Definition of Terms

The more commonly used terms used in transportation related matters. Click a term in the list below to expand it's definition.

  • Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) +

    Formed in 1968, this body consists of towns within 12 counties that voluntarily wish to be part of the AACOG.  Because membership is voluntary, not all towns within a county may be part of this group.  Currently, the counties involved are Atascosa, Bandera, Bexar, Comal, Frio, Gillespie, Guadalupe, Karnes, Kendall, Kerr, Medina and Wilson.  Its basic function is to unify public services within its membership and to try and eliminate duplication of these services.  While it has the authority to plan, assist local governments, and deliver public services, it does not have the power to tax or regulate its citizens.  State law requires that the council consist “primarily” of local elected officials. 

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  • Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) +

    Created in 2001 under Texas Senate Bill 342, RMA’s are the local transportation authority that can build, operate, and maintain toll roads along with other transportation projects. They also arrange for the sale of bonds for toll projects.  The Alamo version of the RMA’s Board of Directors consists of seven members, all of which are appointed and not elected by the public.  Of the seven, the Governor appoints the Chairman, two are appointed by the County Judge, and the other four are appointed by the four Bexar County Commissioners.  They report to the Bexar County Commissioners Court and to “other elected officials.”  

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  • Bonds +

    A bond is a loan from an investor to a borrower.  This loan will have a pre-determined interest rate (making it less risky than purchasing stock) and will be paid off in a pre-determined amount of time (maturity date).  Bonds are considered to be debts.  

    A borrower may need more money than a banking system could afford to loan.  The borrower could instead issue bonds to the public for the chance to invest in whatever it is the borrower needs the money for.  If a bond’s maturity date was 10 years, and each bond was worth $1,000 with the pre-determined interest rate being 9%, then each investor would receive $90/year in interest for every bond he/she owned.  At the end of the 10 years, they would get back their original $1,000/bond investment, plus they would’ve received an additional $900 in interest payments over that 10-year period.   Read More
  • Bicycle Mobility Advisory Committee (BMAC) +

    Created in 1995, this committee advises the San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (SAMPO) Board of Directors, (the TPB ), on bicycle issues for our area.  It contains nineteen voting members consisting of representatives from TxDOT , the AACOG , Bexar County, Parks and Recreation, Bicycle clubs, school districts, citizens, and others. Read More
  • Benzene +

    A colorless, flammable, liquid aromatic hydrocarbon, C6H6, derived from petroleum and used in or to manufacture a wide variety of chemical products, including DDT, detergents, insecticides, and motor fuels.  Benzene is a toxic substance, and prolonged exposure to concentrations in excess of 35–100 parts per million in air may lead to symptoms ranging from nausea and excess fatigue to anemia and leukemia. Read More
  • Congestion Pricing +

    During peak driving hours, toll roads often become congested.  In order to remedy this, toll authorities often charge as much as double the normal toll rate in hopes that drivers will become discouraged to use the toll road (or simply can’t afford the extra charge) and will instead use the already congested free lanes.  This is known as Congestion Pricing to help manage congestion by pricing motorists off the road. Read More
  • Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA) +

    Most states call them Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs).  These are the agreements that our various governments make with private investors that want to control public assets such as toll roads.  These investors can be domestic, foreign, or a combination of both.  Usually, they will control the public asset anywhere from 40-99 years.  In the case of toll roads, these private companies negotiate for the control of how much they can charge for tolls and for control of the non-tolled lanes.  If successful, they can then determine how fast (or slow) the speed limits could be on these non-toll lanes, and could increase the length of time traffic lights stay red, thus giving incentive for travelers to use the toll lanes instead.  Previously, the two potential investors for the US Hwy 281/1604 toll project were Zachry American (part of HB Zachry here in San Antonio) partnering with Cintra (a foreign investor from Spain) and the second investor being the Australian based Macquarie 1604 Partnership.  As part of their agreement with the government, the investors are not required to make public the terms of the agreement until AFTER the contract is signed. SB 792 , CDA moratorium, killed the CDA and potential for private control of the 281/1604 toll projects for two years. Now, the ARMA , public tolling entity, has control of the toll project.  

    More information on Zachry American

    More information on Cintra, click here

    More information on Macquarie 1604 Partnership  

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  • Eminent Domain +

    The right of a government entity to seize private property for the purpose of constructing a public facility. Federal, state, and local governments can seize people's homes under eminent domain laws as long as the homeowner is compensated at fair market value. If the owner does not agree to the government’s terms, or does not wish to part with his property, the government can still seize the property by forcing him to sell (known as condemnation). Some public projects that may necessitate such condemnation include highways, toll roads, hospitals, schools, parks, or government office buildings. Read More
  • HB 3588 +

    Law that established the Trans Texas Corridor , proliferation of toll roads, RMAs , and the transfer of highway funds from the state’s General Revenue Fund into a mobility fund that TxDOT can allocate at will for useless things like “reviewing” a private contract (CDA ) for a year. Read More
  • HB 2702 +

    Passed by the Texas State Legislature in 2005, in which a portion of it says that existing freeways cannot be converted into toll lanes unless that conversion left as many non-toll lanes as exist today. TxDOT perverts this law by downgrading the existing freeway lanes to frontage roads. 

    Conversions are supposed to require a public vote. The way this bill is written, most toll projects, like 281, were grandfathered in, thus bypassing the public vote. 

    See how legislators themselves are upset about TxDOT's flagrant violation of the intent of this law.

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  • Highway Cost Index +

    An index used to determine how much inflation affects the costs of building highways.  These figures include things such as engineering, construction, maintenance, etc. Typically, the Highway Cost Index uses higher percentages than the Consumer Price Index.

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  • Indexing +

    Indexing is simply a comparison of averages from one period of time (or cycle) against another period of time. There are many different types of indexes.  For example, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a way to see how much the cost of living may be going up.  The government will make a list of goods and services, such as transportation, food, and medical care, and keep track of their costs to consumers over a period of time.  At the end of that period of time, they will figure the average cost for each item and compare those against a previous period of time. If the overall average cost is higher, percentage-wise, then there is inflation.  If the overall average cost is lower, then there is deflation.  This method is used to keep track of the cost of living, which is why the CPI is sometimes referred to as the Cost-of-Living Index.

    For example, let’s say that in a six-month period, you go to the grocery store and buy 30 different types of food and household items.  In fact, during that six-month period, you buy each item five times. That six-month period is known as Cycle A or Index A. You keep your receipts and at the end of Cycle A, you figure out what the average cost of each item was during that period. Then, during the next six-month cycle (Cycle B) you go back and buy the same items five more times and average those.  You then compare the average cost of each item from Cycle B with Cycle A to see whether or not the average cost of each item went up or down, and if so, by what percentage? If the overall average increase in cost from Cycle B was 5%, then you would say that your Grocery Store Index is +5%.  In other words, every 6 months, your grocery store budget would need to increase by 5% to keep up with inflation.  Of course, to keep up with realistic costs, you need to repeat this process over and over again.

    Note: The CPI gives more value (sometimes known as scoring) to some items in its index than others.  An item from a “lesser” category may have gone up in cost by 10% whereas an item from a “more important” category may have only gone up in cost by 2%.  If the “more important” item has a score of 20 and the “lesser” item has a score of 5, then you can’t say that the average price increase of those two items went up by 6% because they are scored differently. Read More
  • Karst +

    An area of irregular limestone in which erosion has produced fissures, sinkholes, underground streams, and caverns. Read More
  • Minute Order +

    A Minute Order is a legal document that contains a committee’s ruling on a particular issue (motion).  For example, a board member of the Texas Transportation Commission may make a motion to study all future highway projects to see whether or not they are toll viable.  If it goes to a vote and passes, the Minute Order then states in writing that the Commission ruled in favor of that motion and the ruling becomes an order that is to be carried out. Read More
  • Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) +

    This is the long-range plan (up through 2030) that analyzes what might happen if current trends in our area continue.  It recommends changes that may need to be made and it guides the short-term plan (Transportation Improvement Program [TIP] ) as to which transportation projects need to be funded and how. Read More
  • Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) +

    MPO’s were created by the federal government in 1962 to give cities with a population of 50,000 or more local input for urban transportation planning as well as where federal funds should be spent in their area.  By law, MPO’s are to give its citizens the opportunity to understand what it is that the MPO plans to do and to have a voice in all matters through open public meetings.  Unfortunately, many of these meetings are held during working hours, making it difficult for many of its citizens to attend. 

    SAMPO’s public policy plan, adopted May 21, 2007  (Adobe Acrobat Reader required)

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  • Market-based tolls +

    Market-based tolls determine the highest possible toll “the market can bear.” They don’t determine the toll rate based on the actual cost of construction, maintenance, and debt retirement but rather on how much profit the government can make off a given roadway. This method of tolling allows the government to collect large profits from motorists on one road segment to pay for other road segments that may not have as much profit due to low volume traffic. Read More
  • Non-compete clause +

    Sometimes called the “no-compete clause.” This is a clause that is commonly found in agreements (known as CDA’s ) between toll investors and local governments.  Basically, the clause states that roads that parallel a toll road, while they can be repaired as needed, will not be widened to relieve congestion.  If they are, the government must pay the investors a substantial penalty.

    When roads become tolled, the public will usually look for free roads to travel on that parallel the tolled road.  These of course become extremely congested almost immediately, which is what the investor is hoping for.  Eventually, many people get tired of using the free roads due to massive congestion and begin using the toll road.  In San Antonio for example, two roads that parallel US Hwy 281 north of 1604 are Blanco and Bulverde Rds.  They needed to be widened years ago but TxDOT has been slow to do so for fear of running off potential investors. Read More
  • Omnibus Bill +

    Often times, a legislative body (i.e. the Texas House of Representatives) will introduce multiple items into the same bill so that the body can either vote for all of it or reject the whole thing.  These items often have nothing to do with one another.  For example, Representative A may want to include wording in the proposed bill that says, “No existing freeways can be converted into a toll road.”  Representative B may want to include wording that says, “All restaurants in Texas must include a ‘smoke-free’ section.”  So Rep. B may go to Rep. A and say, “I’ll vote to include your idea into the bill if you’ll vote to include mine; however, if you vote to exclude my idea, I’ll vote to exclude yours.”  Rep. A may not be real excited by Rep. B’s idea on restaurants, but rather than risk getting his idea on toll roads shot down, he agrees and votes to include Rep. B’s idea into the bill.  The legislative body will then vote to either include or exclude each idea.  If they decide to include both ideas, then they get lumped together in the same proposed bill and the body either accepts the whole thing or they reject it.   Read More
  • Pedestrian Mobility Advisory Committee (PMAC) +

    This committee advises the San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (SAMPO) Board of Directors (the TPB ) on pedestrian issues for our area.  It contains eighteen voting members from various groups like Bexar County, VIA Metropolitan Transit , the AACOG, Parks and Recreation, school districts, TxDOT, neighborhood associations, citizens, and others. Read More
  • Pass-through Financing +

    Also known as shadow tolling in the toll road industry. A local government, like a city and/or county, pays for a road project and TxDOT pays the local government back based on the number of cars that “pass through” equipment that counts the number of cars (basically like tolling). The problem with this approach is that the local government has to use its own tax money, like charging higher than normal property taxes to residents/businesses in the area, to pay for improvements to state highways. We already pay numerous fees for highways, not the least of which is the gas tax. This is another way the State is abdicating its role and responsibility to build and maintain our State highways. Read More
  • Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) +

    Created in 2001 under Texas Senate Bill 342, RMA’s are the local transportation authority that can build, operate, and maintain toll roads along with other transportation projects.  They are sometimes called “mini-TxDOT’s” or “Toll Authorities” and consist of non-elected officials. Read More
  • Study Commission on Transportation Financing +

    Its purpose is to conduct public hearings and study public policy implications relating to the financing of transportation projects.  The Commission consists of nine members, all appointed; three members of the general public appointed by the governor, three members appointed by the lieutenant governor, of which one is a member of the general public and two are members of the senate, and three members appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives, one of which is a member of the general public and two from the house of representatives.  

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  • SB 792 +

    Passed by the Texas Legislature in 2007, Senate Bill 792 (SB 792) unleashed the highest possible toll rate method that a tolling authority could charge.  This new method is called “market-based ” tolls.  This new law requires all toll projects to undergo an “independent” study by a third party to determine how much it will cost to construct the toll road.  Next, the tolling authority (in San Antonio’s case, the ARMA) will issue bonds for that amount of construction costs, and finally, instead of charging just enough in toll rates to cover the actual costs to build the road, they will charge “whatever the market will bear.”  In other words, they can charge the highest possible toll…without any limits. Read More
  • San Antonio Mobility Coalition (SAMCo) +

    Created in 2001, SAMCo was formed to “bring focus to the community’s short- and long-range transportation funding needs.” Its members consist of both elected and non-elected local officials and serves to form public-private partnerships (see CDA ’s).  It works together with TxDOT, Bexar County, the City of San Antonio, VIA Metropolitan Transit, SAMPO, ARMA, area legislators, and the private sector.

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  • San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization (SAMPO) +  

    See definition for a MPO.  SAMPO is the local committee that is responsible for the urban transportation planning process, which allows San Antonio and Bexar County to receive over $200 million annually in federal and state transportation funding.  They do this through three related activities: The Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) , the Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) , and the Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP) . SAMPO’s Board of Directors is called the Transportation Policy Board (TPB).  

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  • Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) +

    TTC routes 1

    The map to the left shows the projected path of the TTC.  It will be a super-highway system, if you will, with tolls, and will cover about 4,000 miles throughout the state totaling 584,000 acres.  The land will be acquired through eminent domain, making it the largest eminent domain project in the history of the U.S. Each of these corridors will be about 1200 foot wide and will require 146 acres of right of way per mile.  To give you an idea how wide 1200 feet is, the average width of interstates, including right of way, here in Texas is 300-400 feet.  This will be three times that wide.  

    These corridors will have no on ramps or exit ramps except where they are intersected by existing major highways. For TTC-35, that means only five exits in the entire state of Texas! 

    The estimated cost of this project will be $31.4 million per mile or $125.5 billion.  That does not include right of way and “miscellaneous” costs.  Factoring in right of way at $11.7 billion to $38 billion and miscellaneous costs at $8 billion to $20 billion, the estimated cost of the TTC will be $145.2 billion to $183.5 billion.  But based upon an audit of TxDOT in Feb of 2007, the actual cost of the whole thing could exceed $754 billion.  

    Below is a conceptual diagram of what a cross section of the TTC will look like.

    TTC birdseye view 1

    The green areas represent grass or land.  Starting from the left, the first “column” you see contains two truck lanes (moving from top to bottom) followed by three passenger vehicle lanes.  Next you see three more passenger vehicle lanes (moving from bottom to top) followed by two truck lanes.  The two tan-colored areas represent two tracks for 200mph high-speed passenger rail, two tracks for 80mph commuter passenger rail, and two tracks for 80mph freight rail.  The green area on the far right (between the two light-blue lines) will contain a 200-foot Utility Zone for large underground water lines, natural gas and petroleum pipelines, telecommunication cables and overhead high-voltage electric transmission lines.  In addition, there will be an Operational Maintenance Zone and Safety Zones sufficient to accommodate future roadway expansion.

    It primarily will travel through rural areas requiring 580,000 acres of private land.  It will parallel many of the existing major highways we have today.  Connection between the corridor and nearby cities will be accomplished with the existing highway system.  Privately funded franchises or CDA’s will collect money from travelers as they travel along the corridor. 

    It is assumed that all existing roadways (excluding unpaved county roads), rails and streams intersecting the corridor will pass under or over it. Most of these crossings will be handled by bridges (also known as grade separations). This allows existing local highways and rail facilities to cross the corridor but they will not have access to it. Grade separations may be provided for farm to market highways, two-lane state highways, rail lines and paved county roads.

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  • Transportation Policy Board (TPB) +

    This is the Board of Directors for the San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization (SAMPO).  It contains ten elected and nine appointed officials which represent Texas, Bexar County, San Antonio, VIA Metropolitan Transit, suburban cities, and the Alamo Area of Council of Governments (AACOG).  All nineteen members have the power to vote.  They receive advice from the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), the Bicycle Mobility Advisory Committee (BMAC) and the Pedestrian Mobility Advisory Committee (PMAC).  In addition, there are currently six non-voting members. 

    Who is on this board?  (Adobe Acrobat Reader required)

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  • Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) +

    This is the short-term (3 years) plan for projects that have been approved for federal and state funding by the MPO’s Transportation Policy Board (TPB).  This plan is updated every two years and amended quarterly.  Beginning in fiscal year 2012, the new plan will last for four years rather than three. Read More
  • Toll Road +

    A section of road where motorists are charged a fee (also known as a toll or tax) for the right to drive on that portion of the road.  Also known as a tollway, turnpike, pike, or tollpike.  Similarly, there are also toll bridges and toll tunnels.   Read More
  • Texas Transportation Institute +

    Part of the Texas A&M University System, the Texas Transportation Institute’s mission is to “solve transportation problems through research, to transfer technology, and to develop diverse human resources to meet the transportation challenges of tomorrow.”  

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  • Texas Transportation Commission +

    The Texas Transportation Commission is a five-member board appointed by the Governor to oversee TxDOT.

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  • Texas Mobility Fund +

    In 2001, the Texas Legislature created the Texas Mobility Fund to allow TxDOT the ability to issue bonds secured by future revenues (traffic fines) in order to speed up the process of road construction, reconstruction, acquisition and expansion of state highways.  This can also include toll roads. Read More
  • Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) +

    TxDOT, in cooperation with local and regional officials, is responsible for planning, designing, building, operating and maintaining the state's transportation system.  They also register motor vehicles, provide travel information, license automobile dealers and oversee many other programs and services.  TxDOT is led by nine non-elected officials.

    Organizational view of TxDOT (Adobe Acrobat Reader required)

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  • Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) +

    This group reviews the plans that the Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP) group comes up with for various projects that are to be accomplished during the state’s next fiscal year.  They also advise the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) as to what projects need to be done, when, and how (also called “scoring”) and make technical recommendations to the Transportation Policy Board (TPB). It consists of fifteen voting members (including six alternates) from various groups representing organizations such as Bexar County, the City of San Antonio, TxDOT, VIA Metro Transit, the AACOG, and others. Read More
  • United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) +

    Established by Congress in 1966, the USDOT establishes overall transportation policy for the United States. Under the DOT's umbrella are ten administrations whose jurisdictions include highway planning, development, and construction; urban mass transit; railroads; aviation; and the safety of waterways, ports, highways, and oil and gas pipelines. Decisions made by the department in conjunction with appropriate state and local officials can significantly affect other programs such as land planning, energy conservation, scarce resource utilization, and technological change.

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  • Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP) +

    This MPO plan denotes projects in the local area during the state’s next fiscal year and presents the budget for these projects to the local MPO.


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  • VIA Metropolitan Transit +

    This is the transportation service here in San Antonio that provides transportation services such as bus and streetcar, paratransit for the disabled, vanpool and special events that utilize Park and Ride.  It is funded by a one-half cent sales tax and seven incorporated municipalities.  It also receives a one-eighth cent sales tax from the Advanced Transportation District.

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