E-N columnist Carlos Guerra blows the lid off who's behind toll roads

Carlos Guerra: Are toll roads really about traffic, or perhaps about big contracts? Finally a reporter who’s beginning to dig into who’s pushing tolls in this town. Joe Krier’s San Antonio Mobility Coalition is nothing more than another waste of taxpayer dollars selling the public good for private gain. Read about it here. Thank him for shining the light on the shady deals going down and encourage more stories bringing this to light. Submit it as a Letter to the Editor here.

I’ve also attached a related article submitted to the South Texas Republicans newsletter this week:

Who’s pushing tolls?
By Terri Hall
February 13, 2006

Apparently our little grassroots effort to keep our freeways free has ruffled some feathers. First, the Executive Director of TxDOT, Michael Behrens submits an Op/Ed to the Express-News then San Antonio Mobility Coalition Chair and Greater Chamber CEO Joe Krier submits another within less than a week! What’s striking is their total lack of rationale for tolling EXISTING freeways. Like most government bureaucracies , TxDOT prattles on about how its bloat factor isn’t high enough…they “NEED” more money. But what’s truly astounding is Joe Krier and the Greater Chamber supporting a policy that will increase government, increase the cost of doing business, and increase taxes.

A principled approach to representing the business community would take into account more than just the highway lobby (SAMCO represents 70 private companies who stand to profit handsomely from toll roads), it would promote lowering taxes which genuinely spurs economic growth. No nation has EVER taxed their way into prosperity. There is simply NO EXPLANATION (other than greed) for tolling FREEways that are already built and paid for! It’s DOUBLE TAXATION and violates conservatism and responsible fiscal policy.

Krier got on KTSA radio Feb. 3 and emphatically stated no toll will be placed on ANY existing road, when Frank Holzman of TxDOT stated on camera that they are planning, in fact, to toll what we drive on today on US 281 (at an Encino Park HOA mtg., Jan. 24). ANYONE who’s attended the public hearings on the project can attest to the same.

Who else is pushing tolls? The highway lobby itself, of course, with the help of willing public officials. Last November, former Executive Director of the MPO JoAnne Walsh landed herself a lucrative private sector job at a firm tied to the toll industry, Parsons-Brinckerhoff, right after seeing to it that $500 million in gas taxes were earmarked for toll roads. In January, former Executive Director of the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (tolling authority) Tom Greibel also moved on to an executive position with a highway engineering firm, Pape-Dawson. Coincidence or conflicts of interest? Coincidence or exploiting the public good for personal and private gain?

We’ve seen enough corruption with the Abramoff scandal in recent days, Republicans certainly don’t need to be hitched to more of it! Though there are friends and enemies on both sides of the aisle pushing tolls, it’s Republicans who run the show in Austin and it’ll be Republicans who pay the price for a messy, shady, scandal with plenty of conflicts of interest if not outright criminal behavior taking place.

The only two companies “bidding” to build the toll starter system in San Antonio, Spanish-based Cintra and Australian-based Macquarie, also just happen to be partners on at least two such public-private partnerships, one in Ontario, Canada, and one just inked in Indiana. Competitive bidding or shady monopolies?

Back in its glory days, the Texas Department of Transportation built a highway system many touted as one of the best in the world. Well, sadly that ceased to true when Governor-appointed Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson took the helm. With statements like: “It’s toll roads, slow roads, or no roads,” (El Paso Times, 05/05/04) and “In your lifetime, most existing roads will have tolls,” (Houston Chronicle, 10/11/04) it’s not hard to make the case. TxDOT just hosted two workshops, one to over 1,000 people in the highway lobby to essentially “sell” private Texas land taken by eminent domain over to these new quasi-governments, these foreign consortiums, for 50-99 year SECRET toll agreements (public-private partnerships, called Comprehensive Development Agreements or CDAs in Texas), and one just THIS WEEK to bond buyers promoting the same CDAs for toll roads.

Special interests have more power over the government than the governed. Our elected officials are selling out the public good for the private gain of the few. Look who’s promoting these toll plans and who’s drinking at the public trough and it’s easy to understand the public outrage! It’s time for new leadership. Statewide and nationally, Republicans need to return to the conservative principles that built this Party and made this country a beacon of light, liberty, and democracy to the world.