County, TxDOT vow not to toll 46, but studied it for tolls!

Link to Herald-Zeitung article here.

Can we honestly trust what these folks tell us anymore? First 281 was paid for, then they said the funds were “reallocated,” then it turns up in the Express-News, Dec 1, 2005 (see the article), that not only is the money there, the sum grew $35 million in order to erect a tollway on an existing freeway instead! Now, our politicians and TxDOT are trying to pull the wool over our eyes again “vowing” not to toll 46, when the November Transportation Commission Meeting transcript affirms this: “None of these projects were feasible in terms of traditional tolling. The projects were then each evaluated for pass through financing feasibility and only a few corridors in Comal County were found to be feasible.” As you can see in the transcript, all throughout the discussion, Hwy 46 expansion is mentioned as one of these projects they were evaluating and studying for tolls. Therefore, they studied it for traditional tolling and found it wasn’t feasible…YET they plan to in the future. In fact, the pass through financing contract states on page 3 that as long as the County and TxDOT agree, they can add tolls to this project at a future time. If Hwy 46 is IMPOSSIBLE to toll as TxDOT’s Malatek claims or that there are no plans to toll Hwy 46 as District Engineer David Casteel claims, how is it that the possibility to toll in the future is actually WRITTEN INTO THE PASS THROUGH CONTRACT?

An email from Comal County Commissioner Jan Kennady March 16, 2005 also states TxDOT fully intends to toll Hwy 46: “While the toll road would not be constructed for another 15-20 years or so, it has been mentioned every time TxDOT holds a meeting. That may never happen, but I want the public to be aware of the possibility of a toll road in the future before the county kicks in funds for the four-lane highway. The incorporated cities (Bulverde and New Braunfels) would also be responsible for buying right-of-way within their city limits, etc.” This is why folks have a hard time swallowing the vow not to toll. The only reason it’s not being tolled is it’s not toll viable until yet more congestion arrives. How will it get congested? Unbridled, unplanned growth driven by developers, not the community!

Commerical real estate signs and new subdivisions have steadily peppered 46, particularly the last two years. I find it interesting that TxDOT’s engineer, Greg Malatek, says the reason 46 can’t be tolled is due to the almost endless driveways dumping traffic directly onto 46. Apparently Mr. Malatek hasn’t looked at 281 lately since it, too, has endless driveways and is often the ONLY way in or out of subdivisions and businesses north of Loop 1604, and despite many driveways, they’re finding a way to toll 281. Sorry, but his assurances as well as Judge Scheel’s ring hollow!

Then, County Engineer Tom Hornseth says TxDOT’s out of money. Oh really? Who’s been getting all of that gas tax we pay every week at the pump? TxDOT takes in more money than Starbucks or Southwest Airlines does in a year, and if Southwest Airlines can get people from Point A to Point B and stay in the black, TxDOT can too! See the $820 million in gas taxes sitting in TxDOT’s account RIGHT NOW earmarked not for free roads, but TOLL ROADS here. When the ORIGINAL PLAN for 281 (See it here.) cost $48 million and now as a tollway, $83 million (see the Express-News article), seems TxDOT can cough up the money when and where they choose. The trouble is, the ONLY choice they’re picking (when it’s toll viable, ie- enough congestion) is to build toll roads at nearly DOUBLE the cost to erect PLUS a lifetime NEW toll tax! That’s not “out of money,” that’s highway robbery and fiscal irresponsibility!

County vows not to put tolls on Texas 46
By David Rupkalvis
April 27, 2006

SMITHSON VALLEY — Opponents of a proposal to put in toll roads got a bit of good news Wednesday night — a project to widen Texas 46 will never include tolls.

Close to 200 people filed into the Guadalupe Valley Telephone Cooperative auditorium to hear a presentation from county, state and Bulverde officials on the plans to widen the road.

While the mood was often tense, the people in the crowd did hear what they wanted most.

“We have been working with TxDOT, and we’ve been working on what we call pass through financing,” Comal County Judge Danny Scheel said. “There are no tolls in any of these projects.”

Many in the crowd still objected to language in the pass-through contract that says tolls will not be allowed unless agreed to by both the state and county.

But Greg Malatek an engineer with the Texas Department of Transportation, tried to ease those concerns.

“Part of the issue is tolls can’t be on (Texas) 46,” he said. “With all the access points, it’s physically impossible to be a toll. There are too many driveways. There’s no way to put a gate up there with all the driveways.”

With the tolls out of the question, the only way to get work done quickly on the road was through the new financing agreement, Scheel told the crowd.

Traffic on Texas 46 is already bad, he said, and with the county’s population expected to grow by up to 40,000 people in the next decade, it will only get worse.

“We can’t afford to sit back and wait for the rest of the people to get here,” Scheel said. “Then you try to catch up.”

To speed up the process, which could take decades if the county waited for TxDOT to it alone, the county and the cities of Bulverde and New Braunfels would need to loan TxDOT the money to build the roads. The local governments would also need to pay 10 percent of the cost to purchase rights of way and move utilities.

TxDOT would then pay back the loaned money, minus the interest, over a nine-year period.

“We’re excited about this project,” Scheel said. “It will speed it up. If all goes as planned, TxDOT will start buying right of way in December with construction in 2008.”

Malatek explained that the plans are to widen the road from Old Boerne Road near Bulverde to Loop 337 in New Braunfels, a total of 19.65 miles.

It would include 3.68 miles in Bulverde, 3.33 miles in New Braunfels and 12.64 miles in the county. The costs would be split between the entities with each paying their share based on a per-mile price.

County Engineer Tom Hornseth said to make the financing work, the county would loan TxDOT $16 million with Bulverde and New Braunfels loaning closer to $600,000 each. Each entity would also pay its share for rights of way and utility movements.

“In the old days, TxDOT paid for the whole thing,” Hornseth said. “Well, TxDOT does not have the money. We are entering into this agreement to expedite the project.”

Bulverde Police Chief Royce Goodsen said the improvements could not come fast enough for his department. In the last 15 months, there have been 113 accidents, including four with fatalities, on Texas 46 in Bulverde, he said.

“I think this is a great deal for the city of Bulverde to try to get these roads fixed, not 10 years from now, not 30 years from now, but in two or three years,” Goodsen said.