TxDOT uses up funds for Wurzbach instead of 281, 1604

Even residents who want Wurzbach Pkwy finished admit this is a bad case of misplaced priorities. Even a casual observer can see the traffic is far more acute on 281, 1604 than Wurzbach. TxDOT is advancing Wurzbach for Prop 12 bonds BEFORE the MPO has even formulated a project priority list to submit for Prop 12 bonds. Once again, TxDOT races to use up ALL available funding (gas tax, Prop 14 bonds, Texas Mobility Funds, stimulus funds, Prop 12 bonds) to fix 281, 1604 so it can continue to claim there’s no money and toll our existing FREEways!

However, the MPO just voted down an amendment to fund the most congested segment of 1604 (from 151 to Bandera Rd) using Prop 12 bonds last Monday. So it’s clear our politicians have no interest in fixing these freeways and keeping them toll-free. Also of note is the fact that costs are at their lowest in years due to the downturn in the economy. TxDOT’ CLay Smith even said so: “In August, TxDOT officials estimated the project would cost $170 million. But Smith said costs have dropped recently and construction bids have come in lower. He also said he believes the project could be completed within the budget the transportation commission would approve.” Over half of 281 or the west side of 1604 could be fixed with $126 million!
Web Posted: 10/30/2009

Wurzbach Parkway’s finish may be near

By Josh Baugh
Express-News

By next summer, the Texas Department of Transportation could at last begin finishing Wurzbach Parkway, adding an east-west connector expected to relieve congestion on Loop 1604 and Loop 410.
The Texas Transportation Commission on Thursday reviewed a list of 78 projects — including the parkway and an expensive expansion of Interstate 35 in Hill, McLennan and Bell counties — that would be funded by proceeds from Proposition 12 bonds approved by voters in 2007. Commissioners are expected to vote on the package in November.

Read the rest of the story here.

Wolff threatens to oust Adkisson as Chair of MPO

In a not so veiled threat, the freshman commissioner on the Bexar County Commissioners Court, Kevin Wolff, whose father is pro-toll County Judge Nelson Wolff, is publicly attacking the senior Commissioner on the Court, Tommy Adkisson, for what Wolff calls “severely lacking” and “myopic” leadership of the MPO, and threatened to remove him as Chair if he doesn’t move on from the toll road issue.

“If he doesn’t start figuring out that this job is much larger than the narrow, myopic place he’s taken it to, I think you’ll find a board that says, ‘You know what, we’ve got to make a change,‘” Wolff said.

Apparently Wolff hasn’t read the MPO’s long-range plan that has no less than 22 toll projects. That sure seems to warrant some focus since the vast majority of those toll roads are in Wolff’s precinct and amount to a NEW TAX on his constituents without a vote of the people. Since the majority of the angry taxpayers who filled the Alzafar Shrine Temple at Monday’s MPO meeting to testify against toll roads are Wolff’s constituents, it also seems wise for Wolff to take heed. Those same attendees heaped praise on Adkisson and are now cursing Wolff, yet he boldly attacks Adkisson in this article.

To clarify, I told this reporter that TxDOT and the RMA are setting themselves up for a third round of litigation by refusing to put a non-toll option on the table, which is legally a different statement than what he placed in the article where he made it sound like it’s a “kill tolls or I’m suing” ultimatum.

Tolling IS THE ELEPHANT in the room and has been the MAJOR focus of the MPO since Rick Perry took office. To brush it aside and to brush aside the voices of hundreds of people opposed to tolling who took time out of their busy lives to attend and/or to testify at the MPO ought not be ignored and seems like denying the obvious. Adkisson’s point at the outset of Monday’s meeting is exactly right….we CAN’T move on as a community until we move past this constant impasse over tolling existing highways. As long as 22 projects are in the MPO’s plan, it WILL BE an issue.

By contrast, the other transportation issues at the MPO do NOT involve levying new taxes. The MPO’s own public involvement policy is that people should have a say over the transportation decisions that affect their lives. The people overwhelmingly opposed tolling these freeways. The MPO violated it’s own policy Monday night. Why doesn’t the Express-News print that in the paper?

Web Posted: 10/27/2009
Adkisson shifts focus after losing toll vote
By Josh Baugh
Express-News

Terri Hall knows no defeat.

Monday night’s toll road vote by the Metropolitan Planning Organization, she said, wasn’t a loss in her crusade against toll plans in Bexar County.That the proposal to strip toll plans from segments of U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 was shot down by a 13-5 vote wasn’t a surprise to Hall. The MPO board held a “roll call” vote, Hall said, and now there’s an official record of how each MPO member — 11 of whom are elected officials — stands on toll roads.

Alongside Hall, MPO Chairman Tommy Adkisson, a Bexar County commissioner, had pushed the plan to strip tolls. But shortly after its resounding defeat — and for perhaps the first time since rolling out the proposal several weeks ago — he didn’t appear to be on the same page as the activist.

It’s time to “turn the page and get on with other governance items,” Adkisson said.

He pointed to Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Department of Transportation as major obstacles to removing toll plans. “I think that unless we get a new governor, the toll road issue is on hold.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Throw the BUMS out! MPO votes to toll AGAIN…

More details to come, but here’s the list of the MPO members who voted to toll your EXISTING FREEWAYS despite 800 people packing the room and one hundred testifying AGAINST tolls. In total there was 5 and a half hours of testimony against tolling our existing freeways, 13 MPO Board members still voted in favor. Only 7 people testified in favor of tolls, and they were the Greater Chamber of Commerce, the North Chamber of Commerce and those who work for the highway lobby. It was over 90% AGAINST tolls. This should sound the alarm quite clearly that our elected officials no longer represent us. It’s taxation without representation!

Let’s issue pink slips to the elected officials and FAST!

Senator Jeff Wentworth
Commissioner Kevin Wolff

Commissioner Chico Rodriguez

Councilman John Clamp

Councilman Ray Lopez

Councilman (of Selma) William Weeper

Plus City appointees:

Mary Briseno (Via)

Rick Pych (Via)

Majed Al-Ghafrey

Mike Frisbie

(2) TxDOT votes

Joe Aceves (county employee)
______________________________________________________________________________

GOOD GUYS WHO VOTED AGAINST:

State Representative David Leibowitz

Commissioner Tommy Adkisson

Mayor of Leon Valley Chris Riley

Councilwoman Jennifer Ramos

Councilman Reed Williams

Hogs at the trough lobby MPO to keep 281, 1604 toll roads

Let’s keep the hogs at the public trough from raising our taxes by pushing to impose tolls on existing freeways for their personal profiteering! Fight back by emailing the MPO here. Phone numbers to elected officials on the MPO and information on the October 26 MPO meeting where they’ll decide whether or not to keep 281, 1604 toll roads or fix them as freeways are at www.FixGridlock.com
If you want to see who is paying the San Antonio Mobility Coalition (SAMCo) to lobby AGAINST the taxpayers go here.
____________________________________________________________
In yet another glaring example of taxpayer-funded lobbying, the San Antonio Mobility Coalition (SAMCo), a coalition of over 70 private companies who profit from road building, has sent out multiple email blasts encouraging its members to lobby the MPO to keep 281 and 1604 toll roads. The emails also contain blatantly erroneous and even libelous information as well as glaring examples of “the sky is falling” hysteria.

Let’s not forget that SAMCo is also supported by dues from the City of San Antonio and Bexar County. The County has contributed in excess of $250,000 since 2005. SAMCo is chaired by none other than pro-toll Terrell McCombs, with Jim Reed of the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA, the tolling authority) as an officer. Guess who else sits on the Executive Committee? Mayor Julian Castro and Councilman John Clamp (who also serves on the MPO). Good Guy Commissioner Adkisson is also on the Executive Committee since the MPO Chair has an automatic seat (I believe its the same for the Mayor and County Judge). But after you read SAMCo’s email, I don’t think you’d fault Commissioner Adkisson for not attending the meetings or supporting this organization.

SAMCo Members:

On October 19 and 26, the Bexar County/San Antonio MPO will host two special meetings to consider revisions to the project descriptions and funding sources for the US 281 North and Loop 1604 Projects.

Specifically, the MPO Policy Board will receive testimony on a proposal by Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson and Comal County resident Terri Hall to eliminate toll financing as an option for funding US 281, Loop 1604, or other projects in Bexar County.

Instead, the Commissioner and Ms. Hall have proposed a plan for US 281 and Loop 1604 that provides far less congestion relief for motorists,  eliminates two-thirds of new lanes along Loop 1604, truncates US 281, makes faulty funding assumptions, and risks losing San Antonio’s existing federal stimulus funding.

After considered review, we believe the MPO Policy Board should reject the Adkisson/Hall plan for the following reasons:

1)      The plan completely removes 16.33 miles of Loop 1604 improvements between Bandera Road and Redland Road, leaving motorists stuck in traffic near I-10, US 281, UTSA, and other key corridor segments.

2)      The plan will result in a substantial reduction in scope for the US 281 North by reducing funding from $475 to $200 million.  The plan does not address how the project would be re-engineered to reflect a funding reduction of 58 percent.

3)      The plan risks losing $216 million in Texas Mobility Fund (TMF) dollars that have been reserved by TxDOT for Loop 1604 and US 281 as leveraged (i.e. tolled) projects.  Because the Commission (TxDOT) has required projects in other urban regions to meet TMF  leveraging requirements, we believe it is extremely doubtful that the Commission would make an exception for San Antonio that would expose TxDOT to charges of favoritism and unfairness.

4)      The plan risks losing $140 million in federal stimulus (ARRA) and Prop 14 dollars awarded specifically for the US 281/Loop 1604 Interchange.  The plan unilaterally diverts $60 million in Prop 14 dollars from the Interchange to  US 281 North and attempts to substitute a similar amount of TMF dollars in its place – also likely to be rejected due to leverage requirements and other technical issues.  With the Interchange no longer fully funded, Commissioners would have little option but to transfer the $140 million to the next eligible “shovel ready” project on the statewide federal stimulus list developed by TxDOT last February.  This might not be in San Antonio.

5)      The plan assumes the Transportation Commission will allocate $200 million in Proposition 12 dollars to Loop 1604.  As of today’s date, the Commission has yet to determine how $1 billion available from Prop 12 dollars for the current biennium will be allocated.  Based on last month’s Commission workshop, it appears that much of this funding will be allocated to safety/maintenance projects and to statewide connectivity (for example I-35 north of Waco).   Whatever remains for  “urban mobility” will likely be awarded through a competitive call for projects.

6)      The plan is not geographically balanced and  fails to provide a system-wide solution for congestion, focusing only on small parts of US 281 and Loop 1604 and leaving little or no funding for transportation improvements in other part of San Antonio and Bexar County.

Since our inception in 2001, SAMCo has supported introduction of new and expanded funding tools and approaches – including tolling as a funding option of last resort – to address declining levels of traditional state and federal funding.

In an era of increasing uncertainty regarding future available funding and with more than $19 billion in unmet transportation needs for our region by 2030 (2006 MPO estimate), we would urge members of the Bexar County/San Antonio MPO Transportation Policy Board to:

1)      Retain all funding options in the MPO’s future plans for US 281, Loop 1604, and other added capacity projects;

2)      Support the ongoing Alamo RMA Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) processes for US 281 and Loop 1604, which will include development of both toll and non-toll options.   With two or more years of intense study still ahead, there is no need at this time to pre-determine the outcome or eliminate any particular option;

3)      Reject any plan that does not provide a system-wide solution or that creates a significant geographic imbalance in how the MPO’s transportation funds are allocated.

4)      Continue to support local option legislation, federal and state motor fuels increases/indexing, and creation of other new revenue sources to provide potential new funding for San Antonio projects;

5)      Continue to support development of “Super Street” projects along both US 281 North and Loop 1604 (west) to provide some measure of temporary relief while the longer term studies are being completed.

How SAMCo members/partners can help:

1)      Attend the October 19 and 26 public meetings Click here for details and register to say a few brief words In support of keeping all funding options on the table.

2)      Strongly encourage your co-workers, employees, business associates, friends, neighbors, etc. to do the same.  It is important that the MPO Policy Board see that there is broad-based support for moving forward with these mobility projects and approaches. Consider car-pooling to the meetings, especially the evening of October 26.

3)      Send a brief one or two sentence email to the MPO Policy Board letting them know you support:
a.       Retaining all available options to fund US 281, Loop 1604, and future mobility projects
b.      A system wide solution, not just a solution that only addresses a few selected miles
c.       Moving forward with the Alamo RMA’s Environmental Processes for US 281 and Loop 1604
d.      Anything else you might want to add to personalize your email
e.      Just cut and paste the following email addresses for all voting and ex-officio (nonvoting) MPO members:  jaceves@bexar.org; tadkisson@bexar.org; mmedina@dot.state.tx.us; rpych@attcenter.com; John.Clamp@sanantonio.gov; jennifer.v.ramos@sanantonio.gov; reed.williams@sanantonio.gov; mayorriley@hotmail.com; weepersr@satxrr.com; Majed.Al-Ghafry@sanantonio.gov; garriaga@aacog.com; chico.rodriguez@co.bexar.tx.us; csmith1@dot.state.tx.us; david.leibowitz@house.state.tx.us; jeff.wentworth@senate.state.tx.us; susanfarris@bexar.org; ray.lopez@sanantonio.gov; mike.frisbie@sanantonio.gov; mary.briseno@viainfo.net; keith.parker@viainfo.net; vboyer@samcoinc.org; dlann@dot.state.tx.us; kirk.fauver@fhwa.dot.gov; jimrreed@swbell.net; ksb314@sbcglobal.net

4)      We will continue to provide updates as this issue evolves.

A small minority has dominated this issue for too long, with significant consequences for San Antonio’s quality of life and economic future.   It is time to change that.

Thank you in advance for your assistance in this effort.

Vic
Victor M. Boyer
Executive Director
San Antonio Mobility Coalition, Inc. (SAMCo)
13526 George Road #107
San Antonio, TX 78230
(210) 688-4407 – Phone
(210) 688-4507 – Fax
vboyer@samcoinc.org
_______________________________________________________________________

Our response to this vitriolic email from SAMCo:
There are glaring inaccuracies in Vic Boyer’s email (above). First of all, the non-toll plan is not Commissioner Adkisson’s or my plan, it’s TxDOT’s plan promised to the public in hearings in 2001. It doesn’t risk stimulus money, and, in fact, the RMA seeking an environmental exemption on the interchange and it’s failure to coordinate with the City of Hollywood Park risks losing stimulus money far more than shifting pots of money ever could. They’ve been warned from day one that how ever they design the interchange will pre-determine what it connects to in the future (either a future toll road or non-toll lanes), and will prejudice both the 281 and 1604 environmental studies (that require all alternatives to be studied). The RMA’s vacillation on the promise to build the entire interchange non-toll, only to abandon the northbound ramps, makes their intent to impose tolls in the future on 281 abundantly clear.

The non-toll amendment before the MPO only affects 281 north and the west side of 1604 (by Braun Rd) and uses money already allocated to those roadways and DOES NOT take money from other projects. San Antonio can expect about 10% of the Prop 12 monies to come to our region. TxDOT is trying to advance Wurzbach Pkwy for that money, which is far less congested than both 281 and 1604 west. By TxDOT’s own admission, if a reasonable source of revenue can be identified (in this case Prop 12 and Texas Mobility Funds which have already been allocated to 281/1604), it’s sufficient to place it into the short range and long range plans at the MPO.

The eventual pot of money may change. In addition, the Texas Mobility Funds DO NOT REQUIRE leveraging or tolling. The Transportation Commission’s own Minute Order shows in black and white that Texas Mobility Funds can be used for FREEways and that it’s not necessary to toll a road to get access to them. It’s also possible to meet the bogus leveraging requirement for the Texas Mobility Funds with a different source of revenue (instead of Prop 14 bonds), which Commissioner Adkisson is working on (with next to no cooperation from any of the agencies).

By comparison, virtually every segment of the current toll plans are not funded either, and make financial assumptions that cannot be substantiated. To assume massive leveraged debt to fix the entire northside at one time is reckless. This proposed toll system is unsustainable and requires MULTI-BILLIONS to be sucked out of our local economy, money that now goes to support local restaurants, stores, hotels, movie theaters will now have to go to transportation costs that few in San Antonio can afford. If they could, the toll road would pay for itself and not need to be subsidized with public money!
San Antonio cannot afford the interest on $900 million of debt for the 1604 toll road and the $864 million in interest just for the 281 toll project (not counting the interest on the other loans proposed to subsidize the 281 project). I’ll be 90 years old when these tollways would be be paid off, if they’re EVER paid for before going into default (which just happened in South Carolina). What on earth are we doing? In addition, the non-compete agreements that prohibit or penalize the region for expanding or building any new free lanes surrounding the tollways for up to 50 years at a time is plain malfeasance. That means Stone Oak Pkwy, Bulverde Rd., Blanco Rd., Braun Rd., Shaenfield, Culebra, Bander, etc.

The MPO is an equal player in transportation decision-making along with the FHWA and Transportation Commission. Though under Rick Perry Transportation Commission decisions have become highly politicized and bullying and threats have ruled the day, ultimately, these roads cannot be tolled if the MPO votes to make them non-tolled. Let’s not forget Perry is a heated primary battle and has already retreated on the Trans Texas Corridor because “there was no political support for it.” Well, clearly there has been no political support for tolling our existing freeways in San Antonio either.

So it’s pure hogwash to say the non-toll options will cause the sky to fall. This is pure politics. We can have an endless impasse and get nothing done, or we can move this community forward.
Contact your city, county, and state elected officials and MPO Board members NOW to tell them to VOTE NO TO TOLLS and fix our freeways without TOLLS!

Divide & Conquer: the 281 nightmare continues

First decode the jargon:

ARMA = Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA), a misleading name for tolling authority, whenever you hear “mobility” it’s code for tolling

MPO = Metropolitan Planning Organization is the local transportation planning board

NEPA = National Environmental Policy Act, federal law that guides environmental review for highway projects

__________________________________________________

The RMA can’t seem to tell the truth. At yesterday’s MPO meeting, Executive Director,Terry Brechtel, couldn’t even tell the Board how many toll lanes the agency is planning to build on 281. She’s either incompetent or intentionally hiding the truth. I believe it’s the later.

The point of the discussion was to get to the bottom of what happened to the $100 million in gas taxes dedicated to fix 281 (some became available in since 2003, the rest by 2006, documents showed it was still there through 2007) and how to move forward with an immediate solution. For the scoop on how a non-toll plan for overpasses and expansion on 281 was promised in public hearings in 2001 and funded with gas taxes since 2003, go to: www.281OverpassesNow.com.

Every project needs environmental clearance and funding. Sufficient funding, despite TxDOT’s best attempts at hiding and spending every cent available to fix 281, is still available. But yesterday, Clay Smith of TxDOT NEVER answered Rep. David Leibowitz’ direct question asking where the $100 million in gas taxes went. Brechtel also tried to claim the cost difference between the 20-lane toll road and 10-lane freeway plan was a mere $20 million.

TxDOT nor the RMA ever has to answer for its defiance, not as long as we have Rick Perry as governor and a sheepish legislature that’s too afraid to fix the big bad wolf. Guys like Commissioner Tommy Adkisson (new Chair of the MPO) and Rep. Leibowitz are in short supply in Austin. However, Bexar County Commissioners appoint the RMA Board and have floated the idea of dissolving it. Let’s insist they do.

The other hurdle in getting 281 fixed becomes the environmental clearance. The clearance for the toll road was pulled October 1, 2008. TxDOT royally botched the 281 toll road environmental study that was found to be rigged and fraudulent for which one employee was fired, two others “re-assigned,” and caused TxDOT to be banned from doing the new study (totally unprecedented).

The clearance was pulled for the toll road only. Federal law, NEPA, provides for a different course of action to advance in place of the toll road, particularly one that’s different in size, scope, and impacts. The original non-toll plan for 281 fits the bill, and yesterday we laid out how to get environmental clearance expedited for 281. It was abundantly obvious that TxDOT and the RMA continue to dismiss ANY other solution other than converting our existing FREEway into a tollway. Every non-toll scenario is shot down.

281-Schematic4.gif

Brechtel and sidekick Leroy Alloway blatantly misled the public in Sunday’s Express-News article stating that the footprint for the freeway plan and the toll road are identical when the RMA’s own web site (see inset photos) and even past Express-News reports show otherwise. The original freeway fix is 10 lanes and the toll road is up to 20 lanes wide. We don’t need a mega toll road to fix 281, we need overpasses and access roads.

281-Schematic3.gif

The toll road has detrimental impacts that the non-toll plan does not. There are significant negative economic impacts such as $2,000-$3,000 a year in new toll taxes and a higher cost of goods, indirect effects such as traffic diverting to neighborhood streets, environmental impacts due to continuous frontage roads that induce overdevelopment of the aquifer and a larger footprint creating greater impervious cover.

In addition, the criteria to determine what level of study is needed states controversy as a reason to do a full environmental impact statement. The toll roads are extremely controversial. The FHWA already required the RMA to do a full impact statement for the Bandera toll road for that reason.

Public meetings this week:
“Open House” means silence opposition
The RMA is hosting two public hearings this week, one tonight on the 281/1604 interchange at Harvest Fellowship off 1604 (just west of 281) at 5:30 PM, and a 281 “Scoping Meeting” Thursday at St. Mark’s Church off Thousand Oaks at 5:30 PM. The Open House techniques being utilized by the RMA for its public hearings do not comport with federal law, NEPA.

An open house format does not allow the public a chance to hear a formal presentation all at one time, with identical project information. The public has to read handouts, look at posters and project drawings spread around the room, and ask one-on-one questions of people from ARMA and the consulting firms in order to gain any understanding of the project. There is no official record of the questions and answers from the comments/concerns expressed in such one-on-ones. For a public hearing, there is a comment and response report where you can read the agency’s official response, but not with an open house.

TxDOT in recent years has begun to use the open house so that those opposed to a project don’t get to express their opposition during an open comment period at the end of a meeting where the audience hears these concerns and sometimes applauds and may cause some people to change their minds about a project. The open house format is a divide and conquer technique designed to silence those who may oppose the agency’s preferred alternative, which is always toll roads.

At the RMA’s open house for the 281 superstreet, attendees were not even made aware that in order to have their comments appear on the official record, they had to go submit them to the stenographer. We had many folks tell us they didn’t even know a stenographer was present.

The open house format is not a proper format for public hearings and it must be stopped or it can and will be challenged.

Here’s what you can do…

1. Head straight to the stenographer to get your comments on the official record.
2. Express your concerns with the Open House format where dissemination of info is not uniform and citizens cannot benefit from hearing other attendees thoughts about potential impacts.
3. Specifically for the interchange meeting, ask to see the document you’re supposed to be commenting on. (they’re holding a public meeting for comments on a document we believe is not even completed yet, which is cart before the horse and another violation)

Divide & Conquer: the 281 nightmare continues

First decode the jargon:

ARMA = Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA), a misleading name for tolling authority, whenever you hear “mobility” it’s code for tolling

MPO = Metropolitan Planning Organization is the local transportation planning board

NEPA = National Environmental Policy Act, federal law that guides environmental review for highway projects

__________________________________________________

The RMA can’t seem to tell the truth. At yesterday’s MPO meeting, Executive Director,Terry Brechtel, couldn’t even tell the Board how many toll lanes the agency is planning to build on 281. She’s either incompetent or intentionally hiding the truth. I believe it’s the later.

The point of the discussion was to get to the bottom of what happened to the $100 million in gas taxes dedicated to fix 281 (some became available in since 2003, the rest by 2006, documents showed it was still there through 2007) and how to move forward with an immediate solution. For the scoop on how a non-toll plan for overpasses and expansion on 281 was promised in public hearings in 2001 and funded with gas taxes since 2003, go to: www.281OverpassesNow.com.

Every project needs environmental clearance and funding. Sufficient funding, despite TxDOT’s best attempts at hiding and spending every cent available to fix 281, is still available. But yesterday, Clay Smith of TxDOT NEVER answered Rep. David Leibowitz’ direct question asking where the $100 million in gas taxes went. Brechtel also tried to claim the cost difference between the 20-lane toll road and 10-lane freeway plan was a mere $20 million.

TxDOT nor the RMA ever has to answer for its defiance, not as long as we have Rick Perry as governor and a sheepish legislature that’s too afraid to fix the big bad wolf. Guys like Commissioner Tommy Adkisson (new Chair of the MPO) and Rep. Leibowitz are in short supply in Austin. However, Bexar County Commissioners appoint the RMA Board and have floated the idea of dissolving it. Let’s insist they do.

The other hurdle in getting 281 fixed becomes the environmental clearance. The clearance for the toll road was pulled October 1, 2008. TxDOT royally botched the 281 toll road environmental study that was found to be rigged and fraudulent for which one employee was fired, two others “re-assigned,” and caused TxDOT to be banned from doing the new study (totally unprecedented).

The clearance was pulled for the toll road only. Federal law, NEPA, provides for a different course of action to advance in place of the toll road, particularly one that’s different in size, scope, and impacts. The original non-toll plan for 281 fits the bill, and yesterday we laid out how to get environmental clearance expedited for 281. It was abundantly obvious that TxDOT and the RMA continue to dismiss ANY other solution other than converting our existing FREEway into a tollway. Every non-toll scenario is shot down.

281-Schematic4.gif

Brechtel and sidekick Leroy Alloway blatantly misled the public in Sunday’s Express-News article stating that the footprint for the freeway plan and the toll road are identical when the RMA’s own web site (see inset photos) and even past Express-News reports show otherwise. The original freeway fix is 10 lanes and the toll road is up to 20 lanes wide. We don’t need a mega toll road to fix 281, we need overpasses and access roads.

281-Schematic3.gif

The toll road has detrimental impacts that the non-toll plan does not. There are significant negative economic impacts such as $2,000-$3,000 a year in new toll taxes and a higher cost of goods, indirect effects such as traffic diverting to neighborhood streets, environmental impacts due to continuous frontage roads that induce overdevelopment of the aquifer and a larger footprint creating greater impervious cover.

In addition, the criteria to determine what level of study is needed states controversy as a reason to do a full environmental impact statement. The toll roads are extremely controversial. The FHWA already required the RMA to do a full impact statement for the Bandera toll road for that reason.

Public meetings this week:
“Open House” means silence opposition
The RMA is hosting two public hearings this week, one tonight on the 281/1604 interchange at Harvest Fellowship off 1604 (just west of 281) at 5:30 PM, and a 281 “Scoping Meeting” Thursday at St. Mark’s Church off Thousand Oaks at 5:30 PM. The Open House techniques being utilized by the RMA for its public hearings do not comport with federal law, NEPA.

An open house format does not allow the public a chance to hear a formal presentation all at one time, with identical project information. The public has to read handouts, look at posters and project drawings spread around the room, and ask one-on-one questions of people from ARMA and the consulting firms in order to gain any understanding of the project. There is no official record of the questions and answers from the comments/concerns expressed in such one-on-ones. For a public hearing, there is a comment and response report where you can read the agency’s official response, but not with an open house.

TxDOT in recent years has begun to use the open house so that those opposed to a project don’t get to express their opposition during an open comment period at the end of a meeting where the audience hears these concerns and sometimes applauds and may cause some people to change their minds about a project. The open house format is a divide and conquer technique designed to silence those who may oppose the agency’s preferred alternative, which is always toll roads.

At the RMA’s open house for the 281 superstreet, attendees were not even made aware that in order to have their comments appear on the official record, they had to go submit them to the stenographer. We had many folks tell us they didn’t even know a stenographer was present.

The open house format is not a proper format for public hearings and it must be stopped or it can and will be challenged.

Here’s what you can do…

1. Head straight to the stenographer to get your comments on the official record.
2. Express your concerns with the Open House format where dissemination of info is not uniform and citizens cannot benefit from hearing other attendees thoughts about potential impacts.
3. Specifically for the interchange meeting, ask to see the document you’re supposed to be commenting on. (they’re holding a public meeting for comments on a document we believe is not even completed yet, which is cart before the horse and another violation)

Toll opponents score a BIG one with Adkisson retaining power

Link to article here.

07/29/2009

Board’s toll-road backers suffer loss with vote

Scott Stroud – Express-News Columnist

After taking over as chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, one of several local entities with a lot to say about San Antonio’s transportation future, Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson vowed to “declare war” on gobbledygook. But when it came time to explain the maneuvering that surrounded his installation as chairman, he went all murky.

Maybe this will help sort through the haze: MPO members who are open to toll roads got their butts kicked Monday.

Throughout the MPO’s history, the agenda for passing out road-building dollars has been controlled by its chairman. But Adkisson, a toll road critic, worries people on the other side enough that they proposed having the MPO’s executive committee set the agenda instead.

Anti-toll road Force of Nature Terri Hall spoke up to say this would require a bylaw change and, therefore, violated the state’s open meetings law because it wasn’t on the agenda. Turns out she was right.

Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, an anti-toll road board member, moved that two issues — the nominating process and the agenda-setting authority — be “bifurcated,” so Adkisson could become chairman. The vote to separate them ended in a tie, after which Leibowitz said the agenda-setting change was outside the scope of the nomination committee’s jurisdiction and shouldn’t have happened.

Adkisson, who was already presiding because his predecessor, Sheila McNeil, had left the City Council, said grandly that there was “only one person who might see the inside of a Bexar County cooler” if something illegal took place. He was about to forge ahead with the bifurcating when City Councilwoman Jennifer Ramos reversed herself, voting to separate the issues.

At that point, Adkisson, who seemed to have planned his dance steps with Leibowitz, stood up, said, “I’m at the point where I have to turn into a pumpkin,” and left the room while the board voted. He returned as MPO chairman, his agenda-setting authority undiluted.

But then another funny thing happened. Before Hall could get to the lobby to declare victory before TV cameras, Adkisson — occasionally given to verbiage that borders on loopy — opted to “share a thought or two” on where he hoped to lead the MPO.

“When the day is done,” he began, “what we’re really trying to do in a macro sense is all about the red, white and blue.”

The goal is to improve the city, he explained, and, therefore, our great nation. He vowed to work with friends on “both sides of the aisle,” cut through the aforementioned gobbledygook and strive to make the world a better place.

County Commissioner Kevin Wolff, recognizing both defeat and an opportunity, applauded Adkisson’s remarks. In the spirit of such graciousness, he said, he hoped Adkisson would allow a vote on the procedural change.

Oh sure, Adkisson said.

Out in the lobby, however, both Leibowitz and Hall said they saw no reason to change things at all. And Adkisson, the warrior against gobbledygook, said a vote would be fine but called it “fixing something that isn’t broken.”

In layman’s terms: I win. You lose. And toll roads just took a step back.

New MPO Chair: "I will leverage heaven and earth" to fix 281 & 1604

Link to article here.

07/28/2009

MPO boss’ power remains intact

By Josh Baugh – Express-News
Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, a toll-road opponent and environmentalist, took over as chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization on Monday and dodged an attempt to dilute his agenda-setting authority.Adkisson was in line for the chairmanship two years ago but lost the position to then-City Councilwoman Sheila McNeil. The MPO vote that installed McNeil broke the organization’s long-standing tradition of rotating the leadership role between city and county leaders.

Because of his toll-road opposition, Adkisson lost the chairmanship in 2007, when one MPO board member said the organization didn’t want its image tarnished by electing a toll critic to be its leader.

The MPO oversees about $200 million in federal transportation funding and must approve most transportation projects within the county.

On Monday, Adkisson said he would “leverage heaven and earth” to fix congestion at U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 on the city’s North Side and prioritize mass transit. He fell short of saying he would quash toll roads during his term but said he doesn’t think they work well.

“All the toll-road arrangements I’m seeing around the country are losing money and traffic,” he said. “And if you can imagine when you have an economy like this, and you have extrapolated into the future a revenue stream that depends on people supporting it, I think you have to be very careful.”

Though Adkisson and Councilman John Clamp were unanimously elected chairman and vice chairman, the board split on a vote on whether to take up the issue of agenda-setting authority. In the MPO’s three decades of existence, the board chairman always has set the agenda for the organization’s monthly meetings. It became an issue during McNeil’s term because she removed an item that state Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, had placed on the agenda, declaring that as chairwoman she had absolute authority to do so.

County Commissioner Kevin Wolff recommended Monday that the board vote to give the agenda-setting power to the MPO’s executive committee, composed of the board chairman and board members representing the city, the county, the Texas Department of Transportation and VIA Metropolitan Transit.

Leibowitz floated a motion to vote only on the nominations and leave the agenda-setting discussion for another day. Initially, the board vote was a tie, but Councilwoman Jennifer Ramos later changed her vote, tipping the count in favor of Leibowitz’s plan.

Whether the policy change will be placed on an agenda remains to be seen. Adkisson, who currently has sole authority over the agenda, said he has no problem letting the full board take up the issue. At the same time, he sees no reason to change things.

“This MPO has been around since the early ’70s, and it’s never had an executive committee,” he said. “(Agenda-setting) has been within the sole province of the chairman. So it’s really fixing something that isn’t broken.”

Terri Hall, founder of Texans United for Reform and Freedom, said she and her supporters were gravely concerned with giving the power to a committee with a large contingent of non-elected members. She also said Monday’s meeting would have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act if the board had voted to begin the process of shifting the power away from Adkisson because the issue wasn’t properly announced on the MPO agenda.

Wolff, who says toll roads are a tool to ease congestion, disagreed. He said proper notice was given. More importantly, he said, the authority should be spread over an entire committee regardless of who happens to be chairman. Wolff said he would continue to push for the policy amendment.

But Hall said toll-road advocates are “trying to change the rules in the middle of the game.” Still, she was thrilled with Adkisson’s victory.

“This is a breath of fresh air for everybody in San Antonio,” she said.

Adkisson elected Chair, declares war on toll roads

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Grassroots hail new Chair of MPO
Adkisson retains power to set agenda, declares war on toll roads

San Antonio, TX, Tuesday, July 28, 2009 – Commissioner Tommy Adkisson officially became Chair of the San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Monday, but not without the usual powerplays and controversy that have surrounded toll roads in San Antonio.  A proposal to change its bylaws to strip the Chair of the power to set the MPO agenda and give it to the Executive Committee, was thwarted, after an intense debate, due to the failure to properly place it on the agenda. But the media left believing all the fireworks had gone off only to MISS the flame that ignited later in the meeting over keeping 281 and 1604 in the toll plans.

Read Terri Hall’s article in the Examiner for details on the VICTORY, the players, and the betrayals here

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