Sobering Silence of Transportation Commission

Friday's front page of Metro section
Friday’s front page of Metro section

It was dead silent. You could hear a pin drop when I approached the podium until I left it at the conclusion of my remarks. A small cabal of supporters, who had made the sacrifice and who had flexible enough schedules to attend a Texas Transportation Commission meeting Thursday, Feb. 23, 06, up in Austin during the work day, also attended and said, “You’ve got more guts than anyone else in that room.” Why? Because that room was filled with highway lobbyists, more than 100 industry people, Mayor Hardberger, Judge Wolff, Senator Wentworth, Rep. Ruth McClendon-Jones, half the City Council, Joe Krier of SAMCO and the Greater Chamber, Bill Thornton of the tolling authority, among others, engaging in a lovefest filled with genuflecting at the feet of one another for more than an hour. Then silence filled the room as the lone speaker for the grassroots, the taxpayer, stood to challenge them.

On behalf of Texas taxpayers, the San Antonio Toll Party presented compelling data challenging the toll plans of the Governor-appointed Texas Transportation Commission that ought to sober even the most hardened politician or bureaucrat (See the presentation for yourself here.). Between the lack of justification for making us pay tolls on freeways already built and paid for to challenging the secret 50 year toll agreements with foreign companies, there’s plenty of ammo to call for pause. We suggested reforms, very specific ones, that would go a long way to restore the public trust in the process.
1) Top to bottom review of the city’s poor planning of roads (outlined in detail in article by former city planner Dave Pasley here, which cites a lack of surface streets especially east-west arterials; can’t get out of Stone Oak without getting on 281/1604)
2) Cease pushing and insisting local communities use these public-private secret contracts called CDAs
3) Cease all toll projects until their economic impact on San Antonio is fully determined. You may think the economic impacts have already been studied prior to the wholesale shift to toll every major highway in San Antonio (and throughout Texas), but it hasn’t.

What’s driving this train is greed, corruption, and new tax revenue generation.

What’s needed is a study of the genuine impact of such a steep driver’s tax on the family budget and on toll viability in such an unstable energy market. Also the impact of an employee’s ability to get to work, the ability of businesses to retain employees, effects of sharply increasing the cost of doing of business, effects on home values and how tolls will effect population growth projections. I’ve heard from business owners in the 281/1604 corridor, and they’re very concerned about these issues since employees have already stated they will no longer head north to work if they have to pay a toll to travel efficiently. They’ve already lost substantial income to high gas prices.

Also, the personal savings rate has now dropped into the negative (See article here). For the first time since the Depression, Americans are dipping into their savings just to live day to day. When TxDOT’s own study from UT Austin shows over 70% of Texans are against the tolling of existing highways, and 51% of Texans don’t want tolls even on NEW roads, it begs the question, why does our Governor and his Transportation Commission stubbornly continue their tunnel vision and push tolls?

In fact, Chair Ric Williamson actually said, “We are loyal to Rick Perry’s vision (referring to tolls).” So anyone who still has doubts about why the Governor is tied to this, look no further. Williamson said it himself. In fact, on February 6, Governor Perry directly promoted his toll plans and his statements were on WOAI radio all day saying “tolls are the only option for San Antonio.” This is in direct contradiction to requests from two State Senators (Wentworth and Madla) and two County Commissioners (Adkisson and Larson) to install overpasses and implement TxDOT’s original already funded, non-toll plan for 281, a contradiction of TxDOT’s own documents, and a contradiction to the December 1 Express-News article (Read it here.) that proves the overpasses at the stop lights on 281 north are already paid for with gas taxes, but they’re choosing to toll you for an existing freeway instead.

Williamson who is characterized by his verbal jousting with anyone who dares to disagree on tolls, was remarkably quiet. He claimed it was because his attorney muzzled him since we are plaintiffs to pending lawsuits against them, but it seemed almost as if he and the Commissioners were in a state of shock and perhaps sobered into silence by such damning evidence. To some, you’d have to believe in miracles to believe that, but this ol’ gal’s usually a pretty good read, and I read a whole lot of embarrassment, shame, and worry (because our arguments have merit and might just prevail) on their faces.

Read the Express-News’ version of the Commission Meeting here.

Then came damage control by the powerful elites. Joe Krier, Chairman and CEO of the San Antonio Mobility Coalition and Greater Chamber, King of misinformation on SA toll roads, and plenty of others, tried to discount our facts. But you can see for yourself, they’re all substantiated (See presentation here.). Check them on TxDOT’s own web site, click on the many PDF documents on our web site collected from various public information requests and public records, comb the Comptroller’s web site and news reports. Either every government web site with transportation statistics is wrong, or Mr. Krier and his highway lobbyist friends are the ones full of bologne. What gets these guys’ goats is that THEIR numbers can’t hold up to scrutiny and the fact that ordinary citizens have figured out their shell game.

Though the article makes it appear like it was Williamson v. Hall; it’s really taxpayer vs. government. We’re the majority; they’re the minority. They’re the power brokers selling the public good for the private gain of the few, but we have the power of the ballot box and we had better use it March 7 & November 7 (See how here.). Submit a letter to the editor here in response to how the article portrays the MAJORITY’S position.