Sparks fly at MPO as TxDOT cuts road congestion projects

Link to articles here and here. Note one of the best lines at yesterday’s MPO was from Commissioner Lyle Larson who said dealing with TxDOT and their constantly changing “now you see it now you don’t” tactics on funding vital projects, along with a long string of lies, half truths, and broken promises, is like “dealing with a snake oil salesman.” Here, here! Be sure you catch this outstanding editorial that summarizes how we got here very well. Catch the Toll Party comments that take on the San Antonio Mobility Coalition’s (SAMCo) presentation here.

Planning board members miffed at stalled road projects
By Patrick Driscoll
Express-News
08/27/2007

City Councilwoman Diane Cibrian got testy when she heard about the latest highway projects getting axed.County Commissioner Lyle Larson carped about vital projects falling by the wayside.

And Texas Department of Transportation officials spread the blame on why $57 million worth of work to widen three local highways must be scuttled in fiscal year 2008. It’s two-thirds of what was planned.

Cash doesn’t flow like it used to, not with inflation for construction materials and workers skyrocketing 73 percent over the past five years, TxDOT officials on Monday told the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which allocates federal gas tax funds in San Antonio.

“Inflation is just eating our lunch,” said David Casteel of TxDOT, who along with Cibrian and Larson is a member of the 19-member planning board.

TxDOT officials are paranoid about letting existing roads and bridges deteriorate further, and to keep up they will have to slash $965 million from congestion relief projects statewide and pour it into maintenance work.

San Antonio’s share of cuts will delay three projects:

$38 million to add lanes on Interstate 10 from Huebner Road to Loop 1604.

$10 million to widen Loop 1604 to four lanes from FM 78 to Lower Seguin Road.

$9 million to widen FM 3009 to four lanes from Interstate 35 to Nacogdoches Road.

“I’m deeply concerned,” Cibrian said. “Development is coming from absolutely everywhere. We cannot sustain this kind of traffic.”

She demanded to know why work on I-10 hadn’t already started and why the project was targeted in the cutbacks.

TxDOT engineer Clay Smith said a 2005 lawsuit to stop construction of toll lanes on U.S. 281 had inadvertently forced the state to redo environmental studies for several area roadways. The new I-10 lanes would link to both tolled and free ramps at Loop 1604.

Now the $38 million price tag tops the $29 million that TxDOT will have next year for widening local highways, he said.

Larson, still miffed about TxDOT killing a plan several years ago for three miles of freeway and a non-toll overpass on U.S. 281 and replacing it with a proposed tollway, warned the board not to let the newest cuts slip into oblivion. “These have to roll over and be pushed prior to any other project,” he said.

When the board heard from the public, toll critic Terri Hall of San Antonio Toll Party blasted Smith for blaming the lawsuit on delaying projects.

She said TxDOT stalled U.S. 281 work years before the lawsuit so the freeway plan could be converted to a tollway. “It is simply because TxDOT wants to tax-toll us for the rest of our lives out there.”

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This next story below doesn’t tell the whole exchange between Councilwoman Sheila McNeil and Representative David Leibowitz. Rep. Leibowitz did more than ask why, he said if someone has a beef with a member of the Board, they should be able to address them directly. Ever heard of free speech, Ms. McNeil? When TxDOT operates in secrecy, doesn’t tell the truth, and wants to enact oppressive toll taxation on roads already built and paid for, the citizens have few opportunities to share their grievances face to face, and even then, are usually confined to 3 minutes during Citizens to be Heard.

Nothing in our comments were personal attacks. Rather, we were using TxDOT’s own documents to publicly shame them for defrauding the public and to call them out on their lies. Frankly, they need more than just a few minutes of flack, they need to be prosecuted for illegally using taxpayer money!

More road cuts, more heat
By Pat Driscoll
Express-News
August 28, 2007
The Texas Department of Transportation, tasked with delivering another round of bad news to the local Metropolitan Planning Organization, took a beating Monday.

County Commissioner Lyle Larson, a critic of the state shifting roadway costs to local governments, got in a couple of swift jabs at a meeting of the MPO board on which he sits.

Talking about what he said was an understanding that TxDOT would reimburse the county in full to widen roads such as Culebra and Blanco, but which later turned into a promise to repay some of the costs, he said:

It’s like we’re negotiating with snake-oil salesman.

Ouch.

TxDOT officials didn’t reply.

After a short video was shown of a recent meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees TxDOT, he said:

Was that Satan’s den we were looking at?

That actually got some chuckles from other board members.

But when Terri Hall of San Antonio Toll Party addressed the board and laid into a TxDOT engineer over who stalled what on U.S. 281 plans, City Councilwoman Sheila McNeil, chairing her second MPO board meeting, came to the rescue.

“Ms. Hall, Ms. Hall,” McNeil interjected to get her attention. “Can you address the chair please?”

State Rep. David Leibowitz, who joined the board last month after nudging by Hall to steer him to a vacancy, asked why.

McNeil said it was to avoid personal attacks.

“I prefer that they address the chair,” she said.

Meanwhile, facing construction inflation that has galloped 73 percent over the last five years and almost a billion dollars in federal takebacks from Texas that last spring delayed $132 million worth of highway work over the next decade in San Antonio, TxDOT officials on Monday unveiled the latest cutbacks.

In an effort to keep roads and bridges from deteriorating further, money for congestion-relief projects in fiscal 2008 will be shifted to maintenance, officials said. San Antonio’s share of the cuts will delay three projects worth $57 million, two-thirds of what was planned, which is less than losses in Houston, Dallas and Austin.

For more, see these reports:

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