Tolls in Comal County? Commish says no, but toll plans say yes!

Link to Herald-Zeitung article where Comal County Commissioner claims there will be no tolls on his watch, but toll plans say otherwise. here.

See Herald-Zeitung article below.

No tolls in Comal County? Think again. The Trans Texas Corridor TTC-35 Development Plan discloses that the State plans to toll I-35 from San Antonio to Dallas. Considering both I-35 and US 281 will be tolled in the near term in Bexar County and shortly thereafter through Comal County, county residents will not be insulated from toll roads. Interstate 35 is one of the primary arteries Comal County residents depend on to get to work as is US 281. As much as we’d like to think tolls stop at the county line, drivers who depend on these corridors will still pay BIG!

The article below entitled, Toll lanes in county? ‘Not on our watch,’ states that SB 792 exempted 281 and 1604 from the PRIVATE toll moratorium. This is inaccurate. SB 792 specifically includes 281 in the private toll moratorium and since the contract linked 281 and 1604 together in the same bid, both projects CAN NO LONGER BE HANDED TO A PRIVATE FOREIGN COMPANY. That is a HUGE victory for the taxpayers! However, the PUBLIC tolling entity in Bexar County is moving ahead with 281 & 1604 as a toll project.

Overall, the privatization of our public infrastructure is far from over. The U.S. Department of Transportation just announced that I-10 from California to Florida and I-69 from Texas to Michigan are eligible to become privately financed, tolled trade corridors (see it on TxDOT’s web site).

They have the plan, the money, and the clearance to fix 281 WITHOUT tolls

Secondly, in the article, TxDOT Engineer Greg Malatek falsely claimed he hasn’t heard any non-toll options coming from toll opponents. Even a cursory glimpse of the web site shows a prominent tab called “Non-toll Solutions.” On the home page of it also displays a section “Non-toll Alternatives” and the animated presentation focuses almost entirely on an alternative to converting existing freeway US 281 into a tollway. TxDOT has the funding for a non-toll improvement plan for overpasses and the expansion of US 281.
It’s inexplicable that they delayed the desperately needed fix out there when they had the money in hand and the environmental clearance to begin building those overpasses in 2003. TxDOT could plainly see that the stop lights gave them the opportunity to hi-jack an existing highway and turn it into a toll road replaced by frontage roads with permanent stop lights. It fools the public into thinking it’s an apples to apples trade-off. Instead, it’s a ghastly expensive re-arranging of pavement that tolls an existing freeway.

TxDOT’s failure to even acknowledge the gas tax plan and their failure to inform the public about this option has allowed them to deceive people into thinking the ONLY way to get the fix is to toll it. TxDOT is pushing the plan that puts money in their pocket while remaining silent about the gas tax plan which wouldn’t.

Why should anyone have to pay a toll when they have the plan, the clearance, and the money to fix US 281 as a freeway? There is no justification for tolling that freeway other than greed and to tap the vein of 281 users to fund other road projects politicians won’t fund through the gas tax. Over 90% of the public feedback in their own environmental studies showed people opposed tolling, and citizens insisted the gas tax plan alternative be used in it’s place.

Texas does not need a single toll road to solve congestion

Then, a study by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M released last year revealed Texas does not need a single toll road to solve congestion. While TxDOT clings to false figures saying they’d have to raise the gas tax by as much as $1.40 a gallon, in contrast, the TTI Study showed all that’s needed is indexing the gas tax to inflation. Mr. Malatek and TxDOT also know this, but they continue to use scare tactics and ultimatums to push the MOST EXPENSIVE OPTION…toll roads. How expensive? Compare 1-3 a mile we pay now in gas tax to 30 cents or more a mile in tolls (per TxDOT’s studies and toll roads in Austin). Just a 20 mile, one-way commute would mean over $3,000 a year in new toll taxes PER COMMUTER!

State Auditor says can’t trust TxDOT’s figures

Twice this year, the State Auditor caught TxDOT lying about their figures. The first report showed they cooked the books and purposely miscoded expenditures “engineering” when in fact they had spent it on public relations! The second report found that nearly half of TxDOT’s “funding gap” is pure FICTION and cannot be substantiated with a single sheet of paper!

Given the fact that TxDOT has adamantly claimed they’re not tolling existing freeways, only to find out that they lobbied Congress to do just that (as evidenced in TxDOT’s report “Forward Momentum”), our highway department’s repeated and brazen misstatement of facts has shredded any credibility they had left.

It’s time to clean house at TxDOT and remove every single politician who voted to toll and that failed to rein-in this agency run amok!
Toll lanes in county? “Not on our watch”
By David Saleh Rauf
The Herald-Zeitung
September 9, 2007

State transportation officials moving forward with toll road projects in San Antonio have no plans to build toll lanes on U.S. 281 in Comal County.

The Texas Department of Transportation was recently given the green light by Federal Highway Administration officials to continue with an ambitious U.S. 281 toll road project that stretches from Loop 1604 to Comal County. But the U.S. 281/1604 toll project ó which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars ó and TxDOT’s push to convert existing highways into tolled lanes, will not cross into Comal County, officials said.

“Not going to happen,” said Pct. 2 Commissioner Jay Milikin. “Not on our watch.”

State transportation officials announced their plans to move forward with toll lanes on U.S. 281 in San Antonio just five days before local TxDOT representatives held a public hearing on a project slated to improve 6.8 miles of U.S. 281 in Comal County.

Less than two weeks later, reports surfaced that TxDOT had been pushing Congress to pass a federal law allowing them to purchase portions of existing interstate highways and turn them into toll roads, which has put a spotlight on the U.S. 281 issue in Comal County. Since then, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX, has filed legislation that would block TxDOT’s move to acquire existing roads and convert them into tolled lanes.

The possibility of tolled lanes to fund construction of new roads, such as the proposed outer loop around the city, still is a possibility in Comal County, said TxDOT area engineer Greg Malatek. But local TxDOT officials said they will not turn existing highways into tolled lanes in the County.

“Right now, commissioner’s court has made it loud and clear … they don’t want to see toll roads on any existing roadway,” Malatek said.

Milikin said the county has reached an agreement with local TxDOT officials that will prevent them from pursuing toll road projects on existing highways in Comal without Commissioners’ Court approval.

Commissioners have rejected prior attempts by TxDOT to toll existing highways to help fund road improvement projects within the county, Milikin said.

In turn, Commissioners’ Court reached an agreement with TxDOT to front a portion of constructions costs to help improve U.S. 281 and a segment of Texas 46. As part of the pass-through agreement, the county has agreed to loan the state $16 million for each respective project. Milikin said the state will pay back the principle of the loan over a four-to-five-year period, but the county will “eat the interest.”

“I don’t like using county tax payer money to subsidize the state, but that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Milikin said. “Without the pass-through agreement, we were looking at 15 to 20 years before those improvements would be made on 46 and 281.”

While commissioners in Comal have guaranteed that no toll roads will pop up on existing highways within the county anytime soon, in San Antonio and other portions of the state toll road projects are moving forward, despite a so-called two-year moratorium on private toll road contracts.

Senate Bill 792, over which Gov. Rick Perry threatened to call a special session at one point, left exemptions for nearly every toll road project that had already contracted with private developers, including the U.S. 281/1604 project in San Antonio.

Several state lawmakers who voted against the measure, including Rep. Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde, have since banded together to oppose TxDOT’s latest $7 to 9 million public relations campaign aimed at promoting toll roads. The “Keep Texas Moving: Tolling and Trans-Texas Corridor Outreach,” which began in June, has drawn criticism from some state lawmakers and anti-toll road activists for wasting valuable gas tax dollars to promote toll roads.

“They’re trying to use a $9 million blitz campaign to sell toll roads,” said Rep. Joe Farias, D-San Antonio, who along with Macias and Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, held a press conference last week calling for an end to TxDOT’s press campaign.

“If anything, the biggest thing is that as far toll roads go, the folks oppose who toll roads we’re really not hearing any other options to stop congestion in San Antonio,” Malatek said.

U.S. 281 Expansion in Comal County

• What: Upgrading 6.8 miles of U.S. 281 in Comal County from 2-lane, undivided sections to 4-lane divided roadway.

• Where: Between FM 311 and FM 306 on U.S. 281.

• When: Construction to begin in 2010; could take up to 3 years.

• How Much: $55.4 million