TxDOT not being honest about toll projects

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It’s Up to State Lawmakers to Stop Toll Roads
By Mandi Bishop
August 3, 2005

One county leader says state lawmakers need to stop the toll road plan, after a News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooters investigation revealed that a future San Antonio toll road was supposed to be built—and paid for—without tolls.

The road is Highway 281 North of 1604, where later this year, construction will begin on six new toll lanes. Documents from the Texas Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Planning Organization show four years ago, the same stretch of highway was scheduled to be built as a freeway, without using tolls. $30 million of our tax dollars were budgeted for a project that was supposed to begin in 2004.

TxDOT delayed the project so it could be turned into a toll road.

News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooter Jeff Coyle interviewed TxDOT Deputy District Engineer Julie Brown last week:

Coyle: “The justification for tolls all along has been it allows us to build highways much sooner. Brown: “Correct.” Coyle: “But this part of 281 was already supposed to be built and was being funded.” Brown: “Under the old plan, that’s all we would be able to do, though.”

TxDOT says the old plan was to improvement highways section-by-section when money was available. The new plan is to build an interconnected system of toll roads using toll equity. With the tolls from 281, the state can borrow more money to build new lanes on Loop 1604. The original $30 million is still being put into the 281 improvements and would be reimbursed with tolls.

But County Commissioner Lyle Larson, an opponent of toll roads in general, believes TxDOT is being less than forthcoming with taxpayers.

“TxDOT is playing games with how these projects are going to be paid for. They’re saying it’s going to be paid by the tolls. That’s not an accurate assessment.”

“You’re saying even if they’re toll roads there are significant tax dollars involved?” asks Coyle.

“Yes, there’s going to be a lot,” replies Larson. “They can’t make it work otherwise.”

Larson admits there’s not much he or any other local official can do about it. But he says our state legislators do have the power to stop toll roads.

“So far (the San Antonio delegation) has been silent,” says Larson. “No one’s stated any opposition to it, at least in this area. I think that we need to have a legislator stand up and ask TxDOT why they’re tolling this.”

The Trouble Shooters spoke with State Senator Jeff Wentworth who says he favors raising the gas tax over charging tolls to pay for new roads. But when he proposed the idea four years ago, Governor Rick Perry promised to veto it, which Wentworth says is why we are in the position we are today.

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