DOUBLE TAX: Alamo board votes to use gas taxes to put tolls on Loop 1604

On January 23, the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) board, comprised of local officials, voted to grant $326 million in YOUR federal gas taxes to plop toll lanes down the middle of Loop 1604. TxDOT can't toll anything without the MPO's blessing, which the MPO just granted.

The toll rates are dynamic and change in real time ranging from 18 cents a mile up to 50 cents per mile - you pay the max during peak hours! The toll lanes would stretch 22.8 miles from Bandera Rd. on the west side to I-35 on the east side (see Express-News article on it here). The excuse is there isn't enough money to fix all our roads without tolls, despite voters giving TxDOT $5 billion more PER YEAR in NEW funds to prevent tolling.

HOV lane conversion on 281 in Alamo city will shrink capacity

Link to article here.

Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff makes erroneous statements in this News 4 story. The Alamo Area MPO’s own consultant said HOV lanes have done nothing to increase carpooling or alleviate congestion. Ginger Goodin of the Texas Transportation Institute testified before the MPO last month that HOV-bus lanes are designed to change behavior and get people to switch modes of transportation.

Then there’s Wolff's claim that the 281 project will add 6 new lanes. The only new lanes they’re building are FRONTAGE ROADS, not general purpose highway lanes. There are NO NEW highway main lanes whatsoever in this project, and, in fact, the HOV lanes will convert two of the six existing general purpose lanes (open to all cars) into an HOV-bus restricted lane, actually shrinking existing capacity and leaving only 4 non-HOV lanes when today there are six.

The public has a right to know how congested this corridor will continue to be when they’re promising one thing and delivering another.

Millions set aside for highway improvements
By Emily Baucum
New 4 WOAI-TV
February 9, 2016

SAN ANTONIO - Bexar County leaders set aside millions of dollars Tuesday to help revamp two major highways: Loop 1604 out west, and Highway 281 on the far north side.

It's all part of a nearly billion-dollar plan to improve roads in growing parts of town.

The plan no longer includes toll roads but it does include something else we've never seen in this area: carpool lanes.

Plan to put San Antonio on a 'road diet'

Link to article here.

Alamo city transportation board approves road diet for Hwy 281
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
September 14, 2015

Today, the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) unanimously voted to approve a resolution to do the US 281 project (from Loop 1604 to the Bexar County line) in San Antonio without tolls. However, the new proposal involves converting one existing, unrestricted freeway lane into an HOV-bus lane (a restricted lane), shrinking existing capacity open to all cars rather than expanding it. While there are six general purpose (unrestricted) highway lanes today, once the conversion is completed, there will be only four.

Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials claim the current roadway is akin to a frontage road, despite maps from the U.S. Geological Survey and documents from the Federal Highway Administration showing otherwise. TxDOT argues they're not shrinking highway main lanes by crediting the addition of new frontage lanes to the outside of the existing highway in the lane count. This fuzzy math enables them to assert they're 'doubling' existing capacity.

Alamo city to impose bus-toll lanes on every freeway

Link to article here.

Alamo city to impose bus-toll lane network on every freeway
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
May 19, 2015

Monday, the Alamo Area Transportation Policy Board known as the AAMPO debated and eventually adopted a study to impose a managed toll lane/transit priority lane system across virtually every San Antonio highway, including Interstate 410, US 90, US 181, and more (which up until now have not been in the toll plans). The board originally voted to initiate the study back in July of 2013, taking until now to whittle down the bidders to the final winning contractor - Parsons Brinckerhoff.

Casting a cloud of cronyism and raising a possible conflict of interest, Parsons Brinckerhoff recently hired former Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) District Engineer Mario Medina, who is also a former AAMPO board member himself that introduced the toll-transit priority lane concept to the board and pushed for its adoption on the US 281 toll project in 2012. But the fate of toll roads is in doubt. A new board and a wave of anti-toll sentiment has not only swept across the Alamo City, but across Texas.

Transportation Reform: Restore Local Control, Accountability

Link to article here.

Terrific article on MPOs, their importance, and why they need to be fixed.

Transportation Reform: Restore Local Control, Accountability
By Ross Kesceg
Empower Texans
February 16, 2015

Before throwing more tax money at a misunderstood transportation crisis, the legislature should first maximize the effectiveness of existing funds. But in addition to placing restrictions on how tax dollars are used, the legislature should also restrict the ability of regional governments to undermine sound policy.

The culprits behind most of Texas’ non-road transportation waste are Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). They are federally mandated planning bureaucracies that have taken control of “voluntary” regional governments created by the legislature, such as the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG). COGs claim to help local governments coordinate projects, but in reality, they are an unnecessary layer of government one-step removed from voters that takes power away from locally elected officials.

Alamo MPO shafts 281 commuters AGAIN!

Alamo transportation board wastes Prop 1 on non-priority projects
Fails to turn toll lanes back to free lanes on 281 as promised
By Terri Hall
Jan., 26, 2015

Today, the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) decided how Prop 1 funds would be spent on area roads. Notably absent, again, was Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff whose precinct encompasses the controversial toll project on US 281. His father, the County Judge Nelson Wolff, sent a letter to the Transportation Commission asking for Prop 1 funds to be used to turn toll lanes into free lanes on US 281 if Prop 1 passed, and yet there's a deafening silence from both Wolffs now that Wolff was re-elected county judge.

Rather than turn toll lanes back to free lanes on US 281 as promised and as its own policy requires, the board unanimiously chose to spend $124 million in new money that voters approved, which can only be spent on non-toll projects, to non-priority minor fixes to frontage roads on I-10 near Boerne and on Hwy 90. Neither project is on the state's 100 Most Congested Roads List. US 281 has been consistently on the list for years and even ranked the #1 most stressful road in the state per the Commuter Stress Index. None of the new funds will be used on major congestion relief projects that add capacity to major corridors - all of which are slated to be tolled.

Alamo planning board hastily obligates Prop 1, adopts more toll roads

Link to article here.

Alamo planning board hastily obligates Prop 1 money, adopts more toll roads
By Terri Hall
December 9, 2014
Examiner.com

Yesterday, the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (or AAMPO) voted to adopt its long-range plan, Mobility 2040, that will add 4 new toll projects and 34 other new projects that will obligate ten years of Proposition One money. The AAMPO has long promised that when new funding became available, they would turn previously planned toll lanes back into free lanes on projects like US 281 in San Antonio. Prop 1 passed with 81% of the vote on November 4, and voters overwhelmingly approved the measure precisely because the funds could not be used for toll projects. Now taxpayers are facing still more toll roads.

The betrayal taxpayers feel kicked into high gear when the AAMPO voted to add yet more toll roads to the plan instead of turn toll lanes on existing major corridors back into free lanes as promised. Voters do not get to select which elected officials are appointed to the AAMPO, so there’s no direct accountability.

Finally non-toll fix to 281 & 1604 approved by MPO


Funding proposal approved; no tolls — for now

By Vianna Davila

Updated 12:11 a.m., Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Toll road foes cheered on an ecstatic Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson on Monday, as he lauded a funding proposal to expand parts of U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 without tolls.

“If you are persistent, you can get it done,” said Terri Hall, founder of the toll road opposition group Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, and an activist known to have Adkisson's ear. He invited Hall to speak at a press conference on the issue following remarks by several elected officials, including County Commissioner Kevin Wolff, who came up with the proposal to fund 16 miles of expressways.

As approved by the San Antonio Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization later Monday, Loop 1604 from Bandera Road to U.S. 90, and U.S. 281 from Loop 1604 to Stone Oak Parkway would be expanded without tolls.


Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Funding-proposal-approved-no-tolls-for-now-3436057.php#ixzz1qXVTxW3h

No good deed goes unpunished

No good deed goes unpunished

By Terri Hall
City Brights Blogger
San Antonio Express-News

As usual, the Express-News gets it wrong. The paper played its hand in its scathing editorial criticizing Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson’s leadership of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). The paper is sold out for toll taxes and a wholly-owned subsidiary of its Chamber of Commerce advertisers.

Adkisson has been one of very few taxpayer champions that has ardently challenged tolling existing freeways (there are 57 toll projects are in the MPO’s plans).  The editorial singles out Adkisson even though both Commissioner Kevin Wolff and State Representative Lyle Larson also advocated using Prop 12 funds on US 281 instead of converting the freeway into a tollway.

Are all of these elected officials being ‘manipulated’ by the grassroots (Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom and its members among them) or are they doing what they were elected to do — be responsive to their constituents and do the right thing to restore non-toll funding to fix US 281 (north of Loop 1604) without tolls as they’ve been asked to do? Obviously, it’s the latter, but the Express-News chose to publish a below-the-belt hit piece on Adkisson as punishment for his good deeds.

The fact that the toll authority, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA), is the arbiter that decides whether or not US 281 would qualify for these non-toll Prop 12 funds doesn’t hold any sway with the editorial board. Neither does the fact that ARMA controls the timeline for the environmental process, nor does the fact that the 1604 draft environmental document is conveniently already complete (and it’s for a 36-mile project when US 281, by contrast, is only 7.8 miles and ARMA says it can’t be done in time). ARMA, out of self-interest, wants to manipulate the circumstances so there’s never any non-toll funds available when its environmental process is done.

While the Express-News blames the citizens’ lawsuit for the environmental delays, were it not for this litigation, there would be no opportunity for a non-toll fix to 281, not to mention TxDOT’s violation of the law (for which one employee was fired and another demoted) necessitated the “lengthy study.” We’d already be paying 75 cents per mile tolls to a foreign company like Cintra who’d have a monopoly on it (including the ability to prohibit expansion of free routes) for a half century!

If the RMA and MPO dropped the toll option on US 281, the environmental process could move forward at lightning speed, because the economic impacts of the tolling would no longer have to be studied. When Zachry and the special interests in this town ‘manipulate’ nearly every elected official (with Adkisson not in that category) as a matter of practice, the Express-News is showing its true colors about who ‘manipulates’ it by making personal attacks on the people trying to represent what the taxpayers deserve — to preserve their non-toll freeways and get them fixed without paying a DOUBLE TAX — tolls.

So what the Express-News calls “irresponsible” is, in reality, what’s in the public’s best interest and, notably, also a requirement in the MPO’s bylaws — when a project gets its funds yanked (the fix to US 281 was already funded with gas taxes from 2001-2008 and then the funds were spent elsewhere), it’s supposed to be the first one to have them restored when funding becomes available. Yet, the Express-News says this important public decision was a “waste of time” and “misuse of public funds“ for which there “shouldn’t have been any debate.”

Maybe the Express-News should merge with the San Antonio Business Journal, because it represents the same interests, which is certainly not the taxpayer’s.

SCOUNDRELS: MPO fails to give 281 Prop 12 money

You can thank pro-toll Councilman Ray Lopez (who lives nowhere near 281 and argued I-35 is “more important”) as well as Commissioner Kevin Wolff (who represents the 281 corridor) for urging the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Board to sandbag taxpayers and rush a vote on what project would get the coveted Prop 12 money AFTER the MPO Executive Director assured everyone at its workshop last Thursday that a final vote would NOT take place at yesterday’s MPO board meeting.

Lopez’ office told me Friday that the Councilman agreed 281 should be the first project to get the funds in keeping with the MPO bylaws that require a project that had funding bumped be the first project to get funding restored. He also agreed more time was warranted to study the options.

Yet yesterday, he did a complete 180. As did Wolff who also assured me Friday that he was working to get Prop 12 funding allocated to 281. He was relieved he didn’t have to vote on this Monday in order to take more time to thoroughly study the options, knowing TxDOT and the toll authority would obfuscate. Yet he actually gave the board permission to take the vote yesterday, when the public was told otherwise and had little chance to weigh-in, when he said: “I’m okay with voting on this now. I guess we just don’t have a choice.” What happened to studying options outside what the toll authority wants you to believe?

They took this monumental vote on a day when three vacancies had not been filled — one for a state representative and two for city council members (that were supposed to be appointed by Mayor Julian Castro, Castro also controls 2 city staff votes on the Board). Neither Sen. Jeff Wentworth nor Councilwoman Jennifer Ramos were present either. That’s 5 seats that were either absent or vacant, leaving the citizens of this region without full representation on such a critical vote. Perfect time for TxDOT and the toll authority to pounce.



The bureaucrats naturally framed all arguments in such a way as to appear the MPO had no choice but to rubber stamp what the toll authority wants — which is to ensure no money can be made available to fix 281 without tolls so it can impose tolls on an existing freeway later. It’s our elected officials’ duty to protect taxpayers from such DOUBLE TAXATION and targeted tax grabs and to see through the smoke and mirrors — not hide behind it.

It’s no surprise, both Wolff and Lopez previously voted to toll in October 2009. Wolff has repeatedly promised to get 281 fixed without tolls as soon as money was available and called for an independent study of non-toll options (outside the biased toll authority’s study of options). Neither have come to fruition. Wolff faces re-election next year. One would think that would give him a mega-incentive to fix this gaping wound with commuters on the northside posthaste. Talk is cheap when they’ve experienced a trail of deception and broken promises for 10 years waiting to get their road fixed.

Guess we can throw out all those rankings on the 100 Most Congested Roads List that’s supposedly determined by ‘scientific’ measurements at the Texas Transportation Institute, that ranked 281 higher than I-35 in congestion levels — hmm, ya think it’s maybe cuz there are stoplights in the middle of the highway? This list is only useful to politicians when it gives them ammo for what they want to do, only to later readily kick it to the curb when it suits them, as was the case yesterday.

While you were at work (the MPO meets in the middle of the workday at 1:30 PM), they decided they know what’s best for you…gridlock on 281 and a free pass for I-35, despite not one citizen asking for I-35 to be funded ahead of 281. The Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) and TxDOT have been lobbying your elected officials and city and county staff to use the only new transportation money released by the legislature for the next two years to go to a lower priority project — I-35.

The taxpayers on the other hand, along with Rep. Lyle Larson, asked the MPO to restore the funding for 281 by using the Prop 12 money where the congestion is far worse. TxDOT added an overpass at Vance Jackson & 1604 to the Prop 12 list, when that project isn’t even on the Top 100 Most Congested Roads list, and neither were several segments of I-35.

How the dirty deed was done
First, TxDOT and the RMA said the environmental study on 281 would not be completed in time to use the Prop 12 money (by a lousy three months…convenient, the toll authority controls the timeline for its own self interest, to line its pockets with our money — c’mon, who believes this garbage?). The 1604 study and the 281 study started at the same time, and the 1604 draft document (for a 36 mile project) is already complete and on TxDOT’s desk, yet the 281 study (for an 8 mile project) is supposed to take an extra year to complete. Yeah right, they blamed the extra time on “studying” a non-toll option that was later yanked. The RMA could expedite the study if the MPO dropped the toll element since the study of the economic impacts would be moot. They want every opportunity to fund 281 without tolls to be off the table so that when they release their study, they can say claim there’s no money to fix it without tolls.

Second, they argued $50 million isn’t enough to fund the whole 8 mile project, so the mentality was, why try? Because the taxpayers of this region deserve to have the non-toll funding for 281 restored. Estimates have jumped around from $100 million as a non-toll project to upwards of $500 million as a toll project.

The first 3 miles were already funded in 2003 and that phased-in approach was okay BEFORE toll roads became Rick Perry’s flavor of the month, but it’s suddenly unworkable AFTER it was determined a toll road slush fund could be tapped from congestion weary commuters along 281. The majority of the problem on 281 is the first 3 miles outside Loop 1604 and $50 million would just about fix it (based on previous MPO allocations).

Every road project in history is done in phases. So these claims are excuses, not legitimate reasons for failing to follow its bylaws and restore funding to 281! The MPO bylaws require that a project that had funds yanked should be the first one back in the pipeline when funds become available.

TxDOT District Engineer Mario Medina lowered this boom in trying to convince the Board to steer money away from 281: “A $400 million dollar bag of money could appear today and we still wouldn’t be able to use it on 281.”

What nonsense! No project even begins to move forward unless funding has already been identified. In the case of 281, it’s presently identified to be partially toll financing and the remaining funds are other taxpayer subsidies. What the citizens are asking is that 281 be returned to a non-toll project using Prop 12 as the placeholder, along with other existing non-toll funds.

Once a pot of money can be allocated, it sits on the books until the project’s environmental clearance and engineering is completed. Every road project in the MPO’s plan has money “sitting” there awaiting its clearance.

To say otherwise is to purposely mislead and play upon the ignorance of the MPO Board members who have no earthly idea how these projects get approved and funded. They ask the bureaucrats at TxDOT and the RMA why it can’t be done, and the bureaucrats tell the Board only what they want them to know, always framing every issue as though there’s only ONE solution and only ONE scenario that will EVER work, and that’s toll roads. Then the Board repeatedly rubber stamps the bureaucrats’ pre-determined deal brokered in back rooms by those who don’t answer to the taxpayers.

MPO Chairman Commissioner Tommy Adkisson and Leon Valley Mayor Chris Riley were the only members to really challenge the bureaucrats planned talking points, while Wolff played helpless. Riley went through our concerns one-by-one and TxDOT’s answers always steered the Board to direct money away from 281.

Though public testimony offered several scenarios to restore funding based on research of MPO and TxDOT documents and past precedents, Lopez said he hadn’t heard anything that would make 281 qualify for the Prop 12 funds and called the $50 million a ‘non-starter,’ as if the testimony, the phased-in approach previously adopted by the MPO, and the RMA’s claim to be studying a non-toll option using a phased-in approach hadn’t even occurred or weren’t valid options. With that attitude, the 281 superstreet would never have happened, nor the 1604 superstreet in his own district.

Frustrated with the run around, Riley asked Chairman Adkisson to place the 281 debacle up for discussion during a retreat when all the issues can be debated out in the open (“out in the open” is what the special interest . Adkisson answered, “Of course.” Pro-toll Commissioner Chico Rodriguez quipped, “We could hold several retreats before 281 will ever be ready to go.”

It’s by design, Mr. Rodriguez, by an animal the Commissioners Court unleashed and refuses to tame (albeit Rodriguez was the lone ‘no’ vote initially against forming an RMA, but has since committed himself to voting to toll the northside in exchange for projects in his district). So the voters need to tame our politicians who are ineffective and refuse to fix the festering congestion problems plaguing our city without raising taxes by imposing tolls on our existing roads.

TxDOT changes rules for MPOs, does little to give local control

Link to article to here.

Bottom line, we read every single rule change and the Governor and his Transportation Commission still have the final say on MPO allocations and MPO plans and Rural Planning Organizations are not even legally established in the Transportation code and yet TxDOT is adopting rules for them!

TxDOT approves rules to strengthen MPOs

By Jon Vanderlaan, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Plano Courier

Published: Thursday, September 2, 2010 3:23 PM CDT

Texas’ Metropolitan Planning Organizations have secured their authority in planning decisions with new rules adopted by the Texas Department of Transportation.

According to news release from TxDOT, the rules will enhance the role citizens and communities play in planning the state’s transportation system.

Michael Morris, director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, which is the Dallas-area MPO, said the rules changes were based on House Bill 300, which did not pass in the last legislative session.

  Morris said the biggest change is authority that previously was rooted in policy is now written in rule and much more difficult to change.

“I think clearly TxDOT got a message from the legislature that they want metropolitan planning organizations to be recognized as entities within each of the metropolitan regions,” he said, “to be decision makers when it comes to transportation questions.”

One of the best examples of the changes, Morris said, is the allocation of Surface Transportation and Environment Planning funds.

Previously, programs to benefit from STEP funds were picked in Austin, Morris said, but now 50 percent of those revenues will be available to the Regional Transportation Council to decide what projects will benefit.

Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, said in a released statement the changes put more control in the hands of leaders, planners and citizens of a community, who better understand the needs of the communities.

“For the first tiem, the new rules make sure that local decisions are made in each community across the state, rather than handed down by officials in Austin,” he said.

According to a TxDOT news release, the rules will allow MPOs to develop long-, mid- and short-range transportation plans.

The process also will include the use of an extended cash forecast to provide additional flexibility in planning.

Rep. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said in a released statement the rule changes put control in the hands of MPOs and will help them do a “great” job for communities.

“Under the new rules, MPOs will be better armed with the information they need to craft plans that transparently and accountably address the infrastructure needs in their communities,” he said.

The new rules may also help the RTC allocate Proposition 12 bonds that were authorized by the legislature in 2009, Morris said.

“It’s being made clear that the elected officials on the RTC want the Prop 12 fund to be allocated,” he said, “and we have the foundation now for that given the rulemaking that has been adopted.”

The $2 billion in bonds that were authorized are backed by state revenue and will go toward highway improvements, according to the TxDOT website.

Morris said the formula for allocation of those funds was always a question with the RTC -- TxDOT districts and MPOs identified more than $8.9 billion in possible projects to benefit from the funds.

Rural Planning Organizations also were officially recognized with the rules changes, which Morris said is important because of the implications of metropolitan planning in rural areas.

“Often the visions in the metropolitan regions cross over into the rural,” he said.

Toll and MPO woes

The trouble with tolls and MPOs

By Terri Hall
Express-News Blog / Houston Examiner
Aug 31, 2010

Last week, lawmakers got an earful about federally-mandated transportation planning boards called Metropolitan Planning Organizations (or MPOs). It seems neither the citizenry nor the boards themselves are happy with their past interactions with TxDOT. Though MPO Directors in both Dallas and Houston said their working relationship has improved since TxDOT's been on the hot seat (several scathing audits and sunset review), the taxpayers can't exactly say the same.

The major complaint: the use of bullying, threats, and intimidation to push toll roads despite massive public opposition.

Who's really in charge?
TxDOT rules dictate that "funding levels are estimated in cooperation with TxDOT." That's a real problem when many MPOs want to resist tolling, but have to rely on TxDOT's numbers and its heavy reliance on tolling and forecasts that have been consistently unreliable. If an MPO would prefer to use gas tax or sources of funds other than tolling to project future funding scenarios, it should have the flexibility to do so, but it doesn't under current rules.

Examples of threats and intimidation to push unwanted toll roads:
- Members of the Capitol Area MPO board admitted TxDOT strong-armed them into voting for toll roads their own constituents didn't want or funding for other projects would be pulled.
- TxDOT also threatened to withhold funding for a road project as well as joint rail relocation study with New Mexico when the El Paso MPO voted to reject toll roads by electing NOT to create an RMA.
- TxDOT saw to it local transit board members were removed from their positions on the Bexar County-San Antonio MPO for voting against toll roads (a perceived offense to TxDOT for not being team players and advancing TxDOT's toll agenda).
-The Governor himself threatened to call repeated special session unless lawmakers gave him the pro-toll transportation bill he wanted (when lawmakers attempted to put the brakes on the sale of Texas' public roads to private entities).

This behavior MUST stop before any progress can be made with restoring the public trust.

Taxation without representation

There are plenty of concerns with how MPOs govern as well. They're just as tone-deaf to the public as TxDOT. Only elected officials should have voting powers on MPOs. Since MPOs have the power to allocate billions in tax money, to allow un-elected bureaucrats voting powers is tantamount to taxation without representation. The San Antonio-Bexar County MPO, in particular, egregiously lacks representation of taxpayers' interests in this way with nearly half of its members being un-elected bureaucrats. Though the federal law creating MPOs allows TxDOT and transit officials to be a part of MPOs, it should be limited to an advisory capacity only.

Not only is there a conflict of interest in voting for its own projects and to vote itself more money (through tolls, etc.), it already possesses the power to approve all projects through the Texas Transportation Commission, which already results in most MPOs deferring to TxDOT in formulating and voting on MPO plans. For all the talk of "local control," TxDOT steers and often controls MPOs, not the local officials who sit on these local transportation planning boards.

Ignoring the public outcry
All of the above notwithstanding, MPOs consistently vote against the public input when making transportation decisions. When hundreds of concerned citizens show-up on their own dime and take the time to wade through hundreds of pages of MPO plans and do their due diligence to be heard on multi-billion dollar tax decisions, and when federal law requires MPOs to take into account the public input, and an MPO STILL votes to toll roads when the overwhelming public input begs them to do otherwise, it demonstrates the total disregard for the public interest if not the corruption of these boards.

MPOs, like TxDOT, view public comment as a box to check, then proceed to completely ignore the public feedback, especially regarding toll projects. This MUST be remedied in order to fix the completely dysfunctional state of transportation funding and decision-making in Texas. It's forced the citizens to turn to the courts and use other means to seek remedies (causing more delays).

It's the Legislature's duty to reform these entities and restore the public interest. The public cannot continue to be kicked to the curb if the goal is to move transportation forward. Failure to recognize this will only continue the gridlock.

Money and the toll regime
Something must be changed in regards to how projects are marked in an MPO Transportation Improvement Program (or TIP) and other plans. TxDOT and tolling entities rig the planning process by exploiting the federal requirements that plans be "financially-constrained." Since they endlessly claim there's no money to build roads, these entities almost exclusively mark projects "toll" (instead of using other funding scenarios to keep the plan financially-constrained) to get a project into the plan. The Federal Highway Administration has said that as long as a project is marked "toll" in an MPO plan, it will only be considered for tolling, not as a non-toll project. So this locks in a toll scenario for nearly all new capacity to Texas roads for the next 25 years.

This practice not only violates the National Environmental Policy Act (or NEPA), which requires that all alternatives be considered, but neither the public nor the Department can wrest the project away from a tolled scenario once the toll entity becomes the project "sponsor." A state law passed in 2007 gives toll agencies the right of first refusal on toll projects; therefore, reverting a project back to a non-toll road after its been marked toll is near impossible. The bureaucrats want access to your wallets and they'll stop at nothing to do it.

Considering many toll entities are conducting their own environmental studies, the control remains in the hands of those who stand to benefit directly from a toll alternative emerging as the "preferred alternative" under NEPA. This is the fox guarding the henhouse and takes virtually all decision-making on toll tax decisions out of the hands of the public and their elected representatives.

The crystal ball syndrome
While MPO long-range plans ought not to have wildly overoptimistic plans that are way outside the realm of reasonable funding sources, requiring MPOs to show anticipated funding for projects 20 years from now is completely flawed. The Texas Legislature funds all state programs in two-year budget cycles. Local governments often operate using a single budget year. Yet, MPOs have to show funding for projects 20 years out in order to even start ANY level of work on a future road project? It makes no sense. Just think of the changes in how we live, work, and play have impacted the way we travel in the last 20 years, how can anyone accurately predict the future of transportation funding so far into the future?

An entity ought to be allowed to conduct environmental work and preliminary engineering for a project without having to show funding for construction which could be years, even decades away. Both engineering and environmental review need to be underway if not completed in order to even have realistic project cost estimates for which an MPO can properly program funding.

Federal rules and how TxDOT and toll agencies exert control over MPOs are just a few of the many areas that plague our broken transportation system. Citizens need to stay engaged to ensure reforms are FINALLY enacted in next year's legislative session or we'll hopelessly remain in gridlock. 

Express-News hit piece on anti-tollers

There is a HUGE double standard at play at the Express-News...why didn't it explore emails of MPO chairs when Richard Perez, Sheila McNeil, or Lyle Larson chaired the MPO? Why no stories on their "management styles"? Why is it so interested in what I have to say to Commissioner Adkisson, but have no interest in what Richard Perez (Greater Chamber of Commerce, former MPO Chair), Carri Baker-Wells (Greater Chamber of Commerce), the Dawsons (owners of Pape Dawson Engineering, Sam Dawson is President of the Greater Chamber of Commerce), and SAMCO (lobbies for toll roads with taxpayer money along with dues from over 70 private highway construction, finance, and engineering firms, chaired by a tolling authority board member, Jim Reed, who has the power to vote to give contracts to firms in SAMCO) have to say to public officials? These people actually profit from the public trough by their actions, versus us taxpayers who foot the bill for their feeding frenzy!

And why aren't Adkisson's communications with other officials and staffers also relevant to how he manages the MPO? Why are only his communications with me relevant to informing them of his "management style"? Enter the Express-News' vendetta against Adkisson and the grassroots.

In fact, there are some things in the emails the Express-News obtained that prove the toll plans for 281 violate the law. Yet there has not been ONE Express-News story informing the public of this monumental fact. Clearly, the Express-News isn't interested in reporting such newsworthy information, just emails between a citizen taxpayer advocate and an MPO Chair who actually represents the PEOPLE impacted by the toll regime...

For Terri's full response, go here. See the San Antonio Current's take below.

Adkisson sought toll road foe's advice

By Josh Baugh
Express-News
July 20, 2010

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, who was elected chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization last summer, has served as a fierce opponent to toll roads, and he's relied heavily on advice and direction from grass-roots toll opponent Terri Hall, public records show.

The founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, Hall and her group have taken aim at the Texas Department of Transportation, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority and other groups that support toll roads.

To more clearly understand Hall's role in Adkisson's chairmanship, the San Antonio Express-News in February sought e-mails between the two back to June 2009. Bexar County released hundreds of pages of messages from Adkisson's county e-mail address.

Those e-mails show Hall has played an intimate and significant role in Adkisson's management of the MPO, which oversees federal transportation spending locally. A longtime outsider among transportation officials, Hall found a de facto seat at the table when Adkisson took control as MPO chairman.

To read the rest of the story, go here.



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Link to blog here.


But is it news? Adkisson, Hall, and anti-toller intolerance

By Greg Harman, San Antonio Current, July 20, 2010
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The tug-of-war between the Express-News and Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson has been partly settled, with the County releasing hundreds of pages of emails to toll-road opponent and Mysa.com blogger Terri Hall from Adkisson’s official email account. Readers piled on in the comments section, though not to raise torches against Adkisson and Hall. Instead, the majority of comments were irritated by the daily’s apparent siege on Adkisson, a vociferous critic of efforts to turn U.S. 281 into a toll road.

There is nothing improper exposed by the records, but it’s understandable the writer and editors in this case would feel compelled to make something out of it as Adkisson has so resisted complying with the paper’s full request. And yet … that doesn’t make it a news story.

POLITICAN SEEKS REGULAR ADVICE FROM UNCOMPENSATED LOCAL CITIZEN

*cricket*cricket*

The article shrieks that Hall plays an “intimate and significant role” in Adkisson’s management of the Metropolitan Planning Organization. That through Adkisson, Hall has found “a de facto seat at the table.” For starters, we thought that was sort of the job of our elected leaders, to carry the concerns of residents to the table for us. For finishers, hasn’t Adkisson been loud and proud in his anti-toll posture from the start?

“I move around the community as any public official in Bexar County,” Adkisson told the Current this week. “I don’t get any comment from anybody saying, ‘Hey. Toll those roads.’ They’re all saying, ‘Hey. Be careful about those tolls.’”

Adkisson has refused to release emails to Hall from his private email accounts, ensuring the fracas will continue. “I just feel like it ought to be possible to think out loud without having every measure scrutinized for its stupidity or its brilliance,” he said. “In the process of arriving at public policy, you’re ‘What do you think about this?’ and the other person may say, ‘I think you’re a dumb ass if you say that.’ And I’d just rather not shower that on everyone and their brother.”

If there is a story at the MPO, it has long been about the intersection of private gain and the public good. From the cashing in of Perry cronies on the now-slumbering Trans-Texas Corridor to TXDOT and MPO skirmishes over tolling 281, pressing highway needs mean there is the scent of mad money in the air. Perhaps, the Express should listen to their readers when they suggest they should instead be shooting for MPO board members who may be overly influenced, I don’t know, by the monied interests at work and not gunning for two ideologues bridging a yawning political divide through their mutual distain for the notion of double-taxing residents for a functional roadway.

Hall frames her objection to the article by asking:

Why is [the Express] so interested in what I have to say to Commissioner Adkisson, but have no interest in what Richard Perez (Greater Chamber of Commerce, former MPO Chair), Carri Baker-Wells (Greater Chamber of Commerce), the Dawsons (owners of Pape Dawson Engineering, Sam Dawson is President of the Greater Chamber of Commerce), and SAMCO (lobbies for toll roads with taxpayer money along with dues from over 70 private highway construction, finance, and engineering firms, chaired by a tolling authority board member, Jim Reed, who has the power to vote to give contracts to firms in SAMCO) have to say to public officials? These people actually profit from the public trough by their actions, versus us taxpayers who foot the bill for their feeding frenzy!


Asked one reader mildly: “Why is this news?”

And, yet, still unresolved is the question of Adkisson’s emails.

“It shouldn’t be a crime to try to include more public comment and input, especially when it’s not driven by some big, powerful, wealthy corporation type or special interest,” Adkission says.

Of course, it’s not illegal. Unless, like our other politically well-grounded friend, Mr. Nico LaHood, treated in this tomorrow’s feature story, one’s good work is at risk of being polluted by questionable gropings after secrecy.

Undoubtedly, I also support strong open-records laws. However, I also support journalism functioning in the public’s interest. If the increasingly thin Express has the resources to run and publish investigative campaigns like this one, I can think of a few possibly worthier email accounts they could be hacking.

Toll roads not a good fit for San Antonio

NOTE: These are TURF's public comments submitted to the San Antonio MPO as feedback on its latest Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

The people of this community have expressed time and again in every way available to them that they DO NOT want toll roads. With tourism such a major industry and economic engine for our region and the adverse impacts of a high cost of transportation on the region's economy, toll roads are not the right fit for San Antonio, nor are they sustainable. They will bury us in debt to the tune of BILLIONS with no way out (except a taxpayer bailout and draconian tax hikes). When the cost of transportation goes up, driving goes down.

Toll roads rely on ever increasing traffic volumes and more driving to pay off the debt of toll roads, which is anti-thetical to the economic reality of what occurs when the cost of driving goes up...driving goes down and so does toll usage. Also, increasing the cost of transportation through tolling makes the the cost of goods go up, which everyone pays whether they take the toll road or not. San Antonians cannot afford tolls, when a third of Bexar County doesn't make enough money to cover their basic needs for daily living. San Antonio has also been ranked by Forbes Magazine as one of the top 10 cities hardest hit by high gas prices. When tolls are like adding $4.00-$17.00 more to every gallon of gas you buy (for toll rates from 25 cents up to 75 cents per mile as we're seeing around the state), they're completely out of reach for the vast majority of San Antonians.

Based on the MPO plans, it claims a funding gap figure of $18 billion. 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! 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 household 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! With 57 toll projects in the MPO's plans, there will be NO ESCAPE from this new tax on driving.
Stop raiding road funds for things un-related to roads!

Add to that, San Antonio has been consistently shorted the highway funds that it sends to Austin and Washington. In addition, vehicle sales tax revenues have been dumped into general revenue instead of going to roads as the taxpayers intended. Ending this diversion of funds amounts to $2-3 billion a year (on track for $4 billion this year, this reaps more than doubling the gas tax) for roadways, and would nearly triple our region's money for roads WITHOUT RAISING TAXES! Restitution needs to be made before ANY taxpayer is asked to pay more.

As long as ANY project is marked "toll" in the MPO's TIP (and there are 57 of them), the RMA (which is the tolling authority) has control of the project and a vested interest in ensuring projects remain tolled even when new sources of revenue become available. RMA Chair Bill Thornton promised on WOAI radio January 14, 2009 that they'd fix 281 non-toll if they got a new source of funds. When stimulus funds became available, the RMA STILL submitted the project as a toll project (they planned to build it with stimulus money and still charge users a toll to drive on it, a DOUBLE TAX). The FHWA also informed MPO Chairman, Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, that as long as a project is marked toll in the MPO plans, it will be done as a toll project.

With 800 people packing an auditorium in October 2009 to tell the MPO they don't want toll roads (and only 100 got to testify with all but 7 against), and with MPO Board members assuring the public that both toll and non-toll options are on the table for 281 and 1604, how can they have an ounce of credibility when both are marked toll projects in the MPO's TIP and when the tolling authority (RMA) is conducting the "study" of the options? How can the MPO have any credibility that non-toll options are even being studied when its attempt to find a contractor to do an independent study of non-toll options yielded ZERO takers?

This demands ACTION, not words, and must be remedied.

MPO MUST remove all toll projects from its plans

The federal government requires an agency to show a reasonable source of funding for a project in order to place it in an MPO plan. The RMA can't show any of its toll roads are funded by any reasonable funding sources since toll revenue bonds won't cover 100% of the project costs and all of them need massive public subsidies. In other words, none of the toll projects in the TIP are toll viable (meaning they cannot pay for themselves with the toll revenues of projected users).

TIFIA loans can only fund up to a third of the project costs. The current federal TIFIA loan pot of money is EMPTY, and there's a cloud over the program after the first PPP toll road to receive a TIFIA loan went bankrupt a few months ago (at the hands of an Australian firm, Macquarie. (Read more here). The taxpayers aren't going to get their money back, and many in Congress are doubting the efficacy of this controversial program that has, up until now, been used as a backstop to primarily benefit private toll operators at taxpayer expense. The TIFIA program may or may not be funded in the next federal highway bill, and there's talk that the focus be shifted away from funding PPP & toll projects and directed to more mass transit and rail projects. Yet the RMA lists it as a "reasonable" source of funding for both the 281 and 1604 toll projects.

Second, TxDOT issued a letter to the MPO last fall saying the Texas Mobility Fund money ($200 million) isn't available in one chunk any longer, it's only available in $25 million chunks over 7 years (2012-2019). So how is this a "reasonable" source of revenue for the RMA's toll road when the entire sum is needed in 2012 for just 281? So with two-thirds of the 281 project revenues in doubt (TIFIA and TMF), the RMA cannot demonstrate that the 281 toll project is funded by any reasonable sources of revenue. Ditto for segments of 1604 that also rely on TMF or TIFIA funds.

The RMA also has to spend $83 million on ROW acquisition for 281 (the figure given in the last TIP), when the MPO does NOT have to come up with that sum under a non-tolled scenario (since TxDOT funds ROW out of a different pot of money apart from the MPO). This ROW cost thereby drives up the project cost that the RMA bonds have to cover.

So with the RMA Chairman admitting the toll funding is a mere "placeholder" to keep certain road projects in the MPO plans, why can't a non-toll source of funding be used as a placeholder instead and keep the plans toll-neutral, which they claim is their goal?

For instance, using the Zachry estimate for US 281 north of Loop 1604 from 2005, the cost to fix 281 as a freeway would be less than $200 million. The 2005 plan cost is $78 million for the first 3 miles (and that was the actual contract bid price, not an estimate, when construction costs were much higher). Extrapolate that for the 7.8 mile project area, and the cost is actually UNDER $200 million ($160-$170 million). So a $200 million project cost (with some flexibility to add extra overpasses where needed) is perfectly reasonable and is based on actual construction costs. No one has yet to give a single reason why this estimate isn't bonafide when Zachry's proposal had engineering and the contract had already been let (prior to clearance being yanked). Clay Smith of TxDOT stated on the record in a Technical Advisory Committee meeting last fall that the Zachry proposal is the "actual" cost, not TxDOT's estimates.

With $3 billion more in Prop 12 bonds are expected to be approved by the legislature next session (they issued only $2 billion of the $5 billion voters approved last session), and Speaker Joe Straus announcing at the NE Partnership meeting April 15 that there is near unanimous support to end at least some of the gas tax diversions, we can use some gas tax revenues with a mix of Prop 12 bonds (or even just solely Prop 12 bonds) as the "reasonable" anticipated source of revenue to fund 281 as a freeway in the TIP to keep it toll-neutral. Prop 12 is a more reasonable expected source of revenue than the RMA's pot of funds listed in the current TIP. With the current batch of Prop 12 monies netting our region about $200 million, a $3 billion issuance would net us closer to $300 million. That would more than cover a non-toll fix to 281.

The Legislature has also placed restrictions on using Prop 12 and other bonds backed by general revenue (and the majority of Texas taxpayers) for toll roads, since it's a DOUBLE TAX to build a road with general funds and charge taxpayers AGAIN (a toll tax) to use the public road.

Return to sustainable transportation policy. Restore credibility and heed the public outcry. Remove toll roads from all MPO plans.

Study of non-toll plan for 281 nixed

The fact the MPO could not get a single contractor to do an independent study for a non-toll option on 281 (and 1604 was added by an amendment by Rep. David Leibowitz) shows the whole process is severely tainted and that non-toll options will not be given any serious consideration as federal law requires. It's obvious that road builders know if they dare give an honest analysis or put forward an independent non-toll option for 281 (for which there already is one, see the plans here: www.281overpassesnow.com), they'll never get another job in this town again.

The obvious answer is to update the TxDOT plan from 2001 that was already adopted by the MPO for 5 years and promised and promoted in public hearings. There is also another more recent plan done in 2005 that can also be used as a non-toll plan. As a last resort, the MPO can always find a contractor outside Texas politics to do an independent non-toll plan. The cancellation of a non-toll plan OUTSIDE the control of the tolling authority, the RMA, displays the pathetic state of transportation in Texas today. I don't know which is worse, the power TxDOT and the toll authority wields or the gutless crowd of contractors we have...

Toll road study axed but alternatives still on the table
By Vianna Davila - Express-News
03/29/2010

The long-awaited resolution to the battle over tolls roads still hasn't come — yet.

In December, members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization board authorized a study to determine the cost differences between toll and nontoll alternatives on U.S. 281, after a heated public meeting last fall over the board's transportation options.

But by a February deadline, no consulting firms had stepped up to do the study, leaving the board back where it started.

At MPO's transportation policy board meeting on Monday, officials decided to rely on the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority's environmental impact statement — a three-year study that will ultimately recommend an option on U.S. 281 and how to fund it.

The environmental study will examine three main construction options: an expressway, which could include a combination of high-occupancy toll lanes and nontoll lanes similar to those in Houston; an elevated expressway, which also would include a similar combination of high-occupancy toll and nontoll lanes; or an overpass expansion, a plan that currently does not include tolls and would have the smallest physical impact, said RMA Executive Director Terry Brechtel.

For the rest of the story, go here.

Supporter of pro-toll Sheila McNeil tries to buy votes

Link to article here. McNeil "Those people can afford the tolls" McNeil, who's trying to oust Good Guy Tommy Adkisson from office (more how McNeil stole the MPO chairmanship from Adkisson here), has a supporter offering to "buy" votes to reward people for voting for McNeil. It's highly illegal, but do you think anyone will pay the price?

McNeil voters were to be rewarded
By Gilbert Garcia
Express-News

A Sheila McNeil supporter who runs a youth football program sent a text message last week urging parents to vote for the Commissioners Court hopeful in exchange for a $125 credit on their children's football enrollment fees, according to multiple sources.

Fred Davis, 35, founder of Youth Advancement Initiative, a nonprofit organization with five youth football leagues and a cheerleading program, sent the offer Friday, according to three former East Side City Council members: Mario Salas, John Sanders and McNeil, the hopeful whom Davis sought to help.

In the text message, Davis told parents with children enrolled in his program that if they went to the Claude Black Center over the weekend and cast their vote for McNeil, one of two hopefuls challenging incumbent Commissioner Tommy Adkisson in the Democratic primary, he would reward them with a $125 enrollment credit. It's unclear how he would've determined whether the parents voted for McNeil.

Early Saturday, Davis sent a follow-up text message rescinding his offer, according to sources. But by then, the initial text had generated a buzz on the East Side.

Davis declined to comment.

Read the rest of the story here.

Tone-deaf politicians vote for WHOPPING 57 toll projects!

Despite the overwhelming outcry against toll roads in our community, the San Antonio Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization (or MPO) voted to put 57 toll projects into its long-range plan yesterday. There will be no escaping the reaches of this new tax on driving in Bexar County. Removing controversial private toll contracts that hand our public roads over to private, usually foreign, corporations for a half century from the MPO's plan is a HUGE victory, but seems of little consolation when the Board voted for a plan that will amount to the largest tax increase in the history of Bexar County. Todays' Express-News article makes it appear as though tolls were just kept as an "option," however, the Federal Highway Administration has stated if a project is designated in an MPO plan as tolled, they will only approve what's consistent with the MPO's plan. So non-toll options are NOT on the table for these projects.

Sampling of the toll projects just approved:

-Hwy 90 (from 410 to 211)
- I-10 (from 410 to county line)
- ALL of Loop 1604 (not just the north half)
- 281 (from Loop 1604 to Comal County line)
- I-37 (from 410 S to the Atascosa County line)
- Bandera Rd (from 410 to 1604 still appears despite amendment to remove it)
- interchange at I-10 & 1604
- interchange at 281 & 1604 (northbound ramps)
- interchange at 1604 & 151
- interchange at 1604 & 90
- interchange at 1604 & 1-35
- interchange at I-35 & 410
- Kelly Pkwy/Spur 371 (US 90 to SH 16)
- ALL of I-35 (from Atascosa to Comal County line), and more!


Two elected officials on the board were no shows, Senator Jeff Wentworth and Bexar County Commissioner Chico Rodriguez (Councilwoman Jennifer Ramos attended but left the meeting prior to the vote on the 57 toll projects), so yesterday's decisions were largely made by appointees who don't even answer to the taxpayers, including two votes by TxDOT employees that cast votes for their own projects in a colossal conflict of interest.

TxDOT, despite its total lack of credibility having presided over a $1.1 billion "accounting error," two botched environmental studies for the US 281 toll road, and the abuse of taxpayer money to hire registered lobbyists and implement a PR campaign to lobby for toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor, has convinced most MPO Board members that the sky will fall and all projects marked "toll" will fall out of the plan if they don't continue to do Rick Perry's bidding and designate virtually all new capacity to our roadways for tolling. This same chicanery is being played out in all the urban MPOs.

There are other solutions, like changing the financial assumptions to include the most fiscally conservative way to fund highways, a modest gas tax increase, instead of reliance on tolling, but TxDOT persistently manipulates the numbers to make any gas tax solution appear to fall short of the "need." A study done by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M stated that an 8 cent gas tax increase indexed to inflation would preclude the need for a single toll road in the state of Texas, yet TxDOT sticks to its talking points that it would take $1.00 or more gas tax increase to fix our "unfunded" roads.

What's truly amazing is that anyone would fall for such nonsense coming from an agency that's lost the trust of lawmakers and taxpayers alike. The Sunset Commission issued a scathing review of TxDOT two years ago and it's clear this agency is broken, but how to fix it is what's gnawing at many lawmakers. We say, elect a new governor and fumigate the TxDOT Greer building in Austin for a total house cleaning for starters.



Locals to pick-up the tab for STATE highways

Though there are conflicting reports about when this language showed-up, the MPO just adopted a plan that requires ALL available funds to be "leveraged" and requires the locals to come-up with the cost of maintaining any new capacity to STATE highways. TxDOT District Engineer, Mario Medina, told the MPO Board in no uncertain terms that "if you want to build new roads, you're going to have to find a way to pay for the maintenance of them."

This is yet another unfunded mandate coming from an unelected, out of control state agency in Austin that's making local taxpayers pay for what's the State's job - to build and maintain STATE highways. Last I checked, TxDOT has its own budget for road maintenance and many lawmakers have complained about TxDOT dumping more and more of its money into maintenance and diverting it away from new construction in order to push tolling.

Requiring ALL available funds to be leveraged means an increase in local taxes or tolling. Leveraging also means DEBT, heaps of it. So this means we won't be able to take gas tax money and build an overpass or expand a road, now the local MPO will have to leverage ALL its monies by borrowing against it or matching it with local tax money in order to get access to the money we already pay the state for state roads.

Representative David Leibowitz tried to strip these unfunded mandates from the plan, but the same culprits who voted to keep 281 and 1604 toll roads after 5 1/2 hours of public testimony AGAINST the toll roads on October 26 at Alzafar Shrine, voted to keep these requirements in the MPO plan.

MPO members who voted to increase debt, taxes, and the likelihood of massive tolling:

Commissioner Kevin Wolff
Councilman John Clamp
Councilman Ray Lopez
Selma Councilman Bill Weeper
Two TxDOT votes
Two Via votes
One county employee
Two city employees

The only board members voting for the taxpayers were:

State Representative David Leibowitz
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
Mayor of Leon Valley Chris Riley
Councilman Reed Williams

The board also unanimously voted to find the money to do an independent study of non-toll options for 281 north (advanced by Com. Kevin Wolff) and the west side of 1604 (from Bandera Rd to Hwy 90, advanced by Rep. David Leibowitz). Leibowitz noted that such a side-by-side comparison of toll versus non-toll proposals should have been studied years ago prior to the board turning these projects into toll roads. Exactly! In fact, for US 281, TxDOT already has a valid non-toll plan that it refuses to acknowledge or sponsor that is less than half the cost to build as the RMA's toll road (one-tenth the cost when you factor in the toll road debt). It's truly an egregious waste of $500,000 of taxpayer money to hire outside consultants to do what our highway department run by Rick Perry refuses to do.

TURF Statement to MPO Board prior to vote

(Edited for clarity) Having 57 toll projects in your long range plan will reap severe economic impacts on this community, impacts that have not been properly studied nor considered before entering into such a plan. A very conservative estimate of the debt required to get these projects off the ground is $20 billion dollars! The level of discretionary income in this community cannot sustain this level of debt much less the level of new taxation required to pay it all back. TxDOT's current two-year budget shows that anticipated toll revenues ($1 billion) do not even cover half the debt service payments ($2.5 billion in payments for just the next two years, we're $12 billion in debt TOTAL) we already require as a state. It's folly to think there will be enough money from the taxpayers to pay all this debt back. In fact, much of our current gas tax is going to cover debt service for toll roads. This is, in part, why the money to fix our roads without tolls is disappearing.

The overwhelming public feedback at the MPO's visioning sessions that began several years ago was not only opposed to tolling, but especially handing our public roads to private, usually foreign, corporations using CDAs. Your draft long range plan even states this in the public involvement section. Given this information, what is the point of federally mandated public involvement if this board submits a plan to the feds that does the exact opposite of what the public feedback asks you to do?

We believe the way this plan was drafted has serious problems.

The RMA revised the project list, including changes in the scope and costs of its projects, and submitted it as late as December 3, just 4 days before scheduled adoption today, December 7. For instance, the RMA lists the cost for the northbound ramps to the 281/1604 interchange as $59 million, yet it's bloated the cost for the southbound ramps to $140 million (we found out during the MPO meeting that $20 million of that is going to the RMA to "manage the project"). We believe the higher cost is to eat-up the stimulus money on fixing anything but 281 north.

Originally the RMA promised to fix 281 north non-toll "if a pot of money dropped out of the sky from somewhere." In came the stimulus money...but documents submitted to a legislative committee showed it submitted the 281 project as a toll road, though it would have been paid for with stimulus money. Then, the RMA dropped 281 altogether and promised to build the WHOLE 281/1604 interchange non-toll with stimulus money, then they cut the project in half and never revised the cost downward. The RMA wants to toll the northbound ramps to connect to a future toll road on 281, so since it's tied to the 281 toll project, the feds told them they couldn't build the northbound ramps until the new environmental study for 281 is complete. So now we're paying for the cost of a WHOLE interchange and only getting half of it simply because the tolling authority, the RMA, wants to toll those northbound ramps!

The latest road project list removes some of the toll language (I believe from the unfunded list), yet the projects are still anticipated for tolling and this smacks of chicanery meant to hide information and deceive the public as to what the MPO is really putting in its plans. In fact, the initial presentation of the MTP draft to this policy board was Sept 28 and the MPO staff completely re-wrote parts of it and distributed a totally different draft just 3 days later at its October 1 Open House, including a totally new set of financial assumptions and the inclusion of CDAs. Again, this wreaks of trying to hide the truth. Also, parts of the draft given to the public on October 1 weren't even filled in and had key financial figures filled in with merely "XXX."

Having the project list and parts of the MTP revised multiple times since the ONE public hearing held October 1 (which was to fulfill the requirement in the MPO bylaws Policy 5 for public involvement to have at least one public hearing for any major updates to the MTP. There's also a requirement that the MPO follow its two-step plan for MTP/TIP updates and allow a 30 day public comment period), there should be a new public hearing held in order to brief the public on the new proposed changes to the MTP (like the project list, number of toll projects, CDAs, and a review of projects costs, etc.) and a subsequent 30 day review for public comment (basically start the 30 day review over again since the MTP draft has changed multiple times without notifying the public and starting the 30 day process over again). Neither the MPO's two-step process nor the public hearing requirements were properly fulfilled in how this plan was put together, especially considering the cost and scope of several projects were changed at the last minute.

We'd like a parliamentary ruling on whether or not it's permissible to take a vote on this plan today.

Stop San Antonio freeways from falling under foreign control


URGENT ACTION NEEDED IN SAN ANTONIO!

Eye-popping 37 toll projects put into local MPO plan; 18 will put TX roads under foreign control!

Vote to adopt it is Monday, December 7.

EMAIL the MPO Board here: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Urge them to...
1) REMOVE toll roads and CDAs (contracts that hand our TX roads to foreign toll operators in 50 yr sweetheart deals!) from its plans.
2) Use traditional gas tax funding NOT privatizing and tolling Texas roads as its source of funding for these projects.
3) NOT VOTE for ANY plan with toll projects and CDAs in it.

Sampling of the toll projects on the docket:
-Hwy 90 (from 410 to 211)
- I-10 (from 410 to Kendall County line)
- Loop 1604 (just about the entire loop, not just the north half)
- 281 (from 1604 to Comal County line)
- I-37 (from 410 south to Atascosa County line)
- Bandera Rd (from 410 to 1604 still appears despite amendment to remove it)
- interchange at I-10 & 1604
- interchange at 281 & 1604 (northbound ramps)
- interchange at 1604 & 151
- interchange at 1604 & 90
- interchange at 1604 & 1-35
- interchange at I-35 & 410
- Kelly Pkwy/Spur 371 (US 90 to SH 16)
- ALL of I-35 (from Atascosa to Comal County line)

For more info on these horrific sweetheart deals and runaway taxation at a cost of 75 cents PER MILE, go here.

One toll project defeated, but misplaced priorities prevent non-toll fix to most congested roadways


It's a HUGE VICTORY for taxpayers that one Bexar County toll project, Wurzbach Parkway's completion, has been nixed and reverted back to a non-toll project. However, putting Wurzbach Pkwy's completion above the fix to the unbearable congestion nightmare on US 281 and the west and east sides of Loop 1604 is inexplicable. On October 26, the local MPO had the chance to fix the west side of 1604 non-toll using Prop 12 bonds and to revert 281 back to a non-toll project using existing monies. The MPO voted it down 13-5, Councilman Ray Lopez and Commissioner Chico Rodriguez who represent that area of 1604 and Senator Jeff Wentworth and Commissioner Kevin Wolff who represent the 281 corridor were among the board members to vote down the non-toll amendments.

Weeks later, TxDOT and the RMA railroaded the Wurzbach Pkwy project through the Transportation Commission and removed Wurzbach Pkwy from the toll plans without even coming to the MPO for approval and without a word of public testimony asking for it. Contrast that to the 281 and 1604 amendments before the MPO on October 26 that would have made them non-toll projects and reduced the cost using the same arguments TxDOT used to get Wurzbach approved at reduced cost, that the MPO rejected despite more than 500 attendees and FIVE AND HALF HOURS of public testimony demanding the non-toll fix to these roadways. Something is seriously wrong with this picture!

The article below references a letter sent to Chairman Joe Pickett by MPO Chair Commissioner Tommy Adkisson but grossly misrepresents the intent of the letter. Read the letter. for yourself. What continues to fuel inaccurate assessments of all these letters flying around of late is that no one seems to be reading them. Adkisson was objecting to TxDOT's claim that it had come to the MPOs to get an approved list of projects for Prop 12 funding when it had not.

TxDOT acted alone, so did the RMA by removing Wurzbach from its toll plans and passing a resolution to fix it non-toll with Prop 12 bonds. Adkisson was sticking-up for the MPO's proper role in transportation decision-making, and from what I can tell, that's been the reason for most of his letters. So that was the rub, yet the article makes it appear Adkisson was blocking money coming to our region when nothing could be further from the truth. Had TxDOT come to the MPO as they are supposed to do and as they told the legislature and Commission they had, there wouldn't be any question about the MPO's priorities because the board would have adopted an official list.

At the end of the day, it's TxDOT who acted unilaterally to use-up the Prop 12 bonds on everything BUT a non-toll fix to our most congested roadways, 281 and 1604. TxDOT needs unbearable congestion in order to entice people to pay a toll to get out of it.  TxDOT just gave us another lesson in railroading 101.

Web Posted: 11/19/2009 5:02 CST

Wurzbach Parkway funds OK'd

By Josh Baugh - Express-News

The Texas Transportation Commission on Thursday approved about $2 billion in highway projects across the state, including $130 million to complete the final three segments of Wurzbach Parkway on the city's North Side.

Envisioned as a major thoroughfare connecting Interstate 35 to the Medical Center, the parkway has languished for years because of a lack of funding. But the state allocation will allow the Texas Department of Transportation to complete the final 4.8 miles of roadway.

Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff said the area was lucky to receive the money during an era of declining funding for road projects.

“This is a huge, huge win for us,” Wolff said. “It's about time that we finish a project that's 20 years old.”

Statewide, more than 850 projects worth $8.9 billion were submitted, according to a TxDOT press release. The commission approved 74 projects, including six on Interstate 35 in Central Texas worth about $1 billion.

Not everyone agrees with the transportation commission's priorities.

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, who also is chairman of the local Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the commission's funding allocations were “incomprehensible.”

“I still think U.S. 281 North is easily the No. 1 project in Bexar County that should get our focus,” he said. “But I'm happy to have any money come to Bexar County.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Express-News, Wolff mislead public about non-toll plan for 281

Talk about misleading...the claim that there is no valid non-toll plan for US 281 is flatly UNTRUE. Go here to see the TxDOT documents for a $100 million gas tax funded plan distributed in public hearings in 2001 that were also adopted into the MPO's plans for 5 years before being turned into a $1.3 billion toll road in 2004. The "let" date on this non-toll plan was 2004. How is a 5 year old plan "outdated" by TxDOT's standards? Wurzbach Pkwy, just approved by the Transportation Commission, is a 20 year old plan. The interchange at 1604 & I-10 used a 15 year old plan. Nearly all of TxDOT's planning is long-term, and its plans are meant to meet the needs of future projected traffic forecasts years into the future.

The cost escalation for the fix to 281 going from $100 million to a $1.3 billion toll road has NEVER been justified by TxDOT or the tolling authority (RMA) nor scrutinized by Commissioner Kevin Wolff, the MPO, or any elected officials except Commissioner Tommy Adkisson and Rep. David Leibowitz. Inexplicably, Wolff now advocates unprecedented scrutiny be paid to the far more affordable non-toll option, and he wants more taxpayer money spent on yet another non-toll study.

This unneeded wasteful spending of $200,000-$500,000 of taxpayer money on something TxDOT already has on the books but refuses to sponsor or advance due to its pro-toll agenda is a gross abuse of taxpayers and congestion weary commuters on 281. Fiscal conservatism and responsible government is absent from such "studies"...

Web Posted: 11/19/2009 12:00 CST

Non-toll option needs valid study

Express-News Editorial Board -

Anyone who has to endure traffic in the U.S. 281-Loop 1604 corridor on a regular basis wants the congestion problem solved sooner rather than later. And given the option, they'd prefer that the solution increase mobility with free lanes and interchanges rather than tolled ones.

The problem is that no up-to-date non-tolled option exists. As County Commissioner and Metropolitan Planning Organization Chairman Tommy Adkisson discovered in September, there is no plan or study available that can serve as the basis for non-tolled improvements to U.S. 281.

That didn't stop him from pushing the non-existent non-tolled plan at last month's heated MPO meeting. Fortunately, a majority of MPO board members voted down a proposal that would have put hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal transportation funding at risk and delayed progress on U.S. 281 by years.

Read the rest of the editorial here.
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