E-N: Story promotes pro-toll propaganda without so much as speaking to our side!

Read it here.

Hmmmm, where to begin. First, the photos provided by the Alamo RMA accompanying the article are totally misleading. There is no way to move existing lanes out without destroying them (as TxDOT is so fond of saying, that’s clever TxDOT speak, for “we’re going to rip you off and make you think we’re not tolling an existing FREEway”). As my 10 year old likes to put it, there is no highway forklift or giant spatula that picks up and moves out existing freeway lanes. That’s right sweetie, out of the mouths of babes, eh? Anyone can take a drive out to 281 or 1604 and see full well that there is NOT enough room to put 6 toll lanes down the center median strip of existing 281 or 4 toll lanes down the middle of the existing median on 1604.

Then, Krier has yet to give ONE FACT that we’ve supposedly “misstated.” But I can give one he has misstated: he said on KTSA radio in February that what I drive on today on 281 will NOT be tolled. PURE FALSEHOOD, Mr. Krier, since Frank Holzman of TxDOT admitted such at an Encino Park HOA Meeting January 24. We have it on camera, sir.

Next, Krier claims there is no other choice but tolls. Who is Joe Krier, an elected official? No, he represents 70 private companies that make-up the highway lobby here in town, and of course, they’d like tolls to be the ONLY option. Why is Joe Krier proclaiming there’s no choice like he’s a legislator or transportation expert? Oh, that’s right, the Governor just appointed him to study highway financing options (see it here). Texans ought to be comforted to know that Joe Krier is exploring transportation financing options after he just declared in today’s paper that there aren’t any other options besides tolls! Your tax dollars at work, folks!

Then, Mr. Krier claims tolls give consumers a market choice. Also not so. Highway corridors with NO PUBLIC FREE ALTERNATIVE EXPRESSWAYS are NOT equivalent to market forces. Read an article Tolls Are A Slippery Slope here that explains why.

Ms. Chapa, the San Antonio Toll Party does call the tolls DOUBLE TAXATION, but we’re not the original source for that claim. The Comptroller of the State of Texas, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, found that the toll plans are in FACT, DOUBLE TAXATION. See the report here. Also, Ms. Chapa needs to be aware that taking TxDOT’s word for something is a risky proposition. On Hwy 45 near Austin, they promised non-toll frontage roads to run alongside the proposed tollway, and guess what? They just conducted a public meeting where they stated now there would be no frontage lanes…that’s right, NO NON-TOLL lanes. Read it here. Guess ya can’t believe everything proponents tell you.

“The delay prompted by the lawsuit is an opportunity for local leaders to be more transparent about the proposed toll projects and for opponents to cool the rhetoric and seriously consider the options before them.”

If TxDOT wanted to be more transparent about the toll projects, they’d let the public see what’s in the 50 year sweetheart deals they’re currently negotiating with two foreign companies who also happen to be partners on toll roads around the world. So much for competitive bidding. They’d also come clean with the public on the toll rates which are no where even close to 14 cents a mile being stated publicly. Had Ms. Chapa called me before printing this article, I would have pointed her to TxDOT’s own feasibility studies and the Comptroller’s Report (See the report here) that show toll rates as much as $1.00 a mile! Hardly the kind of loose change most San Antonians can spare just to get to work efficiently! Take a look at the famous toll road SR 91 out in CA where motorists now have to pay $8.50 to travel 10 miles of toll road to get to work. Do the non-toll lanes look like congestion relief to you? Toll roads don’t relieve congestion, they manipulate congestion for profit.

I’d sure like to know what everyone keeps referring to as rhetoric from our camp. Concerned citizens know that what Krier and proponents call “rhetoric” is actually the TRUTH! It makes the BIG MONEY advocates squirm and highly uncomfortable to have us informing the public the TRUTH, but so be it.

OK, now the traditional toll roads versus Perry toll road distinction
Chapa cites Houston’s toll roads as precedent. First of all, Houston residents VOTED to build their toll roads. Second, the money stays local and doesn’t go overseas. Third, what TxDOT is promoting is the shifting of existing freeways and rights of way (already built and paid for) into tollways. If these were new roads as they claim, why are the freeway names the same names as our existing freeways (281, 1604, I-35, Wurzbach Pkwy., Bandera Rd., & I-10)? Also, toll roads haven’t solved Houston’s congestion problems, and San Antonians median income doesn’t come close to Houston, Dallas, or Austin.

Who controls development? The City and County. If gas tax revenues can’t keep pace with the development, make the developers anti-up. It’s that simple. Consumers shouldn’t have to pay a WHOLE NEW DRIVER’S TAX just to get to work because developers keep dumping more congestion onto our already crowded roadways! We already have a driver’s tax, the gas tax! If a case needs to be made to raise it, then make the case. What the public sees now is that our politicians don’t want to make the case or give us a say in the matter. They see the gravy train a comin’ and wouldn’t want a little thing like Democracy and a public vote to stop it.

Truth be told, there is no comparison. Side by side, tolls are infinitely, and I mean infinitely, more expensive than a gas tax increase. We’re talking pennies per mile versus dollars. That’s another thing Ms. Chapa would have discovered in talking to the other side, the MPO Board in Austin did a side by side comparison and found that it would only be a 2 cents gas tax increase versus tolling EVERY major highway in Austin except one. If given the truth and given a side by side comparison, the voters would choose the gas tax system hands down. Perhaps Ms. Chapa should ask our MPO why they haven’t done an honest comparative analysis of gas taxes versus tolls?

However, TxDOT and proponents resort to unsubstantiated scare tactics saying it would require a 50 cent to $1.25 gas tax increase. That’s more than a 600% increase! What on earth do they think we need to build? We’ve already built the entire FEDERAL interstate highway system and our entire STATE highway system (which used to be the envy of the world), there is simply NO justification for increasing our state gas taxes by 600% percent. NONE! Think about what they’re asking us to blindly swallow here! Talk about scare tactics and rhetoric. I think that label is more appropriately applied to toll proponents! Why didn’t Ms. Chapa question these figures that are thrown about by the proponents?

After what TxDOT has pulled on the 281 project, it’s clear everything they say ought to be questioned. Let’s talk about that project, shall we? Chapa neglects to tell the public an essential FACT about the controversy surrounding the 281 project. U.S. 281 improvements are already funded and paid for! Residents are outraged they’ll be charged a toll to drive on an existing freeway (one tax to build what we currently drive on) whose improvements are also already paid for (another tax paid for the improvements, plus a toll tax to drive on it). It’s essentially TRIPLE TAXATION!

For the last 6-7 years in public meetings, TxDOT presented their plan to fix the congestion. See it here. It would add overpasses at the stop lights, 2 more lanes of freeways, and 4 lanes of frontage road AND it’s already paid for. The truth goes a long way toward transparency!

Not only did TxDOT break their promise, Bill Thornton and others have LIED to the public about the funds ($48 million) having disappeared. Also not true. I have the documents that prove the money is still there, and, in fact, Ms. Chapa’s own paper reported that even more gas tax funds (now $77 milion) dropped out of the sky to pay for the EVEN BIGGER tollway planned for 281! Read it here.

“We underestimated the interest and the passion of the opposition,” Krier said.

You bet ya, and the best is yet to come!

As far as foreign investment…
Selling exclusive rights to our public infrastructure is a heck of lot different than Toyota building a plant in town! No one is forcing us to buy a Toyota, but TxDOT actually has a plan to force us to use the tollways! See the plan on page 10 here. Then there’s always the pesky non-compete agreements which actually gives these companies control over the free lanes to manipulate the traffic to maximize the toll revenues. Read about it in Ms. Chapa’s own paper here.

If Brehctel, Krier, and proponents can’t see the difference, the public surely can! I would again refer you this article Tolls Are A Slippery Slope here that explains why highway corridors with NO PUBLIC FREE ALTERNATIVE EXPRESSWAYS do NOT equal free market principles. Also, some more relevant reading. Read these articles on the U.S. addiction to foreign money, here and the internationalizing of our roads here.

The logical route: As traffic clogs Bexar County, one option stands out
Web Posted: 03/12/2006 12:00 AM CST
Rebeca Chapa
Editorial writer

It’s 5:30 on a Friday afternoon, and traffic is bumper-to-bumper on U.S. 281. There’s a fender bender at Encino Rio, and cars are streaming in and out of subdivisions and shopping centers. It’s a typical frustrating drive for thousands of commuters traveling on U.S. 281 into or out of San Antonio.

And it’s going to get worse unless we as a community do something about it now, be it toll roads, light rail, expanded mass transit or some combination of options.

Currently, roads are built and maintained using money from the 38.4-cent gas tax, which is made up of an 18.4-cent federal tax and a 20-cent state tax.

The state tax also funds schools, the Texas Department of Public Safety and other state needs. It hasn’t increased since 1991, when it grew by a nickel.

Toll road advocates argue that it would take a tax increase of 50 cents to $1.25 per gallon to keep up with current and future needs. Consumers wouldn’t stomach it, and suggesting it would be politically suicidal for a politician.

Texas Transportation Commissioner Hope Andrade of San Antonio said the failure to raise the gas tax incrementally was poor planning.

“It’s our leadership,” she said.

“They didn’t think about preparing us for that.”

But pointing the finger doesn’t solve the problem, and now leaders are scrambling to come up with ways to make up the growing financial shortfall. Many see only one logical way out: toll roads.

“We don’t see any other realistic option,” said Joe Krier, chairman of the San Antonio Mobility Coalition and president and CEO of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

Krier and others argue that tolling roads will give consumers a market choice about paying for new roads.

Without the option, road projects will continue to be built as they have in the past, on the slower pay-as-you-go system.

How tolls figure in planning

Tolling U.S. 281 has been the subject of intense media coverage and some public outcry. Opponents, most notably the San Antonio Toll Party, call the project a form of double taxation, since the existing roads have already been paid for with taxpayer dollars.
But all tolled roads will run alongside nontolled ones, giving motorists an option, says the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, or RMA, a local body created in 2003 to develop and fund toll projects in partnership with the state.

The U.S. 281 toll project is one small part of a proposed 70-mile toll system that would incorporate the northern swath of Loop 1604 from Texas 151 to Interstate 10; U.S. 281 north of 1604; a small slice of Wurzbach Parkway; and Interstate 35 from the northern county line to downtown.

And toll roads are part of a much broader statewide transportation plan known as the Trans-Texas Corridor. The network, heavily touted by Gov. Rick Perry, could accommodate freight rail, high-speed commuter rail and separate lanes for car and trucks and have capacity for utility lines.

Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission who was handpicked by Perry, has been one of the project’s most ardent advocates.

Cintra-Zachry, a consortium of Spanish and local interests, has received a $3.5 million contract to produce a development and financial plan for a portion of the corridor.

A useful delay

Cintra-Zachry has also put a bid in for the controversial U.S. 281 project, which was recently put on hold for at least a year by a legal challenge. A lawsuit filed in December by People for Efficient Transportation Inc. and Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas contended that existing environmental assessments don’t provide an adequate picture of the impact such a project could have on the area.
The Federal Highway Administration concurred, pulled its environmental clearances and effectively halted construction. A new environmental assessment is being conducted along a 12-mile stretch of U.S. 281.

The delay prompted by the lawsuit is an opportunity for local leaders to be more transparent about the proposed toll projects and for opponents to cool the rhetoric and seriously consider the options before them.

Some local officials are using the delay to raise questions about the necessity of tolling versus other alternatives to relieving the congestion.

Bexar County Commissioners Lyle Larson and Tommy Adkisson sent a letter to state legislators in January, asking that TxDOT re-allocate funding for the starter toll system to build overpasses at Encino Rio, Stone Oak Parkway and Borgfeld Road, as well as an additional highway lane in each direction.

For Adkisson, the negotiation process has been just as problematic as the project itself.

“It was born in deception,” Adkisson said. “They’ve tried to cram too much down our throats too quickly.”

Many point to the two private bidders — Cintra of Spain and Macquarie of Australia — as evidence that the state is selling out to moneyed interests that have an eye for profits. Because the companies are willing to invest their own money in the project, their preliminary proposals are partially confidential.

RMA officials acknowledge that the process has evolved rapidly. The RMA was created just more than two years ago and has had to invent itself in a short period. As for the confidentiality attached to the proposals, officials admit it is different from the standard bidding procedure.

“It is new to me,” said Terry Brechtel, executive director of the RMA. “I haven’t seen this process before. Am I comfortable with it? Yes.”

Other states

Toll roads are not uncommon across the country — or even Texas. Houston has 83 miles of tolled roads operated by the Harris County Toll Road Authority. In Dallas, the North Texas Tollway Authority operates 52 miles of tolled roads, as well as the Mountain Creek Lake Bridge and the Addison Airport Toll Tunnel.
In those cases, a tolling authority funds and operates the roads. But private sector financing and operation of toll roads is becoming more common as officials buck up against a tide of development not matched by sufficient increases in revenue.

Macquarie-Cintra, a consortium made up of the Australian and Spanish firms, recently submitted a bid to operate the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road. The company has offered the state $3.85 billion to maintain, operate and profit from the major thoroughfare that traverses the Hawkeye State from east to west along its northern border.

The deal, spearheaded by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, passed the Republican-controlled state House and Senate this month.

The plan is now in committee, and a final compromise bill could be reached by Tuesday, the deadline to vote on it.

Macquarie-Cintra already operates the 7.8-mile Chicago Skyway, having paid $1.8 billion for that 99-year lease.

Separately, the two firms are competing for the U.S. 281 toll project, but their final development proposals aren’t expected for several months.

Garnering support

Officials acknowledge that the public isn’t fully convinced of the need for toll roads.
“We underestimated the interest and the passion of the opposition,” Krier said.

“We just let a lot of misinformation get out.”

One of the major sticking points for some is the use of a foreign company to build and operate the roads.

“We don’t need foreign countries with their hands in our pockets any more than they are already,” one Express-News reader recently stated in a letter to the editor.

But foreign investment is a way of life in this day and age, toll advocates say.

“Nobody complained when Toyota came to town,” Brechtel said, referring to the $850-million Japanese-owned manufacturing conglomerate set to begin producing Tundra trucks a year from now.

Officials haven’t committed to either toll consortium yet and are still looking at publicly funded toll roads.

Two public meetings on the toll project are scheduled this month: March 29 at Reagan High School and March 30 at Bush Middle School. Both will begin at 6 p.m.