Grassroots Coalition Issues Strong Support for Abbott’s I-35 Non-toll Expansion

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contacts: 
Terri Hall, Founder/Director
Texas TURF & Texans for Toll-free Highways
(210) 275-0640

JoAnn Fleming, Executive Director
Grassroots America – We the People PAC
(903) 360-2858

Grassroots Coalition Issues Strong Support 
for Abbott’s I-35 Non-toll Expansion
“Special interests plan to stall I-35 expansion to set Governor Abbott up
to break his no-toll promise to the people of Texas!”

 

(March 24, 2020 — Austin, Texas) Today, Texas Conservative Grassroots Coalition leaders from Grassroots America – We the People PAC, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), and Texans for Toll-free Highways released a statement strongly supporting Governor Greg Abbott and his Texas Transportation Commission’s decision to fully fund the Interstate-35 expansion through downtown Austin as non-toll. The Coalition noted the Commission has prioritized existing funding to get this major project underway without adding to the tax burden of working families.

Background: JoAnn Fleming, Executive Director of Grassroots America stated, “During his first gubernatorial campaign and throughout his administration, Governor Abbott consistently promised to fix state transportation woes without raising taxes, fees, debt, or tolls, and that’s precisely why 164 grassroots conservative political opinion leaders – influencers – representing 133 unique groups and districts across Texas – are supporting Abbott’s non-toll I-35 Expansion, which includes 12 segments on the state’s 100 Most Congested Roads List for 2019.  For Governor Abbott, it’s simply a matter of ‘Promises Made – Promises Kept.’  Now that state leaders are admitting the 87th legislative session budget process will be a painful nightmare with unfolding economic hits from the coronavirus pandemic and oil price collapse, we are stepping forward now to have the Governor’s back.”

Special Interests Working to Convince Abbott to Break His Promise: At least one group, Keep Texas Moving, funded by Texas Association of Business, criticizes Abbott for putting all of TxDOT’s discretionary money into one basket, supposedly depriving other areas of the state, but the Coalition notes that all TxDOT districts will still receive their normal levels of formula funding as programmed.

Grassroots Transportation Policy Expert Pushes Back: Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texas TURF and Texans for Toll-free Highways asserts that Keep Texas Moving has an ulterior motive — “Their backers want to stall Abbott’s non-toll expansion in favor of a tolled public private partnership (P3) or Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA). Cintra, one of the primary private toll operators in Texas just happens to sit on the board of Texas Association of Business. Pretty cozy, right?

“It’s obvious what’s going on here. A Spain-based global firm, Cintra, muscles its way onto the board of what used to be the premiere voice for Texas businesses – TAB – and forms a lobby group to sideline the Governor and one of the most significant highway projects of our generation to selfishly try, once again, to pass a bill authorizing a crony private toll road rather than allow it to be done as a freeway, using existing funding that gives access to all Texas drivers.” 

Hall adds, “Keep Texas Moving even brought on big name lobbyists with close ties to the Governor – John Colyandro, Mike Toomey, and Ray Sullivan to stall this absolutely critical project until they can lobby the Texas Legislature to bypass Abbott’s no-toll pledge to get CDA authority next session. 

“Texans have a visceral reaction to foreign corporations taking over our public highways and getting a 50-year right to gouge Texas drivers like they’re already doing in DFW with tolls that exceed $3/mile in peak hours. Fed-up Texans cannot afford this! We plan to help Gov. Abbott keep his promise.” Hall concludes.

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DOUBLE TAX: Alamo board votes to use gas taxes to put tolls on Loop 1604

On January 23, the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) board, comprised of local officials, voted to grant $326 million in YOUR federal gas taxes to plop toll lanes down the middle of Loop 1604. TxDOT can’t toll anything without the MPO’s blessing, which the MPO just granted.

The toll rates are dynamic and change in real time ranging from 18 cents a mile up to 50 cents per mile – you pay the max during peak hours! The toll lanes would stretch 22.8 miles from Bandera Rd. on the west side to I-35 on the east side (see Express-News article on it here). The excuse is there isn’t enough money to fix all our roads without tolls, despite voters giving TxDOT $5 billion more PER YEAR in NEW funds to prevent tolling.

TxDOT made sure they used up all the new funds on low priority projects instead of fixing the most congested corridors FIRST, as Gov. Greg Abbott directed them to do. Governor Abbott also campaigned saying NO MORE TOLLS! The local MPO board doesn’t care about your state government trying to restrain taxes. They want a network of toll lanes on ALL San Antonio freeways (as its managed lane report revealed at this meeting) so buses and REGISTERED carpoolers get a fast ride while making solo drivers PAY MORE to get anywhere.

What does HOV require?

HOV means High Occupancy Vehicle lanes. Yesterday, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (or ARMA, the unelected toll authority) admitted only carpools pre-approved by their government agency get a free ride in these HOV-transit-toll managed lanes. So only government-approved co-workers going to a specific daily business destination get approval for a free ride, not you and your family hopping in the HOV lanes on the way to soccer practice.

ACTION ITEM

This isn’t going to STOP unless we make it STOP, despite promises from Abbott or any other politician.

Contact your elected officials and tell them STOP using our gas taxes to build toll roads. If a road is expanded with tax money, it should stay a FREEway!

1) Contact San Antonio city councilmembers here.
2) Contact Bexar County Commissioners here.
3) Find out who your U.S. senators, U.S. congressman and state representative and state senator are here.

(NOTE: The federal officials have allowed these local MPOs to spend federal gas taxes on toll roads and use incentives to keep tolls coming, so do your STATE officials. )

WHO ARE THE CULPRITS?

The only two courageous ‘nay’ votes were Selma Councilman Kevin Hadas and New Braunfels Councilman Ron Reaves.

Elected officials who voted to spend your gas taxes on toll roads were (it was a voice vote but here’s the best list we have):

Kevin Wolff, Bexar County Commissioner
Ron Nirenberg, San Antonio City Council
Shirley Gonzales, San Antonio City Council
Roberto Trevino, San Antonio City Council
Kevin Webb, Comal County Commissioner
Kyle Kutscher, Guadalupe County Judge
Don Keil, Seguin Mayor
Chris Riley, Leon Valley Mayor
Ron Cisneros, Boerne City Council

No shows
Tommy Calvert, Bexar County Commissioner
Chico Rodriguez, Bexar County Commissioner
Ray Lopez, San Antonio City Council

The rest of the 23 member board is comprised of unelected bureaucrats who always vote to increase your taxes through tolls.

Boerne Councilman Ron Cisneros (who’s trying to get a promotion and is running for Kendall County Commissioner) actually attacked MPO Board members trying to stick up for the taxpayer and reject double taxation. Kudos to Selma Councilman Kevin Hadas for calling tolls what they are – a new tax that grow government bureaucracy.

Cisneros said he didn’t mind paying tolls. Well, what about everyone else who can’t afford it, or those who don’t want any form of double taxation or who simply don’t want another unaccountable tax or bureaucrats trying to social engineer people out of their cars and onto buses? He represents taxpayers, not himself, on this board.