Munoz at RMA: "There's money everywhere!"

Ready for some more fodder to get your blood boiling?

Try this….Henry Munoz, I believe he’s Commissioner Chico Rodriguez’ appointee, stated this while trying to get a handle on where and how to fund these toll projects even with the private money (since NONE of the plans pay to build the toll lanes, tolls only cover operation and maintenance…and profit!): “There’s money everywhere (meaning federal sources, state sources, etc.), it’s just a matter of finding it and applying it to the right project.” Of course, this money only drops out of the sky to build toll roads, not free roads! See the shell game going on here? Then, the presenter from Estrada Hinojosa said this choice quote: “Design it to maximize the amount of traffic taking the toll road.” He repeated several times that the purpose of these toll projects is to maximize revenue. Thank you, Mr. Gonzales, for so blatantly confirming what we’ve known all along! There really isn’t a true non-toll option; there’s just economic misery and more misery for options!

Executive Director Terry Brechtel and Chair Bill Thornton also stated repeatedly that the Alamo RMA is quickly running out of loan money and that they’ll need more, lots more for what they have to do in order to start getting their own revenue. How you may ask? Tolls, of course. This agency spends its LOANED taxpayer money like it grows on trees without ANY revenue stream of its own. That’s the trouble with bureaucracies, they keep getting fed! When Bob Thompson, Commissioner Larson’s appointee, tried to call them on spending $1,000 a month on legal fees for a lawyer (the one who redefined “existing road”…that earned his keep alright!) who has done next to NOTHING for the last year, Brechtel’s answer: “We’ll be needing to spend a lot more in coming months.”

So much for CDAs (public private partnerships…ie- the secret deals) speeding up highway projects. The review of the CDA proposals take one year, then the next step (request for detailed proposals) takes another year, then the notice to proceed with the project after that! So on 281, the earliest they’d let a contract is 2008! Just more proof that these secret toll deals aren’t about accelerating projects or congestion relief (that’s the PR angle to “sell” them), they’re about REVENUE GENERATION and a whole new DRIVER’S TAX to benefit foreign toll operators!

Then as diplomatically as he could, Chair Bill Thornton stated the Wurzbach Parkway project that has had the funding, design, and even environmental clearance 10-15 years ago, has to now be re-done due to design “flaws.” The original design was apparently so driver “unfriendly,” they’re insisting upon a re-design. The new design requires purchase of yet MORE right of way and more delays…apparently 30 years hasn’t been long enough to get that road finished!

HNTB, the engineering firm who was just awarded the $6.5 million for preliminary engineering for 3 toll projects (I-35, Wurzbach, Bandera Rd.), gave a presentation on NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, that was the law TxDOT violated on the 281 project. Board members heard two key words and latched on…the social and human impact of these projects. To the public, that means the social and human impact of economic hardship and double taxation to drive on existing highways like emotional stress of sitting on permenantly congested free lanes, the time TxDOT and the City are already stealing from us through traffic signal manipulation and project delays to turn it into a toll road instead of putting in less invasive and quicker overpasses, the noise, the increased pollution, damage to property values, unequal access to roads we’ve all paid for, damage to the aquifer, etc.

BUT to Christina Rodriguez (appointed by Judge Wolff) it meant the opposite. To her it was an excuse to say once again, “It’s tolls or sit in traffic and risk heart attacks!” (I’m not making this up!). Oh my, how shrill! She went on a rant about the human and social impacts of doing nothing vs. the silver bullet of tolls. She apparently fails to remember every RMA meeting we’ve attended since last summer when we’ve vocally reminded the Board DOING NOTHING is NOT an option; we expect them to implement the ORIGINAL, ALREADY FUNDED plan for overpasses at the lights on 281 and keep our FREEway FREE! So expect to hear Thornton and others tout the equivalent of this: “if we don’t toll that road, people are going to die from heart attacks sitting in the current congestion!” NEVER MIND WE’RE ONLY SITTING IN CONGESTION BECAUSE TXDOT DELAYED THE PROJECT TO TURN IT INTO A TOLL ROAD AND HAND IT OVER TO CINTRA-ZACHRY! The absurdity is astounding…do they honestly expect any THINKING person to buy into this twisted logic?

What a difference a month makes! Last meeting we sat here and continued to hear how the 281 toll road was a done deal and now the toll road that couldn’t be stopped has been halted! Mr. Thornton is fond of quoting the RMA’s push poll financed with tax money saying 67% of Stone Oak wants a toll road, acting like it’s a genuine reflection of the people of Bexar County. Well, scientific or not, the San Antonio Business Journal saw fit to publish an article about the OVERWHELMING opposition to private toll road plans for Bexar County Monday, it was 74% against and only 20% in favor. Even your push poll, when you actually interpret a particular question correctly also showed 27% wanted toll lanes and 74% didn’t.

So why are you still sitting here pursuing multibillion projects that are enormously unpopular, that will likely change the leadership in Austin, and could easily fail altogether? If travel and growth projections are incorrect, as they were on the Camino Columbia Toll Road in Laredo, who will bail them out? The taxpayers. As we witnessed at the last meeting, you are tasked with being a mini-TxDOT and were essentially created to sell bonds. The Legislature didn’t fund you and now you’re allocating loaned toll equity grants to HNTB to the tune of $6.5 million dollars with no way to pay it back without charging us tolls. And this was while there has been a steadily rising drumbeat of public opposition with legitimate questions surrounding the financing of this entity and these toll projects, yet you press on, shall I venture to say, foolishly.

Let me re-cap what’s gone on in just the last month:
TxDOT, who Mr. Thornton calls your “natural partner,” has broken the law on the 281 project, has demonstrated total ineptitude on the first toll project as well as fiscal mismanagement that some would say is tantamount to fraud. You’re negotiating toll formulas with two foreign companies in SECRET for freeways we’ve already paid for. TxDOT holds a CDA Workshop putting over 1,000 people in the highway lobby on notice that private Texas land taken through eminent domain is up for sale for private gain. Then just yesterday, TxDOT wrapped up their bond buyers party in Austin promoting CDAs for which there are only preliminary guidelines as to their use.

Frank Holzman at TxDOT tells a group of citizens at Encino Park ON CAMERA that what I drive on today will be tolled, while Joe Krier of SAMCO gets on KTSA radio and states the complete opposite proclaiming what I drive on today will NOT be tolled. The City of San Antonio has admitted they’ve tweaked the timing of the stop lights on 281 to steal motorists valuable time to perhaps make them cry “Uncle” in hopes of getting us to beg for a toll road. Christina De La Cruz said TxDOT gave the City new traffic counts for 281 while Tom Wendorf states in a letter to Commissioner Larson that traffic has essentially stayed the same, then the City goes out of its way to deny it touched the lights at all, and we’re supposed to believe you’re acting in the public’s best interest? It’d be a JOKE if it weren’t so absolutely serious. What’s happening is deception, lies, half truths, and highway robbery, and it’s nothing short of criminal!

You may sit there and proclaim you share our concerns and act like we have every reason to trust you with our best interests, but the PUBLIC isn’t buying it; its’ a disgrace and this fraud is going to stop. Our grassroots citizens are building a coalition that will see to it!

NOTE: TXDOT PUBLIC MEETINGS ASKING FOR ALTERNATIVES ON 281 SET FOR MARCH! (We’ll post dates as soon as we know them).