Alamo RMA approves toll contract despite citizen comment against it

Link to article here. Read citizen comment at this hearing here.

U.S. 281 toll pact gets board’s OK
By Patrick Driscoll
Voting in the shadow of a federal lawsuit and record high gas prices, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority approved a contract Wednesday to rebuild part of U.S. 281 into a tollway.

It’s time, Chairman Bill Thornton said, to put some 600 people to work over the next four years to give congestion-weary motorists new express lanes and bring in toll revenues that someday might help fund other projects.

“It is an immediate benefit,” he said.

At a public hearing before the board vote, four speakers from business groups and a former San Antonio councilman agreed with Thornton.

“If we don’t move forward today, then we’re doing this community a terrible disservice,” said Richard Perez, president of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. “Please move forward with it quickly.”

Eight speakers derided the toll plan. They called for switching back to a cheaper gas-tax funded project and asked how drivers can afford tolls when regular-grade gasoline now averages $3.90 a gallon in San Antonio and federal officials say prices will remain high at least through next year.

“This plan has been funded and should have broke ground in 2003,” said Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. “I guess you left us no choice. I’ll see you in court.”

TURF and Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas filed a federal lawsuit in February to demand a more detailed study on financial impacts to motorists and effects to the Edwards Aquifer and wildlife.

The mobility authority hopes to resolve the lawsuit in time to sell bonds and start construction in October. The $328 million design-build contract with Cibolo Creek Infrastructure Joint Venture, which the board approved Wednesday, could be signed as early as July 16.

The 10- to 20-lane toll road, including non-toll access roads to replace existing highway lanes, would stretch 8 miles between Loop 1604 and Comal County.

The segment between 1604 and Marshall Road could open in June 2011 and the rest by June 2012.

Drivers of cars and small trucks would pay 17 cents a mile in 2012, with fees rising gradually to an estimated 48 cents by 2048. The charge for vehicles with four axles or more would be almost three times higher.