Larson, business community team-up to stop toll roads in Bexar County

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Exclusive: New effort launched to kill Bexar toll roads
Business, government leaders join in effort

By Jim Forsyth
WOAI Radio
Thursday, January 4, 2007

A powerful coalition of north side businessmen, led by auto dealer Ernesto Ancira and Tetco Chairman Tom Turner, Jr. is leading a new push to get all plans for new toll lanes on Highway 281 eliminated, 1200 WOAI news reported Thursday.

It’s part of a multi-faceted effort to fight back against efforts by the Metropolitan Planning Organization in Bexar County and by the Perry Administration in Austin to turn to toll roads to alleviate the state’s transportation crunch.

In separate letters to the MPO, Ancira and Turner urged the Organization to remove all consideration of tolls from its long-term plan for 281.

“We own five convenience store locations along the proposed tollway,” Turner wrote. “Each one of those stores is worth $2 million to $3 million apiece. The addition of toll roads along this stretch of 281 has the great potential to have a catastrophic impact over each one of these convenience stores. We would definitely not have chosen these locations had we known of the possible existence of a toll road.”

Ancira’s letter is even more strongly worded.

“The addition of toll roads to this stretch of 281 has the potential to have a long term negative impact on my business,” Ancira wrote, pointing out that he has invested millions in his Chrysler-Jeep dealership on 281 outside Loop 1604 ‘with the understanding that 281 would remain a freeway.’

Bexar County Commissioner and toll road opponent Lyle Larson says the message he gets from businesses large and small along 281 is the same, and it proves that the county and state should never add tolled lanes to existing highways, highways where businesses currently exist.

“We made those investments based on the fact that it was a freeway,” Larson quoted businesses owners as telling him. “You build tollways, and essentially your traffic is cut in half. This sentiment goes all the way up that corridor and down the other, the business people are against it.”

A plan to build additional tolled lanes on U.S. 281 between Loop 1604 and the Comal County line was ordered to begin in 2006, but has been temporarily halted due to environmental concerns.

Larson says it’s time for the MPO and the Perry administration to put a halt to all toll road construction in Bexar County. He says if the money which has been looted from the state highway construction and maintenance fund by greedy lawmakers and moved to other projects over the past two decades was returned, there would be no need for toll roads.

“You stop the diversions, and then you back pay the $9.3 billion, you fix a lot of the issues statewide, and you fix all of the issues in Bexar County, without having to build toll lanes.”

Larson says legislation will be introduced in the upcoming session to stop diversions of money from what is called “Fund Six,” the state gasoline tax fund. Larson says over the years, gasoline tax money, which is supposed to be used to build and repair public highways, has been used to pay for the operations of the State Department of Mental Health Mental Retardation, to build new cemeteries, on auto theft prevention efforts, and even to fund a bureaucrat’s dream called the “State Office of Administrative Hearings.”

Larson pointed out that estimates are that the state will have a surplus of up to $15 billion in the coming session, and the first place that money should go is to fund highways and replenish the gas tax money which has been looted.

“If you look at the basic structure of government, I think infrastructure should be one of the primary focuses, before you start using discretionary allocations for things I don’t think the state government should be involved in,” Larson said.

He said the ‘next six months’ will be critical in efforts to kill toll road plans in Bexar County.