Feds approve toll project on US 281

Link to article here.

This “story” reads more like a tolling authority and TxDOT PR puff piece than a news article. I had multiple interviews with this reporter, he came to our Toll Party meeting and heard with his own ears that our primary reason for the lawsuit is to force TxDOT to install the gas tax funded plan on 281 rather than convert that existing FREEway into a tollway. There is no justification to pay tolls on a freeway that’s already built and paid for and where the improvements are already paid for. No where does he mention this in the story. He makes it appear as though the lawsuit is simply to stop “progress.” In not even 10 seconds on our web site he’d know this. We’ve advocated for the original already PAID FOR improvements for the overpasses and expansion of 281 since DAY ONE! It’s irresponsible journalism to purposely leave out this vital information! Email the Editor here bsimas@primetimenewspapers.com.

Feds approve toll project on U.S. 281 PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 29 August 2007

A typical afternoon filled with congestion on north U.S. 281. Courtesy of the San Antonio Express-News

By Scott Mahon
Staff Writer
The Federal Highway Administration gave its approval to continue the toll project on U.S. Highway 281 after environmentalists brought the project to a standstill over a year ago, but the San Antonio Toll Party said it would file a lawsuit once again to challenge the project.

U.S. 281 is presently a four-to-six-lane highway. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, 8,600 vehicles per day traveled U.S. 281 north of Loop 1604 in 1980. In 2005, 92,590 vehicles per day traveled the highway and it’s projected that by 2035 217,900 vehicles per day will travel the highway.

Because the state’s gas tax – 38.4 cents per gallon – has not been increased since 1991, state officials say current revenues from the gas tax are not sufficient to fund highway improvements.

The 77th Legislature approved legislation that allowed the construction of toll roads as an alternative means of funding the construction of improvements and new highways.

TxDOT then proposed building new toll lanes on U.S. 281 from Loop 1604 to Borgfeld Road. Motorists would have the option of driving on toll lanes or non toll lanes.

The project began in November 2005 and was originally scheduled to be completed in 2009 at a cost of $104 million, but work was stopped in February 2006 after toll road opponents and environmentalists filed a lawsuit claiming the project’s environmental impact had not properly been assessed.

Toll road opponents also have targeted other projects, including Gov. Rick Perry’s Trans Texas Corridor, a 4,000-mile network of toll roads with rail and utility lines that was planned to be funded through a private-public partnership with Cintra of Spain and Zachry Construction Co. of San Antonio.

Road Map

Courtesy San Antonio Express-News

In June 2007, the Legislature placed a two-year moratorium on toll projects funded by partnerships with private companies.At the same time, the Legislature gave local transportation authorities, including the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, the right to develop local toll projects.

According to the Alamo RMA, the U.S. 281 project will be constructed in two phases. The first phase will include toll lanes inside the existing lanes on U.S. 281 from Loop 1604 to Stone Oak Drive and is now estimated to cost $120 million.

“For three years drivers have been stuck in traffic,” said William Thornton, chairman of the Alamo RMA. “The decision by the Federal Highway Administration now means that our region can start addressing the serious congestion clogging our highways.”

Officials said the proposed improvements on U.S. 281 would provide motorists a choice of using toll lanes or not.

“No one will ever be forced to use a tolled lane in Bexar County. There will always be a choice between a toll and non-toll lane,” said Terry Brechtel, executive director of the Alamo RMA.

The second phase of the project will include improvements from Stone Oak Drive to Borgfeld Road, and eventually to the Blanco County line.

The estimated cost of the total project, including an interchange at Loop 1604, is approximately $600 million.

Construction of the first phase will begin in April or May of 2008, said Leroy Alloway, director of community relations for the Alamo RMA.

“The construction contract will be put out for bid,” Alloway said. “We will probably go to the bond market in the first quarter of 2008 to fund the first phase of the project.”

TxDOT officials said the U.S. 281 corridor has been studied numerous times since 1984, but special interest groups claimed that previous environmental studies did not comprehensively account for the potential impact of the proposed project.

But Alloway also said there would be a 180-day period during which “anyone could file a lawsuit challenging the findings of the Federal Highway Administration.”

Terri Hall of the San Antonio Toll Party said the environmental assessment approved by the FHA was a “cursory, low-level study” and promised her organization would file a lawsuit challenging the study.

“It’s just a bunch of game playing,” Hall said. “… you can’t tell me there’s not going to be an economic impact up and down the U.S. 281 corridor if they build toll lanes. So, yes, we definitely intend to file a lawsuit.”