Wurzbach Pkwy. here comes the tolling authority…

Link to Express-News article here.

Another misleading headline and statements in the article below. Why? Because it makes it seem as though authorities are just thinking about tolling Wurzbach Pkwy. Well, guess what folks? It’s officially been in the toll plans since last fall. These reporters keep making it appear as though there are other options still on the table and we all know that’s not true. When a tolling authority officially places a road in the toll plans and spends $6.5 million on preliminary engineering of toll roads on these highways, when they start talking private contracts or CDA agreements (see toll glossary) on Bandera Road before there’s EVER even a public meeting, you can bet that means they’re gonna toll it! The money was programmed for Wurzbach Pkwy. and scheduled for completion by now, yet those funds have disappeared into TxDOT’s mysterious black hole and suddenly the only way to get it done is to toll that one new stretch of an already free road! What a joke!

Then for TxDOT and the RMA to act like they’ve yet to “study” it for toll feasibility and to say they’re going to see how much money they can make on it is also disingenuous. The fact is they’ve already studied 3 scenarios on how to toll Wurzbach Pkwy. charging anywhere from 25 cents a mile up to a $1 a mile to use the interchange! Tolls are being railroaded and TxDOT and the RMA are not being honest about the timelines and how far they already are into the tolling of I-35, Wurzbach Pkwy., and Bandera Rd.

Wurzbach Parkway span may be toll road
Web Posted: 03/22/2006 12:01 AM CST
By Nicole Lessin
Express-News Staff Writer

The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority is looking into developing toll lanes on a segment of the proposed Wurzbach Parkway running from West Avenue to Jones-Maltsberger Road, with an interchange at U.S. 281.

“This is still preliminary,” said Terry Brechtel, executive director of the RMA. “Unless we do the toll alternative, there are no additional dollars available.”

In the 1980s, plans for the Wurzbach Parkway showed a continuous, 12-mile stretch of road that went from Interstate 35 to Lockhill-Selma Road.

While the goal was to provide an alternative to Loop 1604 and Loop 410 on the city’s North Side, officials from the Texas Department of Transportation said they have only had enough money to build the span in segments.

Those completed so far include Wetmore Road to Nacogdoches Road, started in 1994; Nacogdoches to O’Connor Road, started in 1999; O’Conner to Interstate 35, started in 2001; and Lockhill-Selma Road to Northwest Military Highway, started in 2003.

Frank Holzmann, an area engineer with TxDOT, said construction on segments from Wetmore to Jones-Maltsberger Road and Blanco to West Avenue will begin in the next 18 to 24 months with a price tag of about $43 million.

Area resident Janet Ahmad doesn’t understand what the holdup is.

“Between 15 and 20 years ago, (TxDOT) had a design; they knew what property they had to buy up and they didn’t do it,” said Ahmad, who also is the president of Homeowners for Better Building.

“They spent our tax money somewhere else. And now they are going to build it … and then you have to pay to get on. That’s shameful,” she added.

The RMA, which currently is overseeing or working in tandem with TxDOT on adding approximately 70 miles of tolled lanes throughout the metropolitan area, got the authority from the Texas Transportation Commission in November to study the feasibility of tolling the 281-interchange section of the Wurzbach Parkway.

RMA officials said $5 million — an amount they say is not enough — is designated toward this project from the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which allocates funds for road building.

“It was a gap there,” Holzmann said. “TxDOT is a pay-as-you-go system. You are limited on the amount you can build.”

Brechtel said tolling the project could accelerate the timetable for construction, which she estimates could be completed as early as 2009.

But not everyone is buying that argument.

Terri Hall, a Spring Branch resident who is the regional director of the San Antonio Toll Party, an organization opposed to tolling, said this project could be funded in other ways.

“For them to say the only fix is to now toll is disingenuous,” she said.

John Kight, who retired as TxDOT’s director of transportation planning and development in 1993, said before he retired he expected the entire project to be funded by a mix of federal, state and local funds.

“The money was not sitting there,” he said “(But) it was anticipated that they would continue funding it. They didn’t continue funding it.”

Still, Kight said it is not right to toll a section of the Wurzbach Parkway.

“I do not support taking a road that was developed as a nontoll road and making it a toll road,” he said.

However, RMA officials are not guaranteeing the tolled section of the Wurzbach Parkway will happen.

The agency is simultaneously figuring out how much the project could cost, followed by a traffic and revenue study to see how much money it could bring in as well as an environmental study, Brechtel said.

The agency has to see if the project is financially viable, Brechtel said.

While Jack Pellek, an area resident, said he probably would be willing to pay a toll to use the parkway to reach the South Texas Medical Center, he thinks it’s strange that only a small segment would be tolled.

“I don’t understand the whole approach to the Wurzbach Parkway,” he said. “What’s done of the Wurzbach Parkway is very useful, but they need to finish it.”