First article in series tackles flawed road funding claims

Link to today’s story in the Express-News. The article was on the front page entitled, Gas taxes can’t fuel all road projects.

At first glance, this article, the first in a series of more in-depth articles on the toll issue, seems to project more of TxDOT’s mantra, “We’re out of money.” But I do think Driscoll tries to make a fair assessment of the arguments. With that said, I do take issue with a few of the statements made in the article. Write a letter of response here:

Setting the record straight…

TRUTH is on OUR side!
More than anything else, this issue is NOT about he said-she said, it’s about the TRUTH! I disagree wholeheartedly with the statement that both sides have stretched the truth. Our figures about the gas tax revenues are taken right from the Comptroller’s own web site. They’re not our figures, they’re the State’s! We’re simply challenging the figures TxDOT puts out there. We don’t have the funds to conduct studies of our own, we have to rely on information available in the public domain.

Gas tax figures accurate
What we’re stating is a verifable fact: gas tax revenues have gone up at rate of 178% while population growth has only gone up 50% in the last 20 years (and that’s adjusted for inflation to reflect differences in buying power over that time period). The more people drive, the more taxes they pay under our current system (the more you drive, the more gas you buy, and the more tax you pay no matter what your fuel efficiency is…and in Texas, we drive gas guzzling SUVs and pick-ups not fuel efficient Yugos and Hondas and the changes in SUV fuel efficiency have been very modest), so this myth about alt fuels and fuel efficiency doesn’t hold up. We just saw an article the other day saying there’s already a proposal to tax alt fuels. Our politicians will NOT let new or alternative fuels escape taxation that’s needed to help pay for transportation improvements.

It’s about politicians IGNORING the will of the PEOPLE!
It seems the real story here is about our politicians IGNORING the will of the people and failing to represent us. It’s citizens having to battle their own elected representatives who WORK FOR US. We’re not funded by anybody, we’re not financially backed by any organizations. To my knowledge, no one has any conflict of interests whatsoever. We are ordinary citizens trying to take our government back from these highway interests who have muddied the waters of the public process. We have brought up more than enough concerns, detailed concerns backed-up by facts ALL FOUND IN PUBLIC DOCUMENTS, to warrant at the very least an independent review of the toll plans. If this is truly the ONLY way to fund our roads, then it should hold up to public scrutiny and the truth will bare that out. The people are asking for a say, for a vote, on such a fundamental shift in our taxation to the tune of $3,000 or MORE per year, PER COMMUTER (from TxDOT’s own online survey they conducted through Survey Cafe used to be found at:, but they pulled it down, but we have a picture of it even though they took it off the web…in it they quoted a citizen 29 cents a mile for a 20 mile commute on 1604…that’s $5.90 each way, that’s substantial money to get to work)!

EVERY alternative to tolls is LESS money!
Even SAMCo’s alternatives are ALL less money per year than would be tolls. The hike in vehicle registration they propose is $100 a year compared to an average of $3,000 a year in tolls. The claims that they’d have to raise the gas tax $1 is completely UNSUBSTANTIATED and would amount to nearly tripling their current intake. The 25 cent per gallon increase is also less than tolls. Considering the average San Antonian uses roughly 1500 gallons of gas a year, they currently pay $300 a year in gas tax. Even a 25 cent hike would be less than tolls ($375 a year more, which is double what we give the state now, the size of this tax increase is also totally unsubstantiated in my mind–DOUBLE!–what do they need double the money for?).

If they get rid of just these toll lanes that only half of all motorists can use and just build what’s needed, the road is 40-100% less money to build and EVERYONE can drive on it. So the simple solution sure seems to be to CAN the toll lanes and vastly reduce this fictional $8.4 billion funding gap which is also unsubstantiated. SA gets $100 million a year in discretionary funds currently, they’re saying we need FOUR times the money we currently get (their $8.4 billion figure works out to $420 million a year over 20 years if I did the math right). The entire state of Texas gets $6.1 billion a year and they say SA needs $8.4 billion over the next 20 years? SA is number 5 in number of lane-miles per person in the U.S…how much money and how many roads do they think we need?

What’s the rationale behind these projects and why aren’t the costs of these GIGANTIC tollways being challenged? We found, in TxDOT’s own toll feasibility studies, the cost of toll gantry equipment at $1 million per MILE!. We found projects where the cost of toll equipment equaled the cost to build the road. They also studied toll feasibility to toll all the mainlanes on 1604 and backed off. One of their studies showed 1604 improvements could be paid for 100% with bonds, and yet they’re NOT doing it.

The national average for a traditional turnpike is 9 cents a mile, what on earth do they need with 14-39 cents a mile (I have the feasibility studies that show rates of $1 to use the new toll-only interchanges)? With 5 cost estimate changes since June and the change in toll rates found in Austin, the public doesn’t trust the toll rates they’re quoting for 281 and the toll starter system. No investment grade traffic and revenue study has even been completed yet for US 281. That will tell the true starting toll rates. Given all this, none of TxDOT’s claims seem to withstand scrutiny.

Public NEEDS side by side comparisons
The public needs to see some side by side comparisons of the actual figures, not scare tactics like property tax hikes. Tolls are equivalent to more than many folks’ property taxes, so let’s play fair when talking about options. SAMCo and the politicians know ANY talk of property tax hikes is out of the question since people are already upset about not getting property tax relief this last session. But gas taxes, they assume, are equally untouchable, but not once you do the math…like the figures above. Gas tax or vehicle registration fee hikes are STILL less than a lifetime of unbridled toll taxes!

Politicians, under the veil of TxDOT, have LIED to the PUBLIC!
What ought to come to light is how the proponents of this plan have and continue to LIE and mislead the public. Bill Thornton said on multiple occasions on the radio that the original $48 million for the overpasses on 281 were GONE, ZIPPO! Then he said they were re-allocated (to 281/410 interchange) on a different occasion. Tom Greibel told our Founder, Sal Costello, on radio that NO tax money was going into these toll projects, then later slipped and said there was. David Casteel also said the funds were re-allocated and then changed his tune once I got a hold of the feasibility studies. Now we find out that what is in the feasibility studies is true, that $48 million in gas tax IS being used to build US 281 as a toll road instead of as a free road like TxDOT’s told the public for 5 years (plus an additional $29 million dropped out of the sky to build it as a toll road, bringing the total amount of gas tax in the toll project to $77 million!).

David Casteel has told the Comal County Judge in writing that they will not toll US 281 through Comal County for 25 years (in June, I believe). In less than 4 months, he told the Bulverde City Council in September at a public City Council meeting that they plan to toll it in 10-15 years. Julie Brown of TxDOT said at the September RMA meeting that they were adding an extra non-toll lane to the project, but the truth lies more in what they don’t tell you…they were adding 2 more toll lanes, too, but they’ve kept it from the public. BY LAW they must tell the public about those extra toll lanes because any change in the scope of projects approved by the MPO must be revealed to the public in a specific public format. The Alamo RMA (tolling authority) also ILLEGALLY used public money they used to conduct a political survey (see past blog entry on this subject). They are also violating the Bexar County Commissioners resolution to NOT toll existing highways. The list of lies, half truths, misleading information, and illegal dealings keeps getting bigger…

Concerned citizens shouldn’t be compared to POLITICANS!,
There are no hidden agendas here. We don’t represent ANY lobby but the public good. We’re about advocating good government and good fiscal policy. This toll road plan does neither. I do not think when tackling this issue that genuine concerned citizens should be impugned or somehow put on par with politicians. I believe the burden is on our PUBLIC tolling authority and politicians to be above reproach at every turn, for their motives to be about the public good and not lining the pockets of private interests at the public’s expense, and for THEIR figures and misstatements to be vigorously challenged.

What they’re doing on 281 defies common sense, good government, transparent government, and good fiscal policy. You bet it meets with tremendous opposition. THEIR rationale is what ought to be challenged! We’ve put forth a good faith effort to bring alternatives to the table with our limited resources. These PUBLIC agencies work for us and are funded by us and they DO have the resources to come up with common sense solutions that serve the public good. They haven’t because they’re not required to by the entities who are charged with keeping them accountable to the public.

TxDOT known for waste, mismanagement
Look-up a report done by the Texas Public Policy Foundation in 1997 called, Sundown on Big Government. It was the last external audit of TxDOT. It shows that TxDOT is fraught with millions of dollars in waste and mismanagement, including stockpiling asphalt, gas, and other supplies. Some reforms have been made, but until TxDOT has an independent audit and these bureaucracies get their own houses in order in a way the public can trust, we should not be asked to pay a lifetimes of tolls for roads we’ve already paid for WITHOUT A PUBLIC VOTE! This toll plan on existing highway US 281 will set a precedent, a dangerous one. If we let them get away with this, this plan will be duplicated all over the state and likely all over the country. We’re not going to let that happen!