Loop 1604 Public Meeting: Citizen to TxDOT – "We ought to re-name this project 'bend over.'"

Link to article here.

Some of the best comments from citizens failed to make the story below. This article is far too tame to have really reflected the outright anger and outrage expressed by nearly all of the citizen comments. Out of more than 2 dozen speakers, only 4 spoke in favor of tolls and EVERY ONE OF THEM were business interests (one was even a contractor for TxDOT) or politicians in the hip pocket of the highway lobby. NOT ONE ORDINARY CITIZEN was in favor of tolls. The first two speakers were outstanding, setting the tone for the evening. Both told the citizens assembled that to stop toll roads, we need to get rid of Rick Perry. This was a theme from many of the speakers, but a fact overlooked in this article. The opening speaker, Mr. Piper, said we ought to rename this project “bend over.” The crowd erupted in raucous applause. This was again overlooked in this article. Not sure why a great line like that wouldn’t be the headline! It perfectly codified the sentiment of the evening. Councilman Richard Perez, chair of the MPO, and chief architect of blocking citizen efforts to stop the tolls at the MPO, and his pro-toll comments fell flat on a crowd in no mood to hear from politicians about how we HAVE to toll our freeways, though he was sure to say he’d never take a toll road. That’s a promise pretty easy for him to keep considering his southside district won’t have a single toll road while he continues to promote tolls and use his power at the MPO to install tolls all over the northside!

Now, as to developer Marty Wender’s comments. It borders on irresponsible journalism that no one reported Wender’s total hypocrisy to testify and promote tolls at this meeting as if he had drunk some pro-toll Kool-Aid when he had previously marched over to the Bexar County Commissioners Court in 2003 and demanded they REMOVE TOLLS from Hwy 151, which threatened to tank HIS OWN Westover Hills development (and personal PROFIT) on the west side. So Wender has no problem stabbing fellow businessmen who have the misfortune of being located along Loop 1604 in the back as long as TxDOT keeps tolls out of his own backyard! This sort of selfish cronyism and corruption will lead to a total revolution at the ballot box in November. Many speakers responded to Wender’s comments with total disgust, many taking offense to his cavalier attitude that “if you don’t want to pay tolls, then move closer to your job.” One speaker responded, “Not all of us have the luxury to be able to afford to live near where we work.” Why wasn’t this fact reported in the press?

Toll lane opponents call for alternatives at public meeting
Patrick Driscoll
Express-News Staff Writer

North Side residents on Tuesday pleaded with state officials, threatened a backlash at the ballot box, asked for alternatives and even offered their own solutions.

Anything to stop the Texas Department of Transportation from tolling lanes that could be added to Loop 1604, from Texas 151 on the West Side to Interstate 10 on the East Side.

“If you hear anything tonight, please know that the citizens who speak here would like to have some options offered to them, and not the idea that this is a done deal,” Barry Booth said. “Please present some other alternatives rather than just private industry offering us a solution.”

More than 175 people attended a meeting at the Live Oak Civic Center to provide input on a proposal to build four to six toll lanes on Loop 1604. Four out of five of the two dozen speakers railed against tolls, and a handful of business and political leaders touted the need.

By tolling new lanes, construction could be funded a decade or more sooner to deal with growing traffic, and waiting for a gas-tax increase is politically futile, proponents say. Motorists will still have a choice because existing lanes will remain free, they say.

“No one’s going to make anybody go on the toll lanes,” said Marty Wender, a developer and past president of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. “If we want a quality freeway system in this community that we have today and keep it going, our only choice today is toll roads.”

Drivers could pay about 14 to 16 cents a mile on Loop 1604 toll lanes, though a state survey last year tested attitudes about paying as much as double that, depending on times of day and whether people were sharing rides.

Critics say congestion relief will be available only to those who can afford to pay tolls and that everybody else will be stuck in gridlock. They suggest reversible lanes and use of shoulders during rush hours, variable speed limits and ramp metering as some ways to curb traffic.

“This is a an issue that really needs to be addressed in a different way,” said Victoria Paparelli, who said she had walked into the meeting favoring tolls on Loop 1604 until she heard other people speak. “We need the opportunity to say what we want.”

Another public meeting is scheduled from 6 to 10 p.m. today at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Convocation Center.

Toll Party Comments at Loop 1604 Meeting:

We believe there are other more affordable ways to accelerate 1604 improvements than tolling. The original plan for 1604 was only to add two additional free lanes. Now the project calls for 4 additional lanes which requires them to bulldoze our existing freeway and rebuild it. It’s a total waste of taxpayer money. The toll plan, though being billed as speeding up the improvements, will actually be more costly, will take longer, be more invasive to build, less safe, more damaging to the environment, and increase the cost to motorists for using the highway from 1-3 cents on average per mile now (under gas tax system) to 29 cents per mile (per TxDOT’s own online survey conducted by Survey Cafe September 2005) for a net increase of over $2,500 per year per motorist for a 20 mile commute.

I’ll name just a few ways to truly solve congestion without tolls: tidal flow, variable speed limits, dynamic lanes, dedicated lanes, ramp metering, and hard shoulder running (see article here). There’s examples of accelerated projects in WA, CA, & Austin–one took a 10 month project and shortened it to 9 days and saved 25% of the construction cost (see examples within presentation to auto dealers here)! Toll roads don’t solve congestion; they manipulate it for profit. No toll road works if the lanes next to it are congestion free. Houston has 83 miles of toll roads, have toll roads solved Houston’s congestion problems? From now on, you aren’t going to get freeway improvements or congestion relief unless you have an extra $2,000-4,000 a year for tolls. The non-compete agreements in these toll contracts gives the toll operator control of the free lanes which actually prohibit any expansion or improvements to the surroundings roads within a certain mile radius of the toll road (read more here).

This new tax on driving will have a devastating economic effect on businesses and consumers alike reaping both direct and indirect cost increases (higher cost of goods), particularly businesses with fleets that use our highways multiple times per day for deliveries and home values in the affected corridor. It is a known fact that people change their behavior to avoid toll roads. This is a totally unnecessary new tax with damaging economic, social, and health impacts.

TxDOT’s own studies show that improvements can be paid for 100% with bonds, so there is no reason to toll Loop 1604. TxDOT is saying the options to the public are toll it or NO IMPROVEMENTS. They are not considering the less invasive, more affordable, and less damaging options. Everyone’s gas tax money and likely public bonds will be used to erect this toll project. So it’s a massive DOUBLE TAX scheme to charge us again for something we’ve already paid for.

They plan to sell a 50 year monopoly of this PUBLIC freeway to a FOREIGN company using a CDA agreement taking what belongs to Texans and giving control of it to a foreign entity for profit. This privatizing and management of our public infrastructure by foreign companies is dangerous and is tantamount to eminent domain abuse of the worst kind.

Go to www.SATollParty.com to sign our petition. Get informed, get involved!