Interchange at 281/1604 to cost TWICE as much as it should?

Let’s try to compare apples to apples in order to demonstrate how egregious the fiscal malfeasance is here…

The 410/281 interchange that opened not even two years ago, included ALL 8 ramps (northbound and southbound connectors) for $155 million (see article below from June 2008). Now the 281/1604 interchange project being built by the tolling authority, the RMA, (not TxDOT), wants to blow $140 million on just 4 ramps, only the southbound connectors. Considering project bids have been coming in UNDER cost due to the economic downturn and road builders being hungry for work, this betrayal of the RMA’s fidiciary duty to the public is that much more irresponsible. Why?

So it can come in later and toll the northbound ramps that will charge motorists nearly 60 cents per vehicle and over a $1.00 per truck for the “privilege” of using a public roadway for which we already pay taxes. The RMA initially promised to build the whole interchange non-toll, but cut the project in half once the feds found out their plans to toll the northbound ramps and insisted it be a part of the new environmental study required for the 281 & 1604 toll roads. If they’d drop the toll roads, the northbound ramps could also be built NOW with existing stimulus money.

But because they just can’t stop seeing green from all the money they stand to make from tolling us, they continue to thumb their noses at the thousands of citizens opposed to tolling these freeways (who have fought it at the local, state, and federal level for 5 years now), and proceed to ram it down our throats anyway, abusing taxpayer money to the tune of $84 million (that’s the cost of the extra “enhancements” on the project that have NOTHING to do with the interchange, which is designed to blow through the extra money that should be going to build the northbound ramps that have a published cost of $59 million).

Compare Cost:
$59 million (published cost for 4 northbound ramps for 281/1604 interchange)

$140 million (published cost for 4 southbound ramps for 281/1604 interchange)

$155 million (actual cost for ALL 8 ramps of 410/281 interchange that opened June of 2008)

What’s wrong with this picture?

Padding the cost to taxpayers
The interchange project also closes 3 entrances/exits that exist today and make all traffic exiting or entering 281 to/from the frontage roads have to sit through two traffic lights instead of one.  I wonder if Costco, Walmart, and HEB realize the hassle these “improvements” will create for their customers? It’s certainly guaranteed to make access to the neighborhoods affected a nightmare! Then, the plan pads the project with re-surfacing all of 1604 from Bitters to Redland and 281 from Bitters to 1604 (this isn’t even needed compared to the poor condition of 281 north of 1604 and could be funded out of maintenance dollars, not the scarce funds for new construction), as well as lighting, sidewalks, and two pedestrian bridges.

They’re also adding numerous “auxiliary lanes” (on 1604 westbound from Bitters to Stone Oak and 281 northbound and southbound from Bitters to 1604), which is a way to add capacity without calling it adding capacity in order to get around environmental hurdles. Yet, they claim NO added capacity nor any overpasses can be added to 281 north of 1604 until the new environmental study is completed in 3-5 years. So let me get this straight, the RMA can add two stories (70+ feet high) to the 281/1604 interchange and add lanes to both 1604 west and 281 south of 1604, but it can’t build a few overpasses (23 feet high) or add any lanes to 281 north using the same category of environmental review? What hypocrites!

Any thinking person can see the unequal application of the law, and that’s why citizens blasted the RMA for its misplaced priorities, flagrant abuse of taxpayer money, and for playing games with people’s lives for their own gain.

Net gain or net loss?
While the taxpayers want and deserve this long overdue interchange non-toll, the RMA acknowledged Monday night that the ramps would only shave 5 minutes from the current conditions. Compare that to the exponential time savings of overpasses on 281 north, and it’s a no-brainer where this money ought to be spent and where the congestion problem really lies.

Web Posted: 01/11/2010
Work on North Side interchange may start soon
By Josh Baugh

The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority could begin building a nontolled interchange between U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 on the North Side — relieving gridlock at the city’s most congested intersection — by the summer.

But during a meeting Monday to present the project’s draft environmental document to the public, the RMA came under fire for everything from plans to install pedestrian bridges and additional lighting to the existence of potholes in a subdivision neighboring the project.

About a dozen residents voiced concerns and opposition to the $140 million project, which would build an interchange connecting northbound U.S. 281 to Loop 1604 in both directions, and east- and westbound 1604 to southbound U.S. 281.

The RMA will include comments from Monday’s meeting — and further comments submitted by Jan. 21 — in its environmental document, known as a “categorical exclusion,” which must receive approval from the Federal Highway Administration for the project to proceed.

Toll road opponent Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, said her group doesn’t officially oppose the project yet, but it has some concerns over it. Hall said she believes the interchange will stifle access to adjacent neighborhoods and shopping centers and could produce air and noise pollution.

Hall also objects to the RMA’s plans to gain environmental clearance through a categorical exclusion — the lowest level of environmental review.

“We hope they’re not cutting corners with how they’re designing this project,” Hall said, adding that she hopes the RMA will address her group’s concerns before the project is built.

Read the rest of the story here.
U.S. 281/Loop 410 interchange ramps are complete
Web Posted: 06/10/2008

One of the most widely ridiculed features of San Antonio’s highway network — the lack of an interchange at Loop 410 and U.S. 281 — slipped into history Monday with the opening of the last two ramps.

Crews opened the ramps from both directions of U.S. 281 to eastbound Loop 410 before rush hour, Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Anikka Ayala-Rogers said.

“Oh, really?” said Ken Kephart, an automobile diagnostician who uses Loop 410 and U.S. 281 half a dozen times a week to get to jobs. “Well, when I came to San Antonio 25 years ago, I didn’t see how they got along without access.”

Work began three years ago on the $155 million interchange, and the first of the eight ramps started opening in June 2007. Bonds squeezed the work from about 10 years to a record 31/2.

Motorists such as Kephart found the shorter schedule hard to believe, especially after upgrading the interchange at Interstate 10 and Loop 410 dragged on for a decade, with the last ramps opening there just seven months ago.

Read the rest of the article here.

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