Toll Party asks MPO to reject TxDOT's mythical "funding gap"

Toll Party MPO Statement
MPO TMMP Plan based on flawed projections
Plan would require more than $10,000 in NEW TAXES for EVERY person in San Antonio

Thousands of San Antonians ask you to vote NOT to approve the Texas Metropolitan Mobility Plan (TMMP) Plan Update in its current form and seriously evaluate the SMP projects in the TIP to reverse the trend of this MPO being at the bottom of the list of MPOs for STP-MM spending for transit, pedestrian, and bicycle facilities. At least 5% of the STP-MM funds should be set aside for transit purposes so that VIA can accommodate the growth in ridership. Since highway use is declining, this is a rational use of resources.

Now about the traffic projections in the TMMP report. The figures used as the basis for all of the region’s future transportation plans, are flawed. The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) is actually withholding its congestion index for this year to rework their faulty approach since at least three states no longer recognize TTI’s index as valid.

TTI index is flawed because:
• Uses estimates not actual measurements
• Too many assumptions to convert limited traffic counts into annual travel delay for a region
• CA, FL, WA prefer to measure actual travel times and actual delays rather than use TTI estimates
• No correlation with highway supply
• TTI has, itself, abandoned their own approach – no report this year

From what we can tell, the entire TMMP report is based upon these flawed congestion projections. Secondly, the travel time index is problematic in and of itself since we’ll likely NEVER be able to build enough freeway lanes to allow every motorist a free flowing commute at top speeds during peak hours as is the stated goal on page 13 when over million people pack the freeways all at once to go to work. Since that’s the stated baseline comparison for the travel time index, it, too, is unrealistic and far too costly, if not impossible to actually achieve.

In fact, Toll Road News, a pro-toll news site by Peter Samuel, published a piece that says this about traffic forecasts and planners:

“Accurate forecasts do not serve their (planners) purposes because they are more interested in using numbers to promote the project…forecasting results in a make-believe world of misrepresentation that makes it extremely difficult to decide which projects deserve undertaking and which do not.”

It goes on to say forecasts should be reviewed by independent auditors, benchmarked against comparables, SUBJECT TO PUBLIC SCRUTINY, and even suggested forecasters should share financial responsibility for financial failure from poor forecasts, and that professional and even criminal penalties should be enforced against forecasters who consistently or wilfully misforecast.

Houston transportation analyst Barry Klein and economist Yacov Zachavi rightly point out that congestion is more perception than anything else and it is also self-limiting. People find a way to resolve it on their own. Commuters either move closer to the their jobs, get new jobs closer to home, or telecommute one or more days a week or otherwise reduce the number of commute days per week if congestion is perceived as unacceptable. Truth is, San Antonio’s average commute time is under 30 minutes and has been under 30 minutes for years (a trend found throughout the country). See in the article The Myth of the Long Commute by Randal O’Toole of the Thoreau Institute in Oregon that “Rational commuters will sooner or later seek to escape congestion by changing the location of their homes and/or their jobs.”

San Antonio ranks number 5 in lanes miles per person in the country. We DO NOT LACK roads. This report claims we need over 2,000 more lane miles per person in the next 25 years. That’s absurd on its face! We lack proper planning and proper development of arterial streets to minimize the need to get on a freeway in order to get around. We shouldn’t be seeing school busses on freeways! The TMMP update even admits that San Antonians have to rely more on freeway travel than other cities. When comparing with national data, San Antonians, in fact, have to drive 19% more than citizens in other metro cities and thus spend $854 million on transportation than other residents of large cities.

The emphasis of this report is to just keep building more and more freeways (giving only lip service to other modes of transportation), thereby exacerbating the very problem you’re seeking to solve! Also, the City and County have given developers a free pass on impact fees that would require them to foot a portion of the bill for the infrastructure needs their new development brings to our area. We, the taxpayers, cannot continue to absorb the cost of development. This issue absolutely must be addressed in order to truly solve the transportation needs of the region. Just ask a now unseated State Rep. for the Boerne area what caused many voters to turn on her in that region? She would not vote to make developers pay impact fees causing staggering property tax rates in Kendall County.

So let’s look at other causes of congestion. The top 3 reasons for congestion in this country aren’t due to lack of road capacity but accidents, ROAD CONSTRUCTION, and weather. The construction time alone for these projects will clog up our highways with unrelieved gridlock all over town for decades. What is absolutely unbelievable is how TxDOT is bragging it has more projects under contract than ever in the history of SA right now, and yet also claims they’re out of money. Apparently the new funding bringing us from $2.6 billion up to $3.8 billion (as stated on Page 4) isn’t enough. It’s clear it’ll NEVER be enough for TxDOT unless it includes toll roads.

Also, they’re jacking up nearly every parallel road in the City all at once leaving no alternate routes in some cases. San Pedro, Broadway, and Blanco Road (all parallel to US 281) are under construction all at once. It’s inexcusable and shows a total lack of consideration for motorists and residents who rely on those arteries to get around.

It only gives more fodder to those of us who believe TxDOT appears to be purposely CAUSING CONGESTION TO PUSH A POLITICAL AGENDA and is more beholden to road builders than the taxpayers who pay the bills. Ft. Worth for instance, spent a year beefing up parallel roads and public transit before a major freeway reconstruction project. Why isn’t TxDOT doing that here? They should have at least completed Wurzbach Pkwy before breaking ground on the 410/281 interchange. It’s been planned and funding programmed for decades…the residents were promised the completion more than 10 years ago. Then to make matters worse, they tear-up Isom Rd that’s parallel to 410 at the same time the interchange at 281 is under construction and causing more delays than ever in that area. Dave Pasley’s editorial last December echoes our concerns and solutions:

There are “deep flaws in the city’s political and development practices.”
“Ten years ago there was excess capacity on 281 & 1604. Today there is gridlock. How is it possible to screw up these two highway corridors so badly in just 10 years? How can a city without enough traffic to warrant an HOV lane suddenly have so much congestion it needs a toll road?”
1. Complete the Wurzbach Parkway ASAP.
2. Make San Antonio developers provide a network of arterial streets as they do in Phoenix.

Just take a good hard look at this actual toll road that is exactly what TxDOT plans to do on Loop 1604 and 281 (except on 281 those free lanes will be frontage roads, not freeway lanes, under the control of Cintra-Zachry). This will not solve congestion as the TMMP seeks to do, nor will it reduce pollution or do anything other than manipulate congestion for profit and suck-up yet more of the household budget for transportation costs.

A study conducted by the Surface Transportation Project published in June of 2005 shows the two biggest costs for every household since 1984 are housing and transportation and account for 52% of the average family’s budget (or $21,213 a year)…the highest level in 20 years! Now compare that with the median income in San Antonio of only about $36,000 a year and compare it with TxDOT’s claim they need $40,000 from the average family in San Antonio in the next 25 years, and you’ll see this will not only cripple the economy, it’ll tax people into bankruptcy. Their plan is unrealistic and totally unsustainable!

Census data and this study show that healthcare and food combined don’t even match the transportation costs of the average family and this data was collected BEFORE the rise in price of gasoline!

Key Findings in the study:
– Households in regions that have invested in public transportation reap financial benefits from having affordable transportation options, even as gasoline prices rise.
Lower income households are particularly burdened by higher transportation costs since these expenditures claim a higher percentage of their budgets even if they are spending less.
Regions with public transit are losing less per household from the increase in gas prices than those without due to investments by federal, state, and local governments in more efficient transportation systems, effectively lowering household transportation expenditures and converting transportation dollars that would otherwise leave the region in the form of higher payments for gasoline to dollars that help pay for local transportation services plus other household expenses.

An overwhelming number of news reports and research studies show that increasing the cost of transportation hurts the economy, including recent testimony from former Fed Chief Alan Greenspan. You cannot grow an economy by increasing the cost of transportation. With gas prices hovering near $3 a gallon and well over that in parts of the state, we are seeing actual data (not assumptions, forecasts, or anecdotal water cooler chats), ACTUAL DATA from the Federal Highway Administration that show that driving is going down and congestion is going down, not up as TxDOT continually claims.

Next, concerned citizens are adamant about removing TxDOT’s version of toll lanes (in the hands of foreign companies, without accountability to taxpayers, and using existing rights of way) from the current plans and any reliance on or endorsement of the widely detested Trans Texas Corridor.

Since the TMMP Update is to identify unmet needs, and we’ve demonstrated how the traffic and congestion indexes are flawed, and how the report does not take other prevailing financially constraining factors into account (like rising price of gasoline, growth rate tapering off, increased transit ridership) that will mitigate congestion, now let’s move into how toll roads cost more than non-toll projects thereby calling into question this claim of $18 billion in unmet “needs.”

First of all, in an August 20 article in the Austin American Statesman it said “The state Transportation Department’s budget has tripled since 1990, including an 80 percent jump from the budget Perry inherited from George W. Bush to this year’s $7.7 billion spending plan.” The Comptroller has stated “this biennium, TxDOT has $15.2 BILLION to spend – up from $7 billion before Perry was promoted to Governor. That is a whopping $8.2 billion more – a 117 percent increase. Perry admits in the Statesman article that they’re using dollar figures gleaned by asking local transportation planners what they would build if money were no object in order to arrive at their outrageous $86 billion supposed “funding gap.” Couldn’t we all come up with exorbitant figures if money were no object? This whole funding gap claim is tantamount to propaganda!

Then, let’s look at a local project. The ORIGINAL plan for 281, 10 lanes and $100 million, now as a toll road 16 lanes and upwards of $200 million. RMA Chair Bill Thornton even claimed it would cost even more than $300 million! On another project, the cost of the toll equipment doubled the cost of building the road. Project after project, we’ve found the same thing…we’re being charged close to twice as much or more to build TxDOT’s version of toll roads, not to mention the 25-35% more in bureaucracy and administration costs to collect tolls, even electronically, and then the 12-19% profit for the private companies.

TxDOT’s “needs” are wish lists by the Governor’s own admission and the local mythical “funding gap” figure of $18 billion ought to be outright rejected and open to public scrutiny before adoption. To put it in perspective, that’s like saying they need more than $10,000 from every man, woman, and child in San Antonio in the next 25 years…that’s from every person in San Antonio, not just motorists, and that’s $40,000 from a family of 4! These figures are absolutely ABSURD and give you more than enough reason to reject it on its face.

Clearly, there are a host of ways to relieve congestion without adding 2,000 more lane miles and 73+ miles of toll lanes. The increased reliance on tolls to fund all these supposed needs are based on flawed projections and indexes. Two state sponsored reports, already vetted by TxDOT in 1999 and 2001 show realistic, less invasive, and more affordable ways to relieve congestion on I-35 and to replace the need for the Trans Texas Corridor through accelerating the Ports to Plains Plan through West Texas to aid in the growing need to transport goods through the State without taking the richest farmland in Texas for the TTC.

Page 23 of the TMMP Update admits that the new inland Port of San Antonio at Kelly is a new destination for massive increases in international trade and a conduit for goods for much of the Nation’s commerce, so why aren’t you insisting the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT help pay for this infrastructure and not disproportionately burden the Texas taxpayer? Also, there is no mention of Prop 1 rail bonds as a revenue source for the $1 billion in rail relocation costs nor the mention of a deal to develop and construct the TTC-35 rail project already in the works with Cintra-Zachry announced in March. San Antonio taxpayers should NOT be expected to pay an additional $1 billion for the relocation of PRIVATE rail lines, for the deregulated rail industry who has recently enjoyed an 83% boost in profits! We have a host of alternatives listed on our web site, many with identified funding sources.

The most recent traffic counts TxDOT has are from 2004, before the significant rise in gas prices. They’re using outdated data that doesn’t take a MAJOR shift in fuel prices into consideration. The planned population growth is all on the outskirts of the City, with people now more than ever needing to live closer to their jobs due to gas prices, that growth projection is likely never to materialize. TxDOT’s agenda has been clear…all roads lead to toll roads in the hands of foreign companies. It doesn’t seem to matter what the research and prevailing evidence shows, in TxDOT’s world “it’s toll roads, slow roads or no roads.” El Paso MPO has paved the way for you. They recently rescinded their vote to toll and are challenging TxDOT and not succumbing to their threats.

State Rep. Joe Pickett and MPO Chair in El Paso asked the MPO to approve a plan that builds a Southern Relief Route for less than $200 million and without tolls.

“We can build four highways with the money needed to build one toll road,” Pickett said. “If you don’t put toll lanes on the road, the cost goes down.”

Pickett said he will continue to work against toll roads and the establishment of an RMA because he said El Paso can keep building roads without toll roads and the money is there to make it happen.

NOTE: He confirms what we’ve contended all along, toll roads cost more to build and maintain and there is money there to build needed freeways WITHOUT TOLLS.

The Comptroller has also demonstrated TxDOT has $7 billion available in mobility and revenue bonds right now, today, to build needed infrastructure without TOLLS.

There is overwhelming public opposition to TxDOT’s version of tolling in SA as well. When 900 people show up to a public hearing on the massive toll corridor TTC I-35 project, it can hardly be construed as anything less than a breathless display of public outrage and opposition to TxDOT’s plans! When’s the last time 900 people turned out to ANY government or public hearing in San Antonio? This Board would be wise to take a step back and challenge the flawed data in this TMMP Update before signing onto to such a political and economic loser.

TxDOT would have us believe there is a congestion crisis….the REAL crisis is the price of gasoline and San Antonio’s lack of a viable public transit alternative to help its citizens cope with the rising price of gas (Forbes Magazine lists SA as one of the Top 10 cities hardest hit by high gas prices). This City does not need nor can it afford toll roads, especially those based on flawed and inflated data driven by special interests not ACTUAL DATA. More affordable, less invasive solutions are there, including in plans conducted by the State and already vetted by TxDOT before this shift to tolls. The money, too, is there. If you’re tired of the shell game where there’s money to build toll roads but not free roads or a viable transit system, and you’re ready to stand with the people of San Antonio who you represent, vote NO on the TMMP as proposed!