Carlos Guerra: Crowded meeting, lots of e-mails show the passion over toll roads

Link to article here. One correction to the article, the toll lanes will replace all 6 of the current freeway lanes, and there will be overpasses and 6 non-toll access roads added with stop lights and lower speed limits. So the plan is not adding 2 lanes down the middle of the existing corridor, the entire freeway is being converted to a toll road. And you can see TxDOT can come up with money to toll a road, but they refuse to give us FREEways with the tax money we already pay. This state had a $14 billion surplus and left $8 billion unspent AND sales tax revenues are beating projections, yet they sit there and tell us there’s no money for roads. It’s a tax grab, pure and simple.

Carlos Guerra: Crowded meeting, lots of e-mails show the passion over toll roads
San Antonio Express-News

After getting a bunch of e-mails from toll road opponents — and a forwarded e-mail apparently sent out by the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce — urging people to show up in force, I knew that Monday’s meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization would be worth watching.The organization is a local intergovernmental agency that approves all transportation projects, and Monday’s meeting was called to unveil how much the toll trolls will extract from travelers once two toll lanes in each direction and a tolled interchange are built on U.S. 281 north of Loop 1604.

It is expected that the toll structure set for San Antonio’s first toll road will set the price for the rest of this area’s 70-odd miles of planned toll lanes.

After 15 minutes looking for a place to park, I showed up 33 minutes before the 1:30 meeting. Even so, I had to wade through a crowd of 42 people who were being kept outside the VIA building by a stern-faced security guard at parade rest, guarding the door.

A sign proclaimed that the fire marshal had limited attendance to 208 people, though this rule apparently did not apply to journalists, who were welcomed in. This was the first time they had to turn the public away from a meeting, said Scott Ericksen, who is, ironically, the agency’s public involvement coordinator. But rules are rules.

Inside, the crowd was peppered with familiar faces from both sides of the issue. But it differed from other public meetings convened to discuss toll roads, especially the “hearings” convened to unveil the Trans-Texas Corridor, in which well over 90 percent of the speakers condemned tolling. This time, the toll advocates’ attendance was impressive.

The meeting, Metropolitan Planning Organization board member and County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson said, was being held “at a very inconvenient time” for working people, and he urged City Councilwoman Sheila McNeil, the chairwoman, to get the show going so the public could be heard on this increasingly acrimonious issue.

The Greater Chamber, I was told, mounted a major effort to get its people to attend.

“I got 442 e-mails generated by the Chamber,” County Commissioner Lyle Larson mused, pointing to a breakdown of the senders. “You’ve got engineering firms, 86; real estate firms, 67; construction and engineering, 37; homebuilders, 33 …

“These are all folks that have a vested interest in getting construction under way. But I can tell you that the lion’s share of correspondence I’ve gotten over the last 31/2 years has been opposed to (toll roads), and I mean by the thousands.”

Like others, Larson doesn’t buy into the notion that tolling is the only option for alleviating traffic congestion. And he questions the numbers the Texas Department of Transportation has issued to support its pro-tolling arguments.

“On the state level, at least, they’re focused on revenue,” he said.

“It’s not about building capacity, it’s about revenues.

“That’s why you are seeing the state come in now to subsidize the (U.S.) 281 corridor by about $112 million,” he added. “They have been indicating all along that there was no money available for 281, and all of a sudden, they found $112 million.”

At $35 million each, he said, “If they had the $112 million in 2003 when (TxDOT) was supposed to start construction on the first three overpasses, we would have gone a long ways at building overpasses at all seven intersections that have traffic lights (on U.S. 281) and alleviated a lot of the congestion by now.”

As for the argument that Houston, Dallas and Austin have embraced tolling options, Larson said, “Well, I’ve always thought San Antonio was unique. I don’t want to be like Houston, Dallas and Austin (in the) way they developed their urban areas, and adding toll roads is nothing to be proud of.”

4 Replies to “Carlos Guerra: Crowded meeting, lots of e-mails show the passion over toll roads”

  1. Esteban Erik Stipnieks

    The people are irate as they realize how many unelected members of the MPO have a say so.

    The majority of people do not want this.

    If Diane Cibriane cant figure out that the lanes they are going to toll on 1604 and 281 HAVE BEEN BOUGHT BY GASOLINE TAX money her private employer has hired someone severely lacking intellecutal capacity! If she made her speech knowing full well its intention was to decieve I would suggest she stop fighting the strip club off I-10 near Huebner and the construction worker in me would add she could could make some money as a dancer at such club…she obviously has the moral compass to sell her constitutents and those who attend the University in district down the river. Such a flawed moral compass is vital to being a stripper.

    TEX DOT has been partially beaten back. The tolls could have been HIGHER on 281! The 281 Concession could have been operated by Centra Zachry! It is a bone tossed at the people. At the heart even the RMA knows it is held in contempt. TEX DOT line staffers know they have gone from respected to loathed. Even Zachry employees have seen people react to them differently. Yet their is a politcal class that still believes it knows more then those who work hard to pay their salaries. It resents it when people speak out.

    San ANtonio still has the best city council money can buy. The trouble is we the people can not afford the price of citycouncil person and the highway lobby can.

  2. Esteban Erik Stipnieks

    There was once oft visted house that was not swept out on Monday in the development that I work. It is being bought by a young couple with a 2 year old. I apologized on Wednesday and today. The wife on Wednesday…when she found out where I was (MPO meeting speaking out) and her husband all had the same reaction. They were happy. The reaction was (Well if you were there then having some dust in our pre sheet rock hosueThey do not want the cost.

    God speed on the legal case!

  3. Robert Cox

    I could cry! I cannot afford to pay over $700.00 a year to drive on 281. Maybe Shiela McNeil could help me out to pay the tolls. What I see happening is that the access roads and other alternate roads will be jammed. Because of the increased traffic and slow moving traffic, air polution will increase. What has the MPO and TxDOT accomplished? They will have caused more air polution, more traffic on local roads, increased travel times, and a lower quality of life. Thanks alot MPO and TxDOT!

    What I would like to know now is, are we defeated? Is there still any recourse? Is there anything else we can do to stop this from happening?

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