Express News coverage of 1604 hearing: The public's "hot" over tolls!

Link to article here.

Public sounds off on Loop 1604 tolls
Patrick Driscoll

Hundreds of people, many buzzing with anger, packed a hearing Tuesday to listen to the state’s latest pitch on why toll lanes should be added to Loop 1604.

The Texas Department of Transportation said rebuilding North Loop 1604 to add four to six toll lanes from Texas 151 to Interstate 10 near Randolph AFB would not significantly hurt people or nature.

But many of the nearly 400 people at the hearing, at the Alzafar Shrine Temple on the loop, didn’t buy that.

Michael Wikman, one of almost 50 speakers, stepped to a microphone and said he’s the maddest of the bunch.

“I am hot,” he said. “I’m fed up with you people. I’m fed up with this government telling me how I’m going to live, how my money’s going to be spent.”

Wikman and other critics, including environmentalists, said the $1.8 billion, 36-mile tollway would have big impacts on wallets and water quality.

Families could pay hundreds or thousands of dollars a year to avoid increasingly congested non-toll lanes, and another 247 acres of recharge areas of the Edwards Aquifer would be paved over.

“The cost of a toll road is always, always more, and history shows it does not eliminate congestion,” Mel Borel said.

Toll advocates say planned growth is already strangling North Side roadways and causing more traffic accidents, and state and federal lawmakers have refused to raise gas taxes.

“Please act now,” Richard Sabinson pleaded. “We simply cannot wait. The traffic is here and it is only going to get worse.”

Some critics demanded a vote, and one speaker sought to prove a point by asking for a show of hands. A dozen or more people supported tolls; at least three-fourths of the crowd rejected the idea.

With traffic expected to double on Loop 1604 by 2035, the toll lanes would give motorists a choice of paying their way out of congestion or suffering longer commutes. Past studies suggest rates starting at 14 to 16 cents a mile on lanes and 50 cents on ramps.

TxDOT will ask the Federal Highway Administration to sign off on its environmental assessment, which shows no significant impacts, to avoid a more detailed study that could take another two to three years. The state hopes to get clearance this summer and start construction next year.