended and approved by the MPOs. Is that correct?
MR. BARTON: That is correct.
MR. HOLMES: And were they controversial? I know that I attended a meeting of the TPC in Houston recently and the list that was proposed passed unanimously out of 35-40 people that are members of the TPC voted in favor of that. I'm assuming that -- before I assume that other votes around the state were equally as enthusiastically in favor of their local area's list of projects, were those approved and were they approved by strong majorities or were they strong votes? How did those go?
MR. BARTON: It's my understanding that the recommendations we've received from all of the metropolitan planning organizations, of course, like anything else, were debated, as they discussed which projects they wanted to put together, but speaking specifically like for the San Antonio MPO, I believe they had a unanimous vote -- is what it was portrayed to me as. I wasn't at the meeting and haven't looked at that record, but I understand that it was a unanimous vote.
I was able to participate in a meeting at the Killeen-Temple MPO, and again, there was a lot of discussion about the different projects and priorities, but at the end of the day, there was consensus and uniform support for that project that they promoted up here.
And so the messages that I've received -- I haven't been at the meetings -- that the MPOs voted either unanimously or strongly in favor of those projects.
MR. HOLMES: There was one other issue raised about Segment E of the Grand Parkway, that it had not received its environmental approvals, and that was contrary to what I had been led to believe. Does it have the ROD?
MR. BARTON: Yes, sir, I believe we have a record of decision on that, and I don't know if David Gornet with the Grand Parkway Association is with us at this time, he could speak more specifically to its current environmental status. But it, like any of these projects of this magnitude, still have additional environmental processes to go through in terms of Corps permits and those sorts of thing.
But the proposal on that project is to enter into a development agreement, if you will, with the Harris County Toll Road Authority to move forward with the development of the project under this stimulus package, and it's much like a design-build-type of project, although it would not be in this case, but it allows for those continued activities between now and the end of the act's obligation authority period to have those activities proceed to the point where we can receive federal authority from the Federal Highway Administration to obligate funding for this project.
MR. HOLMES: And that project went through Harris County Commissioners Court, correct, and it was approved by commissioners court.
MR. BARTON: That's correct.
MR. HOUGHTON: I think we're at the end, but I'd like to thank you. You have been at the forefront of this drill and endeavor and your staff. I am impressed what you have accomplished on vetting these projects out, it has been remarkable.
MR. BARTON: Well, I appreciate the compliment. It's not for me, it's for a lot of hard working individuals from around the state.
MR. HOUGHTON: Everything has leadership and I want to thank you for your leadership.
MR. BARTON: Well, I appreciate it. The MPOs have done a great job, our community leaders, mayors, judges, state elected officials, Director Saenz has certainly been the driving force behind all of it, and our deputy executive director, Steve Simmons has pushed and made the charge. And then, of course, the guy that I hold close to me more than most is David Casteel, our assistant executive director for District Operations. He just does a phenomenal job of putting all those teams together and getting those resources rallied. And of course our divisions have been tremendous as well. But I appreciate the compliment and I've been honored to be asked to serve in this leadership role, and it's been a privilege and honor for me and I trust that the service has been acceptable.
MR. MEADOWS: John, I just have to join in just to say how much I appreciate personally what it is that you have done and what your colleagues have done, but I'd also like to stop and just acknowledge this commission and this commission's becoming engaged and becoming involved and constructing, working with you to create a process. It really is a good process that I think has and I think will yield a very fair result and a very good result.
And you mentioned the MPOs, when I think about the time, energy and effort on the part of citizens across this state that constructed those lists that came up to us, those people that traveled to Austin from all over this state that talked about the criteria, you engaged them in constructing the process, you talked to them about what criteria should we use, you brought forward $13 billion in projects and we have $1.2 billion to allocate, how are we going to select, and they participated in that process too. I mean, they were from the very beginning involved and engaged and they're involved every day. We're talking about city council members and mayors and county judges and commissioners and citizens, all over this state that were part of that process, and to have pushed this down and built it back up from that level was the right way to do this, and I think it was evidenced by a lot of the comments that we heard today, so I think there are a lot of people to thank in this process.
The last thing I'd mention is, you know, for all this conversation we kind of lost sight, perhaps, for a moment because we had been so focused on the process, but what it is I think we're about to do is really a good thing for the state, this is a good thing for this state. We're going to employ people, we're going to put people back to work, we've heard, we're going to create economic development opportunity, we're going to provide needed transportation infrastructure for the citizens that we all serve. This is a pretty exciting day.
MR. HOLMES: John, I'd like to add my comments. I share Commissioner Houghton's, Commissioner Underwood's, Chair Delisi's and Commissioner Meadows' appreciation for the hard work, but it's also I've heard it from around the state, from the MPOs and members of county commissioners courts and small town mayors, et cetera that have contacted me, and they've all been very appreciative of the time and energy that you and your staff put into this process.
And while not everybody got all they wanted -- in fact, everybody got very little of what they wanted is the reality of it because that's just the nature of the backlog of projects that need to be done and the amount of money available -- I felt, as it was expressed to me, they were treated fairly and they got their hearing and they would have liked more but that's just the nature of the process. And thank you for your efforts.
MR. BARTON: Thank you.
MS. DELISI: Well, okay, then at this time the business before us, I guess, is there a motion on the minute order?
MR. BARTON: Staff would recommend your approval, and thank you.
MR. HOUGHTON: So moved.
MR. UNDERWOOD: Second.
MS. DELISI: All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
MS. DELISI: The motion passes.
MS. DELISI: Is there any other business to come before the commission?
MR. UNDERWOOD: Madam Chair, I would just want to leave our commissioners with a thought: sometimes you win even when you lose, it's sort of like playing musical electric chairs.
MS. DELISI: Well, on that note -- I'm sorry.
MR. SIMMONS: Madam Chair, for the record, my name is Steve Simmons, deputy executive director of the department, and I'm always the one that makes sure we follow up on everything that needs to be discussed, and there were two other items that needed to be discussed. One is the transportation enhancement projects on the list, and then also that next tier of projects if something should fall down, and I think we'd like to get a little bit of direction for that.
MS. DELISI: I think the direction is prepare it and bring it back to us.
MR. SAENZ: Commissioners, what we have come up with is we have a list of what John called backstop projects that we think are important that need to be continued to be worked on so that we do have projects ready for several reasons. There will be the additional program for national discretionary at the discretion of the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, as well as if for some reason some of these projects that you've selected today were to run into an issue, then we could replace those projects.
With respect to the enhancement program, there is, as part of the bill, $67.5 million worth of projects that are enhancements, the hike and bike trails. We do have a process in place to go through and go out on a program call and select projects. The problem, because of the time lines of the bill, I don't think that we can meet the time lines of the bill by going through, so what staff had been looking at and was going to recommend and would like to get some feedback and then we'll bring a formal minute order for you at the next meeting, is that we maybe look at projects that have gone through that process and have been selected but, unfortunately, because of cash flow have not been able to go to construction, where we could use those projects, replace the funding with the economic stimulus funding, and then that would, in essence, what I call a backfill. The money that was enhancement that was part of the regular enhancement program, then we could go out in a more structured and timely program call for future projects in enhancement. So it swaps the funding and then allows to more adequately go out on a real program call.
John, did I cover that?
MR. BARTON: Yes, you did. And as Amadeo said, we do have sufficient projects that were selected in previous calls, went through the competitive process and former commissions voted to support, communities have been working on, and if we can use those enhancement projects, they've already been through federal review, they've been approved as eligible activities, we can move those forward using the stimulus funding. There's still a question of whether or not 50 percent of those projects have to obligated in the first 120 days, and I'm trusting that my federal partners are going to tell me the answer is no.
MR. SIMMONS: The answer is no.
MR. BARTON: Thank you. So the answer is no on that. But we can move those forward and then it can allow you to issue a program call for enhancement projects that we can then do in fiscal year 2010 and beyond with that money that otherwise would have been committed during fiscal years 2010 and 2011.
MS. DELISI: Okay, sounds good. I think the way you're talking about it is acceptable to the commission, so come back to us at our next regularly scheduled commission meeting.
MR. BARTON: We will do that. Thank you for your direction.
MR. SAENZ: And thank you, John, great job.
That's all the agenda items.
MS. DELISI: Okay, great. There's no more business; therefore, I will entertain a motion to adjourn.
MR. HOUGHTON: So moved.
MS. DELISI: Is there a second?
MR. HOLMES: Second.
MS. DELISI: All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
MS. DELISI: Please note for the record that it is 1:28 p.m. and this meeting stands adjourned.
(Whereupon, at 1:28 p.m., the meeting was concluded.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Transportation Commission
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: March 5, 2009
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 154, inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Nancy King before the Texas Department of Transportation.
On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731