Toll road agency vows to toll 281 FREEway despite lawsuit

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Toll road agency vows to keep on going despite lawsuit
By Patrick Driscoll

Local toll road officials didn’t close their eyes and wish good thoughts Wednesday, but they did say they’ll press on with a U.S. 281 tollway plan as if a lawsuit had never been filed.The lawsuit was filed two weeks ago in federal court by toll road critics and environmental activists to dispute the tollway’s environmental study, which says there would be no significant harm to people, wildlife or drinking water.

Officials with the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority at the time were quick to blast the lawsuit as baseless but have been tight-lipped over how it could change a finely tuned schedule to sell toll bonds and start road construction by summer.

On Wednesday, the authority board met for the first time since the lawsuit was filed. Board members immediately shuffled off to a closed room, came back in half an hour and instructed agency Director Terry Brechtel to read a short statement.

“The project is on schedule,” Brechtel said. “We don’t believe the lawsuit has merit. We will not be deterred from our mission of providing congestion relief. Our process will continue notwithstanding the lawsuit.”

Nobody else said a word.

Brechtel then outlined the latest timeline, which calls for teams of competing bidders to turn in proposals by March 20.

Nobody asked questions.

After the meeting, toll critic Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, had a few things to say.

“I’d like to know an investor that’ll invest in a project that’s in litigation,” she said. “The arrogance of the tolling authority to continue to promote this toll project and thwart the will of the people is precisely why they’re in this mess.”

Hall and other critics say there would be no legal trouble if the mobility authority scaled back the planned 10- to 20-lane expressway, which would stretch 71/2 miles north of Loop 1604, and used available public funds to instead build a freeway that’s about half as long.

Toll advocates argue that toll fees would stretch what scarce public dollars can do and that more is needed to keep up with explosive North Side growth.

As the two sides bicker, construction costs could rise and traffic could increase.