The most significant event at today’s Alamo RMA (Regional Mobility Authority or tolling authority) meeting was their vote to commit an enormous sum of taxpayer money to HNTB (engineering firm) for preliminary engineering for I-35, SH 16, & Wurzbach Parkway toll projects. First concern, Wurzbach Pkwy’s completion has been planned for 30 years and funded for 15, why are we commiting millions in taxpayer money to “study” toll lanes when it’s already paid for and has an original plan. Can you say, this is the US 281 debacle all over again?
Then, the HNTB (ie- special interest highway lobby firm coming to the public trough) presenter (whose name is no where on the agenda for the public to see) stated they could do the studies in 18 – 24 months and he PLANNED into the projects the lofty assumption that they’d only do environmental assessments (not environmental impact statements as required by law to study a highway’s impact on human health and the environment) AND he assumed they’d receive “findings of no significant impact” on all of them so they could steamroll 3 more toll roads down our throats with NO INPUT!
Thankfully, Commissioner Lyle Larson’s appointee, Former City Councilman Bob Thompson, spoke up and insisted the RMA do the full environmental impact statements (or EIS) versus the lesser environmental assessments and he recognized the need to do it primarily to get COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AND BUY-IN on these projects. While the EIS do take longer to conduct, he correctly stated that it would save them in the long run (since skirting the law has already delayed the 281 project with a lawsuit). To this bunch, public buy-in is a foreign concept! Thank you for finally injecting some sanity into the process, Mr. Thompson!
Some of the more insidious happenings…
I noted that their agenda said their would be project status updates on 281/1604 project among others and all they said was they’re in contract neogitations. So I noted that they’ve signed non-disclosure statements forbidding them from telling the public what’s in the contracts and that’s why they aren’t giving project updates on it. It’s SECRETIVE, a VIOLATION OF THE PUBLIC TRUST and an OUTRAGE! Then Jim Reid made an interesting note. He said they came up with a document last November that put sepcific limits on what these private agreements (CDAs) could have in them. He said they prohibited the non-compete clauses and some other key concessions. He promised to get it to me this week. So let’s see what they do.
Other Board members tried to assure us that they share our same concerns about the non-competes and no limits on toll rates, etc. One said they do care about public input and asked us to provide more alternatives rather than just say what they’re doing wrong. I later stated that a panel discussion on toll roads at Encino Park just last night did just that, offered at least a dozen other ways to “fix” 281 without tolling it. I tried to make the point that TxDOT’s own original solution (to put 4 overpasses at the lights) that’s nearly half the cost is all the solution that’s needed rather than tolling existing highways and, of course, they denied they were tolling existing roads. That “alternative has been on the table for 6 years, but they push that aside because that option doesn’t bring in new toll taxes!
So much for public input. They pick and choose what input they accept and implement. That’s been the problem all along!