Capital Area MPO steals money from 183A toll road to fund 290 toll road

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Vote frees NE Austin tollway project to move ahead in 2009
Transportation officials approve financial pairing of U.S. 290, 183-A
By Ben Wear
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Transportation officials decided to create a financial marriage between two toll roads Monday, a move that could allow the U.S. 290 East tollway project to break ground sometime next year.

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board voted 15-3 to create a tollway system made up of the existing, and profitable, 183-A toll road in Cedar Park and U.S. 290 East, which based on projections will not have sufficient revenue to persuade investors to lend more than a half billion dollars to build it. The existing tollway, which opened in March 2007 and is making a profit of about $5 million a year, will in effect act as a co-signer for the new project.

The U.S. 290 East project would cost $623.5 million, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority says. It involves expanding 6.2 miles of the existing four-lane, divided highway between U.S. 183 in Northeast Austin and Parmer Lane just west of Manor. It would have six toll lanes and six free-to-drive frontage road lanes alongside.

Some CAMPO members objected to the financial partnership Monday, saying it violates the intent of policies adopted in October 2007, when the board approved the U.S. 290 East project and four other potential toll roads. At that time, the board agreed that excess toll revenue from the five roads would be spent first in the general area of each road rather than being used for improvements far afield.

That will still be the case, according to the mobility authority, which operates 183-A and will build and operate U.S. 290 East. Given 183-A’s profitable status, they say, no money would need to go from U.S. 290 East to 183-A.

In fact, mobility authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein said no money is likely to go either direction. The authority says that preliminary traffic and revenue studies show that U.S. 290 East will be able to meet its debt payments and operating costs without any transfer of money from 183-A.

However, investors normally require that toll road revenues be well beyond projected costs. A summary of the traffic analysis released Monday shows that, based on charging 20 cents a mile for U.S. 290 East, the road would make about a 30 percent profit — which Heiligenstein said was not high enough for the mobility authority to borrow the full amount needed to build U.S. 290 East without riding on the back of 183-A.

Voting against the plan were Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt, Sunset Valley Mayor Jeff Mills and state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez.

Heiligenstein said Monday’s vote was necessary to sustain engineering work and keep the project on schedule. Officials expect to get federal environmental clearance for the road in the first half of 2009, borrow the money on the bond market later in the year and begin construction soon after that.

2 Replies to “Capital Area MPO steals money from 183A toll road to fund 290 toll road”

  1. Jeannon Kralj

    Well, McCracken and Leffingwell voted for this garbage so this vote can be used against them in their plans to run for mayor.

    The people of Austin have been overwhelmingly against tolling existing, already taxpayer paid for, roads. 290 East is the first toll plan for Austin that involves amending an already existing road.

    The original federally required “environmental” studies required for this road said the toll would be 15 cents per mile and there would be 6 (3 each way) no toll frontage roads. There were two studies based on these features – one was a study for environmental impact on bugs, plants, and animals and the other was what I think they call the “environmental justice” study and dealt with how the 15 cent per mile would financially impact the people in the area who would use the road to get to work. This is a minority and low income area and even the 15 cent toll was financially unjust to this demographic.

    Now, they have changed the plan to be four frontage roads with more redlights on those and 20 cents per mile toll. Legally they need to do a new federally required “environmental justice” study (and maybe the other study too – not sure). But it appears CTRMA and CAMPO and TxDOT is totally ignoring the federal law about this that requires new studies and a whole new set of public hearings on this road with the new road plans.

    290 East toll road has always been a financially unviable project. It will not generate the revenue and that has been the study results to date. Now they are just baiting and switching all the road requirements and toll income projections to try to MAKE or push this bad toll road plan on Austinites.

    No way, especially with current tanking economy and job losses, will east Austinites be able to afford 20 cents (or even 15 cents ) per toll mile.

    Here are the names of the tollers who are ignoring the citizens and attacking the citizens with this mandated from on high (federal government pulling Bush / Perry / Krusee puppet strings to make Trans Texas corridor and NAFTA north/south corridors happen)… (I am still waiting to get the following names verified by CAMPO minutes so this is preliminary list)

    These are our traitors, liars and attackers

    Shame on these disgusting people…

    Cynthia Long
    Sam Biscoe
    Mike Krusee
    Gerald Doherty (thank goodness we voted out this toller traitor)
    Liz Sumpter
    Will Wynn
    Lee Leffingwell
    Brewster McCracken
    Sheryl Cole (minority member of Austin City Council who betrayed high-minority 290 East population)
    Bob Lemon
    Joe Clifford
    George Garver
    Susan Narvarez
    Michael Gonzales
    15th person voting for may be either
    Bob Daigh
    or
    John Trevino

  2. Jeannon Kralj

    Here are corrections to my previous preliminary list of those 15 traitors to the citizens who voted FOR 290 East.

    Miguel (Michael) Gonzales, mayor of Kyle, was not present and did not vote.

    Bob Daigh voted FOR 290 East

    and

    John Trevino voted FOR 290 East

    (Correct spelling is Susan Narvaiz, San Marcos mayor.)

    The next meeting of CAMPO is January 12, 2009, 6 p.m. Thompson Center Univ. of Texas campus)

    ________________

    I am still trying to determine what federal agency rules may have been broken by CAMPO in the way they proposed and voted for this changed 290 East plan.

    I believe the breaking* of federal rules relates to

    the federal Certification Review of CAMPO that was conducted in October 2008 by the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration,
    but I am not positive. This matter will be voted on in the January 12, 2009, meeting of CAMPO.

    or

    the rules that may have been broken may relate to the 2008-2011 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) I think this is the federal TIP and is separate from the state of Texas TIP.

    *
    the rules that have apparently been broken by CAMPO relate to the following list which may not be a complete list.

    1. The studies submitted to the federal highway and transit administration were based on their being 6 frontage non tolled lanes, but on December 1, 2008, CAMPO voted in a changed plan that now only has 4 frontage roads.

    2. The 4 frontage roads as in the changed plan also now have more stop lights on them than in the original plan reported on by CAMPO to the federal highway and transit administrations.

    3. The studies submitted to the federal highway and transit administration were based on the toll per mile on 290 East as being 15 cents, but on December 1, 2008, CAMPO voted in a changed plan that now has a toll per mile rate of 20 cents.

    These and perhaps other infractions probably necessitate a whole new round of meetings and public hearings on 290 East.

    So far, it is my understanding, that the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration only respond to letters of protesters about these federal rules infractions by acknowledging receipt of letters. The federal agencies do not inform the complainants of their remedies or recourse. It does not seem that a full blown law suit against CAMPO or the federal government should be necessary. But their should be federal procedures for citizens to redress these grievances and obtain immediate remedies.

    Meanwhile CAMPO is, I believe, is very close to selling bonds on this new financing scheme if they have not already starting selling the bonds. I do not know who would be stupid enough to buy these bonds. The existing toll roads of 183 A and Highway 130 (first leg of Trans Texas Corridor), I have heard, are not doing well financially. People are not driving on them. Of course, we only have rumor about this, as we cannot get honest facts about toll revenue from any entity.

    Lastly, CAMPO has submitted certain projects to TxDOT for consideration under the federal Economic Stimulus Package. We need to find out what projects those are and why, if not submitted, a 290 East road improvement with no tolls project has not been submitted.

    We Austin folk feel stymied and frustrated. We know we must stop CAMPO right now from going right on with their sneaky attack on the citizens regarding 290 East. This matter impacts and poisons all other freeway-to-tollways conversions planned for other parts of the Austin area. So we need to strike now and stop CAMPO.

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