After years of being the lone ranger against tolling existing freeways, Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson seems to have taken a strange turn. Most will recall Councilwoman Sheila McNeil’s remarks about Larson’s precinct, “Those people up there can afford the toll roads. The average income up there is $300,000 a year.” In days past, Larson would have been the first to defend his precinct from such inflammatory and discriminatory rhetoric (he’s called these toll roads a targeted tax on his precinct), but no more. Just hours before the December 3 vote to approve toll rates for 281 at the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Larson got on the radio and actually defended McNeil instead of taxpayers and then did the exact same thing at the MPO meeting itself.
Considering Larson stood before a crowd of more than 600 at AlzafarShrineTemple at the final 281 public hearing proclaiming that he’s adamantly opposed to ANY toll roads, his behavior in the last few months casts doubt about the credibility of his position. Case in point, Larson’s appointee to the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (tolling authority) is former City Councilman Bob Thompson, who is pro-toll and in favor of toll-taxing 281 users in Larson’s precinct to fund mass transit projects his constituents may never use.
Larson got an earful after Thompson’s remarks as he did after several other meetings where Thompson didn’t seem to square with Larson’s public position on toll roads. So naturally now that Bob Thompson’s two-year appointment is up, his constituents are asking for a toll opponent to replace Thompson on the ARMA. Larson nor his office has returned phone calls requesting a meeting to discuss possible replacements.
Over the years, Larson has also repeatedly blamed the Legislature for diverting gas tax revenues away from transportation creating the need for toll roads, and for their insistence on making local government pick-up the tab for building and maintaining STATE highways. He’s essentially asked angry taxpayers to take out their rage on the Legislature. Well, this year his constituents have a choice to vote out a pro-toll incumbent, Frank Corte, and replace him with toll opponent, Tony Kosub (www.TaxpayersforTony.com) in the Republican primary. Yet who is Larson siding with? The gas tax raiding incumbent who got us all in this mess.
They say politics makes strange bedfellows, but it sure looks like more of the same good ol’ boy club to voters when the man who they once thought was their hero promotes business as usual instead of democracy in action.
Below is Lyle Larson’s response to this article:
On Toll Roads and Transportation Infrastructure…
As a long-serving member of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Transportation Policy Board, I am convinced that transportation congestion affecting this region can be addressed without the use of toll roads. Previously, the MPO approved a Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) that provided for the construction of three overpasses at major intersections along US 281, north of 1604. These overpasses would alleviate the congestion, eliminating the need for a toll road. I intended to follow through with this plan, however, in December 2003, TxDOT passed a minute order indicating that all future capacity added to the state highway system would be tolled, if proven viable.
As former Chairman of the MPO, I take exception to the toll plan. I have a history of cooperating with TxDOT to ensure that our community’s transportation needs are fulfilled. During my tenure as an MPO board member and former Chairman, TxDOT approached me numerous times in an effort to garner additional funding and I worked actively to see that their requests were satisfied.
I worked on behalf of TxDOT to set aside 25% of the community’s portion of the Metro Mobility Fund and voted with TxDOT to make this a reality. I was one of three individuals to work closely with late State Senator Frank Madla to develop the Advanced Transportation District legislation. I have consistently been supportive of TxDOT while serving on the MPO and as if to punish me, they placed the entire starter toll system in Precinct 3.
I have worked diligently to provide local funding for this community, and in return, my constituents are being forced to pay tolls in order to subsidize other transportation projects countywide. For this reason, I will never be supportive of the toll project in my precinct.
Where I Stand…
Since the inception of the of the Texas Department of Transportation’s starter toll plan for Bexar County, I have been one of its most outspoken opponents. My stance on this issue is widely known throughout the community as I have actively promoted an alternative to the toll plan, prior to the existence of the San Antonio Toll Party.
In addition to consistently voting against all toll projects that have come before the MPO Transportation Policy Board, I also worked to get a bill filed in the state legislature which intended to prohibit legislators from diverting funds from the Fund Six, the State Gas Tax Fund. Furthermore, I have repeatedly approached legislators on both the state and federal level to assist in whatever way possible to use overpasses, instead of tolls, to alleviate congestion on 281.
Despite the fact that many members of the business community have disagreed with my opposition to toll roads, I have consistently represented the interests of my constituents.
Prior to making an appointment to any County board or commission, I evaluate each candidate based on several factors including attendance, possible conflicts of interests, rationale for decisions and motive for serving. Several people have indicated an interest in serving on the RMA Board and I will interview all applicants for appointment and plan to evaluate each one thoroughly.
Separately, as Chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Board, I worked to ensure that the IH-10/Loop 410 Interchange and the I-37/Loop 410 Interchange projects were made possible.
Clearly, transportation is a paramount issue for all levels of government and, as your Congressman, I will be committed to making transportation issues a top priority, ensuring that we invest federal money in infrastructure so we can avoid catastrophes like the collapse of the I-35 W bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota last year.
On Political Debate…
It is unfortunate that Terri Hall has chosen to attack the individual who has led the charge to prevent toll roads in Bexar County. I have actively and dutifully worked to address this community’s transportation needs and have never wavered in my opposition to toll roads in my precinct. Long before the founding of the San Antonio Toll Party, prior to Terri Hall’s move to Texas, I have attempted, from every angle, to address traffic congestion without the use of tolls.
It is also unfortunate that Mrs. Hall has elected to criticize my relationships with other public servants in Bexar County. In response to my relationship with Frank Corte, we disagree on the issue of tolls roads; however, we have worked together on a number of other issues throughout the years. I consider Frank a personal friend and have a great respect for his military and public service, as well as his Christian values. I don’t believe in disposing of friends over a single issue.
I also work closely with Sheila McNeil, as we are both Co-Chairs of the Bexar County Military Transformation Task Force. In order to work with other elected officials to achieve great things for a community, it is not prudent to burn bridges over one issue. Although Sheila and I disagree on some issues, I respect her commitment to public service.
I respectfully request that Mrs. Hall refrain from making any additional derogatory and disparaging comments about me. I believe that this debate should be continue to be held in a respectful manner, without personal attacks and allegations.
Can someone please point out what was disrespectful, disparaging, or derogatory about my comments? There is no bigger issue in Larson’s precinct than toll roads. Many neighborhoods will be completely landlocked by toll roads. How does he achieve “no toll roads” by supporting the very people who repeatedly vote to toll his precinct? Also, how does he achieve “no toll roads” with a pro-toll appointee to the RMA who advocates a Robin Hood scheme of charging taxpayers twice for the same stretch of road in order to fund mass transit? How is that logical or good public policy?
I factually stated observations not only made by me, but by many of his constituents. Throw Jeff Wentworth in the mix, and Larson is supporting three politicians who have repeatedly voted to toll his precinct. Wentworth is doing radio ads for Larson…let’s remember that every time we got our roads in the toll moratorium bills (HB 1892 & SB 792), Wentworth stripped them out. Wentworth has taken a heap of cash from the highway lobby and has worked off and on for the law firm that represents Zachry and road contractors.
Who’s attacking whom here? It’s fine to do one’s best to get along with friends and work with colleagues, but when they repeatedly stab your constituents in the back (on an issue you claim to champion) and then you line-up with politicians instead of one’s constituents, there is a HUGE disconnect. The voters may just remedy that March 4.