Bandera Toll Project: Brechtel misleads Mayor of Leon Valley

Chris Riley, Mayor of Leon Valley, sent a letter to Executive Director of the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, Terry Brechtel, asking a series of very valid questions of the RMA about the planned elevated tollway on Bandera Road. Brechtel seems to deliberately mislead the Mayor in her response. Note the date of the letter from Brechtel to Riley, March 17, 2006. The toll feasibility study for Bandera Rd (PDF file) was completed February 28, 2006. Brechtel tries to claim ignorance or that information was not yet known when she knew full well the answers to many of the Mayor’s questions almost a month prior to the letter she drafted:

View letters here… (PDF file)

1) “It is important to note there is not a definitive plan at this time, and until we have received public input and finalized the environmental assessment….we are unable to provide further detail…” (p. 2 of Brechtel reply to Mayor Riley)

The Alamo RMA voted to allocate $6.5 million for preliminary engineering for an elevated tollway on Bandera and I-35 as well as the Wurzbach Pkwy. toll interchange (read about it here and on the RMA’s meeting minutes where the motion was approved here). So if there’s no definitive plan, why are they allocating millions to begin engineering it? Also, the toll feasibility study examined two specific routes, the predominant one being an elevated tollway from 410 to Loop 1604 and another alignment from 151 over Leon Creek joining Bandera Rd. and up to Loop 1604. The study also states, “In accordance with TxDOT’s policy, the new capacity improvements are to be evaluated for (toll) feasibility.” There is a definitive plan to toll the elevated roadway over Bandera Rd. per TxDOT’s OWN POLICY! It was IN WRITING before Brechtel replied to the Mayor.

2) “The impact to the local community from traffic flow on adjacent streets within the community has not been determined at this time.” (p. 2 of Brechtel letter)

Here’s what the feasbility study claims: “Preliminary evaluation revealed that the construction of the proposed alternatives would have no adverse impact on social groups, neighborhoods, communities, or public facilities.” (p. 4 of Bandera Rd. Toll Feasibility Study). Brechtel obviously couldn’t repeat such callous, disingenous claim, so she said “it hasn’t been determined yet.” Again, if it hasn’t been determined, why have they allocated money to start engineering it if they don’t even know the impact to the community? Doesn’t this seem to be a vital factor that needs to be settled long before commiting funds to begin engineering the tollway?

3) “…alternatives for Bandera Rd. will be considered, including a no build option. Any other option besides no build, will require identification of funds to construct any recommended improvements.” (p. 2 of Brechtel letter)

The only alternatives being considered are both tollways, one 7 miles, one 10 miles. So in their view the options are: it’s toll it or no build, period. Follow the money…if the no build is truly an option, why did the RMA allocate money to engineer the tollway (see evidence above)?

4) “The Alamo RMA will also work closely with all our partner communities to ensure public safety vehicles and first responders will have access to the added capacity tolled lane system without impeding repsonse time.” (p. 2 of Brechtel letter)

How is that possible when there is only one entrance and exit on either end? It’s a 7 or 10 mile tollway, so if the scene of an accident is at the 3.5 mile mark, how is it possible for EMS to get from the surface street up onto the tollway and to the scene without impeding response time compared to current Bandera Rd. which has many access points? See this article on how tollways are more dangerous than freeways (

5) “Please note that only those who elect to use the tolled lane system will pay for the use of the system.” (p. 3 of Brechtel letter)

This one is the biggest misstatement of all. Brechtel knows that NONE of these proposed tollways are 100% toll viable. That means NONE of them completely pay for themselves 100% with tolls. The toll feasibility study for Bandera was already published at this time, and it clearly states that the best case scenario shows only 47% viability. That means they will have to sell bonds for the remaining 53%…backed by and paid by taxpayer money…in order to erect this monstrosity. So everyone will help pay for it, but only the few can afford to drive on it. Also, the MPO has allocated $500 million in your GAS TAXES to build toll roads in San Antonio. Therefore, this oft repeated claim by the tollers that only those who use the tollway pay for the tollway are LYING! (See quote from Commissioner Lyle Larson affirming TxDOT is not being honest about how the toll projects are being financed here)

6) “At this time, there is not a projected cost per mile for this corridor.” (p. 3 of Brechtel letter)

Another blatant falsehood. The toll feasibility study for Bandera Rd published before this letter to Mayor Riley specifically states on page 15 that they assume a toll rate of 13 cents a mile for autos and 31.8 cents a mile for trucks. And the road doesn’t start to make any positive cashflow until year 21 of the bond period. So those rates will only increase rapidly once they hand it over to a private company who will likely drive up the rates to speed up the time it takes to make a profit. (See this report, page 6, from a bond rating company that states one of the advantages to governments in privatizing public highways is to shield them from the wrath of voters upon steady toll rate increases here. ) Also, 13 cents a mile is well above the national average for a turnpike to begin with. The Comptroller’s investigation of the RMAs (see report here) found the national average is 9 cents a mile. Gas tax averages 1-3 cents a mile. No matter how you slice it, the gas tax system is the most affordable system.

7) “The proposed project does not have a timeline for construction.” (p. 3 of Brechtel letter)

Total misstatement of fact. On page 2 of the Bandera Rd toll feasibility states: “The alternatives studied are feasible for achieving TxDOT’s goal of completing construction in the year 2013.” Figure L-1 of the toll feasibility study for Bandera states the construction would begin in 2009 and be completed in 2013. That’s a 4 year construction timeline. Brechtel knew this, but failed to disclose this to the Mayor.

8) “We are unable to provide a specific answer to this (cost) question.” (p. 3 of Brechtel letter)

The toll feasibility study gives specifics of cost on page 19 and elsewhere. The primary route cited by TxDOT in public would be $319 or $330 million depending on design type. Page 19 also states they pad the costs by 40%, 20% for “contingency” and 20% for “soft costs” like engineering & inspection!

9) “The Alamo RMA is charged with setting the toll rates.” (p. 3 of Brechtel letter)

Impossible given they plan to use a CDA (see definition here) which allows the toll rates to be set by a private company with NO CAP on how high the toll rates will go. That’s the problem with the CDAs, they allow our government, an unelected tolling authority no less, to delegate taxing authority (and hence accountability to the taxpayers) to a private company. Also, see Bill Thornton’s (Chair of the Alamo RMA) comments during a debate (which we have on tape) where he says “I have no idea who will set the toll rates” (here)!

10) “You ask details regarding the Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA). At this time, the State of Texas has not received an unsolicited proposal for any portion of State Highway 16, and as such the corridor is being evaluated exclusively by the Alamo RMA.” (p. 3 of Brechtel letter)

Again, not true. On page 20 and in Figure L-1 of the toll feasibility study published before Brechtel’s letter to Mayor Riley, it states: “Based upon prior experience, and in conjunction with discussions with TxDOT district staff, it was assumed that the project would most likely be built through a CDA with the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority.” TxDOT and the RMA fully intends to use a CDA for this project, signing over our public infrastructure to private, likely foreign, management against the will of 83% of Americans ( Most all companies with the billions it requires for these CDAs are foreign, few if any American companies have emerged.

Then, Brechtel closes with this:
“I look forward to continuing our open dialogue.” (p.4 of Brechtel letter)

Open dialogue? Seems there wasn’t much truth and openness in this letter. What a joke!