Media coverage of MPO boundary extension fiasco

Link to Express News articles here and here.

Transportation authority making cities nervous
By Patrick Driscoll
October 28, 2008

New Braunfels, Seguin, Boerne and other fast-growing pockets north of San Antonio are becoming too big to be without a transportation-planning umbrella to guide how federal dollars are spent, officials say.But many residents in those communities nervously eye San Antonio’s Metropolitan Planning Organization as a 500-pound gorilla looking to expand its territory. The agency’s eagerness to toll new highway lanes doesn’t help.

“It scares Comal County to death,” New Braunfels Mayor Bruce Boyer told the San Antonio planning board Monday.

Boyer and Comal County Judge Danny Scheel, who also spoke, have ruled out tolling as a way to pay for road lanes.

They said they haven’t had time to reach any decisions on starting up a federal planning process.

“We don’t have enough information yet,” Boyer said.

MPO Director Sid Martinez said federal regulations indicate that the agency’s jurisdiction — which covers Bexar County, Selma, Schertz and Cibolo — should already include an urbanizing Hill Country swath stretching from Boerne to Seguin.

Growth projections for the next quarter century show enough population density to bring in all of Comal and Guadalupe counties now, he said.

At the very least, New Braunfels could be forced to form its own MPO after 2010 census results are released, Martinez said. But federal rules discourage the creation of adjacent planning groups, which means Hill Country areas could be thrust into San Antonio’s planning orbit anyway.

“It’s difficult to allow two MPOs in this region,” he said.

But for now, not wanting to push those communities into San Antonio’s MPO, the board voted 10-2 to ask them to join.

“It’s important to have you here to help us,” said San Antonio City Councilwoman Diane Cibrian, who sits on the board.

Voting against the measure were Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson and state Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, who are critical of toll roads and the board’s inclusion of non-elected members.

“This MPO can cram down more garbage in the throat of the community than you can imagine,” Adkisson told the New Braunfels mayor. “We do not want to consume you.”

October 28, 2008
New Braunfels cringes in San Antonio’s shadow
By Pat Driscoll
The first thing the New Braunfels mayor said was that he hoped his comments wouldn’t be taken as adversarial.

Coming from a politician, that’s like saying please don’t look for fire just because there’s smoke.

Mayor Bruce Boyer then told the San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization board that its Monday meeting had come as a surprise. Specifically, the shocker was the agency’s scheduled vote to pursue adding Comal and Guadalupe counties to its jurisdiction.

“We didn’t even know about this meeting,” Boyer said. “Nobody notified the city of New Braunfels, or the county for that matter.”

He meant nobody from San Antonio had told him anything.

On a tip from state Rep. Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde, and heat from dozens of e-mails a day from worried constituents, Boyer and Comal County Judge Danny Scheel on Monday traveled some 60 miles — round trip — to put a voice to concerns about being swallowed by the transportation-planning gorilla to the south.

Bruce Boyer

Among the issues:

• Much of San Antonio’s leadership is gaga over toll roads. Boyer and Scheel decidedly are not.

• The few seats that Hill Country communities would get on the San Antonio MPO board would be watered down by many other seats, which now total 19.

• Comal County officials haven’t had time to digest the federal regulations and population projections that will dictate how some sort of MPO blanket will eventually cover an urbanizing Hill Country.

• San Antonio has been discussing a boundary expansion since at least last year but communication to northern neighbors has so far been sparse.

• Many Comal County residents feel they’re about to get trampled on.

Several MPO board members assured Boyer that they wouldn’t absorb his city against popular wishes. Nevertheless, agency Director Sid Martinez said federal rules could force the matter after the 2010 Census is released.

As politicians are often wont, exchanges were kept professional, even friendly.

“This is a two-way street,” Boyer declared near the end of his visit. “I want to invite everybody to Wurstfest.”

Link to Herald-Zeitung article here.

Officials voice MPO concerns
By Chris Cobb
The Herald-Zeitung
October 28, 2008
SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization is pushing to absorb New Braunfels and Comal County.

The San Antonio MPO’s Transportation Policy Board voted Monday to formally begin the process of persuading nearby local governments to agree to join the transportation authority.

MPO Director Isidro “Sid” Martinez said during the meeting that expanding its boundaries to include all of Comal and Guadalupe counties would make the MPO “stronger as we go the state and federal government for grants.”

Created in 1962 by the Federal Highway Act, an MPO is a government mandated organization in cities with more than 50,000 residents, designed to plan for future urban growth and help allocate federal and state transportation funds.

Some local leaders are worried that agreeing to come under the umbrella of the San Antonio MPO would hinder New Braunfels’ and Comal County’s ability to receive those funds, as they would have one voice on a 19-member board.

“I’m concerned with the enormity of (the San Antonio MPO),” said Comal County Judge Danny Scheel. “Having one seat on that board would jeopardize the transportation future of our county. Having served on several other boards that shared funds with the city of San Antonio, we are always on the short end of that stick.”

All local governments in either Comal or Guadalupe counties would have to agree to become a part of the San Antonio MPO.

Martinez said population projections in the next 20 years would put sufficient density in between San Antonio and New Braunfels to justify it being a part of the organization.

New Braunfels Mayor Bruce Boyer addressed the transportation board Monday, saying that while the city would like to be involved in regional planning, it also would like to study and weigh its options before consenting to join any MPO.

“I don’t know that we’re in a position yet to make that determination,” he said.

Both he and Scheel said they feared joining the MPO also could leave them vulnerable to the possibility of new toll roads in the county, something each has lobbied against in the past.

“I have a real problem with representatives from other counties deciding my county’s future transportation needs,” Scheel said.

The number of residents required to form a planning organization is based on census data. The next census will take place in 2010. Once that information is available, New Braunfels likely will be officially above 50,000 in population and could form its own MPO, or possibly combine with Guadalupe County to form a two-county planning organization, provided it meets federal requirements.

The transportation board’s vote — which passed 10-2, with one abstention — only gives the MPO the official go-ahead to begin talking with local governments about possibly joining.

Sheila McNeil, the chair of the MPO’s transportation board, assured Boyer that cities such as New Braunfels would have a say in the final outcome.

“Our decision will be based on your decision,” she said.