September 07, 2007
More on TxDOT's PR offensive

Let's get one thing straight about the TxDOT advertising blitz that's going on right now.

Top state transportation officials and Gov. Rick Perry's deputy chief of staff are being trained by political and corporate strategy pros before deploying on talk radio to promote the Trans-Texas Corridor and toll roads.

The airwave ambassadors are being schooled by experts from ViaNovo as part of a $20,000 consulting contract included in the agency's Keep Texas Moving campaign, which promotes the divisive transportation plans championed by Perry.

The campaign, estimated to cost $7 million to $9 million in state highway funds, has drawn concern from anti-toll activists and some lawmakers who question the cost of what they see as a public relations campaign.

Its defenders say the initiative stems from lawmakers' call for the agency to better communicate with the public.


Plans call for several TxDOT division directors, district engineers from Beaumont and Amarillo, agency interim Executive Director Steve Simmons and Heckmann to start out on satellite radio, in part because "the listening audience is paying for radio so they might be more apt to pay a toll," according to a July e-mail from Coby Chase, director of TxDOT's government and public affairs division. He wrote that the agency likely will buy advertising time on the satellite networks.


"I think TxDOT's doing exactly what the Legislature asked them to do, demanded that they do, and legislators who now cry foul are being hypocritical," said Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, House Transportation Committee chairman.

"They were the ones that beat TxDOT over the head in public hearings for not explaining this," he said, adding that specialized training makes sense.

But Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who fought for a moratorium on privately run toll roads, said, "The Legislature did not tell TxDOT to go on a media campaign explaining the pros of the Trans-Texas Corridor and private equity investment (in toll roads). The Legislature said, 'Please slow down, take a deep breath. We want you to pause while we make sure we are making the right decisions.' "

Kolkhorst said TxDOT is a "fabulous agency" but there is a "lack of faith in the policy."

What TxDOT is doing here isn't communicating or explaining in any meaningful sense, it's advocating; if you want to be less charitable, it's propagandizing. As I said before, what the Lege wanted was actual engagement, with two-way communication and TxDOT responding to the feedback it gets in good faith. Their actions here do not resemble that at all. Which is why there's such a lack of faith, not just in the policy but in the agency itself.

The thing is, you could make the case that since the Trans Texas Corridor has survived two regular legislative sessions' worth of review and attack, further engagement is redundant, and selling the public on what's going to happen whether they now like it or not is what's called for. I wouldn't accept that argument, but I could at least respect it for being honest.

By the way, I heard a TxDOT spot on KACC yesterday. It was more of a warm-fuzzy PSA, since KACC doesn't run ads, but it was still a bit weird to hear.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 07, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

On Monday, Senator Kirk Watson wants you to stay home and sit on your Couch - while he steals $700 Million Tax dollars for Toll Roads.

Or Pay and Pay and Pay.

Smarter options, other than shifting our Austin freeways to tollways, do exist - although the Austin American Snakesman (which is on the board of the pro-toll Chamber of Commerce - also known as Take on Traffic) just wrote an editorial called “No Exit from Toll Roads” saying we don’t have any other choice.

In the short term, the $700 million tax dollars shouldn’t be spent on toll roads, but on cost efficient non-toll solutions such as:

· Variable speed limits
· Ramp metering
· HOV lanes without tolls
· Reversible/barriered lanes for peak periods
· Non tolled Parkways (like with a nontolled $100 parkway, compared to TxDOT’s $400 million freeway converting tollway!)
· Pass through financing
· More arterial lane miles
· Better incident management and
· Advance computerized control of traffic signals.

In the long term we must index the gas tax. The Texas Transportation Institute report states that more tolls are simply NOT needed - that indexing the gas tax and using the revenue to pay off bonds allows freeways to be built right now.

Once placed, the freeway tolls will NEVER be removed from our public highways. In contrast, the Ledge has the opportunity to index the gas tax every two years!

ATTEND T-DAY on Monday at 6pm at the Capitol and say “NO Freeway Tolls!”
…or pay and pay and pay.

Posted by: Sal Costello on September 8, 2007 12:45 AM