Overpass to nowhere, a stimulus bill fiasco


AGUA/TURF question status of 281/1604 interchange, stimulus funds

San Antonio, TX, February 23, 2009 – AGUA and TURF have concerns about the status of the 281/1604 interchange in light of the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPO) vote today to submit it as a “shovel ready” project for stimulus funds.

“While we welcome ANY non-toll funding to FINALLY complete these projects, we have to ask…what will this interchange connect with? Toll lanes or non-toll lanes? Will it only connect with what’s there now or what? How can they build an interchange without knowing what sort of lanes it’ll connect with?” Terri Hall, Founder of TURF, asks.

Enrique Valdivia, President of the Board of Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (AGUA) wondered, ”We’re concerned that stimulus money is being used to fund projects within the scope of the issues we’ve raised in our lawsuit.”

Hall says the non-toll fix to 281 and1604 and the interchange should all be on the table. While the toll road clearance has been pulled, there are provisions in the law that would allow all these improvements to move forward as scaled down non-toll projects if the politicians would demand that TxDOT work with community groups to agree on a less invasive, more affordable plan.

“Until now, TxDOT and the RMA have REFUSED to negotiate. They want a massive toll road that steals our freeway and raids our wallets,” Hall said.

Citizens have been clamoring to get the original, non-toll freeway plan built on 281 for 4 years, and they have recently launched a campaign to pressure politicians in the area to get the job done. View it here. The freeway fix was promised in public hearings in 2001, had environmental clearance, no opposition, and it was funded with gas taxes in 2003. Then the Texas Legislature, including State Rep. Frank Corte and Sen. Jeff Wentworth, voted for Governor Rick Perry’s toll road plans. That’s when 281 FREEway improvements were turned into a toll plan instead.

“It’s all about the money. Our politicians want to tap the vein and charge 281 commuters an extra tax to get to work in order to fund their pet projects elsewhere. It’s highway robbery and citizens, rightly, went nuclear to stop it,” Hall declared.

Though the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) and TxDOT stubbornly claim there is no money or environmental clearance to fix 281, [the money is still there in Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) documents], $425 million total, which is more than enough for the less invasive original plan AND the interchange at 281/1604 and the most congested areas of 1604.

“The stalemate over 281 isn’t about lack of money or lack of clearance, it’s about a lack of political will. It’s about rogue bureaucrats and unresponsive politicians who can magically produce $20 million for an overpass for wealthy campaign donors in the Dominion, yet they’d have us believe the same ‘can’t’ be done on 281. The pathway to a solution the taxpayers and environmental groups are happy with is ripe for the picking, but our politicians refuse to choose it. They want our money, and they don’t care about the environment or whose lives’ they’re wrecking to do it,” Hall noted.