San Antonio, TX, Tuesday, September 4, 2007 – Several Texas lawmakers, Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, and State Representatives Joe Farias, David Leibowitz, Nathan Macias and concerned citizens stood shoulder to shoulder to call for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to cease and desist from using taxpayer money to lobby for toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor. The citizens went a step further and called for the immediate resignations of TxDOT’s top brass. Both also called for TxDOT to immediately install the original gas tax funded improvement plan for U.S. Highway 281 and drop all plans to convert that existing state highway into a toll road.
“TxDOT should begin (improving its relations with the public) by installing the overpasses and improvements at an estimated cost of $100 million and already paid for by our gas taxes instead building the hugely intrusive $400 million toll plan for US 281 at four times the cost (and double the number of lanes),” demanded Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, who also sits on the San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). Adkisson listed other failures in transportation policy, including the failure to index the gas tax, accelerate other modes of transportation, implement creative solutions like contraflow, repair Texas being a donor state giving away more of our gas taxes than we get back despite being asked to bear the burden of NAFTA related traffic, and illegal lobbying (Texas Government Code Chapter 556) by TxDOT.
Representative Nathan Macias (R- Dist 73) also insisted TxDOT install the gas tax improvement plan for US 281 saying it is DOUBLE TAXATION to toll an existing highway and noted that the highway department was cherry-picking, “There’s money in them thar hills, and TxDOT is comin’ after it.” He also pointed out that every major artery used by his constituents in the Texas Hill Country is slated to become a toll corridor including, I-35, US 281, I-10, and SH 16. Macias sits on the House Transportation Committee and led the charge AGAINST SB 792 which allows the highest possible tolls. He challenged TxDOT’s cost escalation for the 281 and 1604 projects that have doubled and even quadrupled in some estimates. “The math just doesn’t add up.”
Representative Joe Farias (D-Dist 118) told how he introduced an amendment to put Loop 1604 and US 281 under the two-year private toll moratorium, SB 792, but explained how the Senate stripped it out. He’s gravely concerned with the economic impact to his constituents who struggle to put gas in their cars much less pay tolls, too. Farias has been threatened by a highway lobbyist for introducing that amendment.
Representative David Leibowitz, (D-Dist. 117), who also sits on the San Antonio MPO, called for the board to pass a resolution to stop TxDOT from illegally spending taxpayer money to push tolls and is also asking the Attorney General for an opinion to aid in that effort.
“I have never voted for a single toll road bill in my time in the Texas House,” shared Leibowitz as he described how he expressly placed 1604 under the moratorium through legislative intent in the House journal and now he finds that TxDOT and the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) are flouting that intent and are still trying to involve private entities in tolling that highway. He also shared concerns about the disproportionate share Texas is having to pay for NAFTA.
All encouraged citizens to seek accountability at the ballot box since the vast majority of the Legislature followed the Governor down the path to toll roads (versus indexing the gas tax), which will result in “the largest tax increase in Texas history” according to Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson.
“The citizens support lawmakers’ efforts to put accountability and sanity back into transportation policy,” said Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), Terri Hall. “With U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison introducing a bill to prevent the tolling of existing interstates this week, calls from U.S. Congressman Ciro Rodriguez to investigate the tolling of existing interstates report, and U.S. Senator John Cornyn and U.S. Congressman Charlie Gonzales adamantly opposed to it, the people may get relief on the federal level first.”
Hall echoed the calls to revert back to the gas tax funded plan for improvements to 281 and stop the tolling of our other existing highways.
“TxDOT has breached the public trust and it cannot be repaired short of cleaning house at that agency. They’ve repeatedly sworn to our faces they’re not tolling existing roads and then lobbied Congress to do just that!” fumed Hall surrounded by dozens of concerned citizens.
“It’s vitally important the public is made aware that several existing state highways and interstates are slated to become toll corridors, I-35 (between San Antonio and Dallas), I-10 (in Houston and San Antonio), 281, 1604, Bandera Rd., and others. If TxDOT and the politicians who enable them have their way, it won’t stop there,” believes Hall.
“TxDOT plans to take every single lane on existing highway US 281 and convert them into toll lanes. The only free lanes will be frontage roads, not highway lanes. The same is true for 16 miles on Loop 1604. When TxDOT already has a plan and the money to install the needed improvements on 281 without tolls and REFUSES to do so after thousands of citizens and many lawmakers have asked them to, it’s clear we have a highway department that’s out of control and not acting in the public’s best interest. In fact, they’re more interested in enriching private road contractors leaving the traveling public left holding the bag,” voiced Hall.