Secret deal give private firm control of public roads, even free lanes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Cibolo Council approves secret deal to give private toll firm control of free lanes, too 
Agreement kept from public prior to council vote

(Cibolo, TX - Wednesday, March 1, 2017) In a stunning betrayal of open government, the Cibolo City Council voted 6-0 to approve a 50 year development agreement with Texas Turnpike Corporation (TTC), granting it the exclusive right to build, operate and maintain what's been dubbed the Cibolo Parkway - a tollway linking I-35 to I-10 through mostly rural farmland northeast of San Antonio. The agreement was negotiated behind closed doors and was kept secret from the public until it was approved last night. TTC has never successfully built a single road project, and the company was chased out of east Dallas two years ago by angry landowners when it proposed the Blacklands/Northeast Gateway tollway from Garland to Greenville.

Even worse, the city council gave TTC the rights to develop a project the taxpayers have already paid for, the expansion of FM 1103, the city's primary connection to I-35. By doing so, they've granted a private corporation a virtual monopoly over the existing non-toll competitor to its private toll road. TTC can intentionally slow down the free option to force more cars onto its for-profit toll road by manipulating speed limits, access points, and stop lights. It's a developer's dream and a commuter's worst nightmare.

The city tried to reassure residents there is no non-compete clause, prohibiting or penalizing the city from building any competing free roads. The agreement may still bind the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the county from expanding free roads. But who knows since no member of the public could see it before the council voted on it? So while the city touts it's protected taxpayers from a non-compete provision, it handed TTC control of the adjacent competing free lanes of FM 1103, achieving a form of a non-compete out the gate.

The agreement offers no way out for the city, except an eventual buy out opportunity after the road gets built. But those buy out agreements are just as thorny as these complex development contracts. Most private toll road developers require the public entity to pay them for any future loss in toll revenue, often making it more expensive to buy them out than the original cost to build it.

One has to wonder how any elected official could green light approval of a project before a toll feasibility study has been performed, the environmental review complete, or final route selected. It's worse than putting the cart before the horse, it's putting special interests above the public interest. The company insisted on having an irrevocable agreement in place with the city before it invested $10-$12 million for the feasibility study. Nice work if you can get it, but what about the taxpayer?

No formal public hearings were hosted by TxDOT to notify residents of the proposed project, so unless you happen to look at the city council agenda every two weeks, a resident had no way of knowing what just happened, much less have the ability to stop it since the majority of it was done behind closed doors with a private entity.

Throwing landowners under the bus
Cibolo has become a bedroom community of San Antonio, but before homes stacked the landscape, Cibolo's roots were decidedly agricultural with farming and ranching dating back to Texas' days as a republic. The mayor and council weren't afraid to show their intentions when public discussion about this possible private toll road began to surface last year. Their primary interest is in economic development, which is code for flipping farmland into a commercial tax base. The city acted so desperate for new economic development, it signaled to TTC that it would sell out its current residents for the promise of a higher tax base from its new ones.

The southern boundary of the city that was most recently annexed occurred over the objection of many landowners. Now their worst fears have been realized as a private developer who cozied up to the mayor and council got himself an iron clad contract to mow them over and change their way of life. Roads are disruptive to the native landscape and often split farms in half. Many will not be able to continue farming or even have the ability to access the other side of their property without an overpass (built at the developer's expense, which isn't going to happen in most cases). That's the city's intent - to drive out the farmers and welcome in big box stores generating lots of sales tax for it to spend. New residents, more traffic, and, they hope, more riders for the toll road.

Eminent domain for private gain
The city has agreed to use eminent domain to take land from its residents and confer it to a private entity for private gain, not for a legitimate public use. While the road is open to the public (so is a mall or restaurant) if they pay a toll, this arrangement is for a private toll road whose corporation will use the city's police force to become its private toll collector and speed enforcer.

While the politicians argued eminent domain would only be used as a last resort, that's the club TTC's CEO John Crew needs to get landowners to sign over their land in negotiated settlements. We've seen it used prolifically - sign on the dotted line for the amount we're offering or we'll take it with eminent domain and pay you even less.

Numbers don't add up
In town of just 25,000 residents, it's hard to conceive of how any toll road could be profitable. The city must be banking on literally hundreds of thousands of new residents to make the numbers work. Cities with populations over a million and lots of urban congestion have toll roads that can't pay for themselves. It just doesn't add up that this little city will provide enough users to pay back $125 million plus interest, plus profit over 50 years. No elected official has any control over the eventual toll rates that will be charged. So there is no cap or limit. While the consultants tried to say the free market would keep rates in check, roads by their very nature are a monopoly. Just ask the residents in Ft. Worth and Dallas who are paying a private Spanish firm in excess of $20/day in tolls to get to work if they think that's market rate or reasonable.

But numbers and data don't matter. The city council seems to think they're getting something for nothing - even if the toll road goes bankrupt, they get it back at a fire sale price. But the private company knows how to make money even when a toll road goes bankrupt. They put in very little of their own money and borrow the rest. The developer makes their money on the front end so that when it goes south, it's the bond holders who are at risk, not the developer. If the road goes into bankruptcy, the road will remain operational, but control then gets handed to the bond investors in bankruptcy court where a bunch of the debt gets written down and off the books and the investors hire another operator, starting the process all over again. Control does not revert back to the public or the city. Only if the city exercises its buy out option would the residents get it back under public control.  

Taxpayer money in play
The city manager and its lawyers bragged the city had no financial risk in the deal, yet, ironically, the city had to hire extra legal and engineering consultants to review the agreement, which is, of course, at taxpayer expense. There's more to come since next up is negotiating the formal operating agreement. Policing of this private toll road will also be done by city police. While the developer is supposedly responsible for paying to hire the extra personnel, who is responsible for those public employees' pensions, benefits, etc.? I'd bet money it's the taxpayers. Who will collect the tolls and what enforcement does the private company have access to? If it's anything like the SH 130 tollway, TxDOT does the toll collection and state law allows a user's vehicle registration to be blocked for failure to pay tolls, even when it's for a private toll road.

The city, like TxDOT, loves to claim the road and right of way is still technically owned by the city and hence the public, but that's only so the private toll company can use the public's policing and enforcement powers for its for-profit toll enterprises. For tax purposes, these corporations show ownership and depreciate it like an asset.

Then there's the tax money it would take to buy out the private developer at some point in the future. No matter how you slice it, Cibolo residents just got sold out by their elected officials. They've lost control of FM 1103, the ability to determine the toll rates, the route, the exits, the overpasses, the toll collection procedures, and a whole bunch more. Taxpayers will be paying for extra consultants and legal haggling for the foreseeable future. Accountability at the ballot box will now be your only recourse. Sadly, there are no remaining pain-free options.
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TxDOT tracks drivers to mine data without their consent

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TxDOT tracks drivers to mine data without their consent
Bluetooth reader used to stalk motorists' travel patterns 
    
(San Antonio, TX - Tuesday, June 2) At a recent stakeholders meeting on the I-35 bypass study, it came to light that a consultant hired by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) used a Bluetooth reader to collect the trip origination and destination data involuntarily from innocent travelers. Such data mining by government invades a motorist's privacy and violates one's Constitutional rights.

"Whether it was TxDOT or its consultant doesn't matter, it's all being done with taxpayer dollars and for a government agency. Didn't they learn from the NSA wiretapping scandal how much Americans detest government spying on the private lives of innocent, law-abiding citizens?" notes Terri Hall, Founder and Director of Texans for Toll-free Highways and Texas TURF.

Commissioners approve tolls for northside of San Antonio

Watch what happened on Fox 29 here.
(Note: The reporter mistook the agenda item where citizens' comment known as 'Citizens to be Heard' as the name of our group.
)


IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Commissioners approve tolls
for northside of San Antonio

Reaffirm tolls on US 281, I-10 despite
more road money coming to fix non-toll

(San Antonio, TX - Tuesday, January 17, 2015) Today, Bexar County commissioners passed a resolution brought by Kevin Wolff to 'reaffirm' what's been dubbed the $825 million 'Super Toll Plan' for toll lanes on US 281 (from Loop 1604 to the county line) and I-10 (from Loop 1604 to Boerne), and the initial non-toll expansion of Loop 1604 W (though tolls are coming from Bandera Rd. to I-35).

Hutchison, Canseco file amendment to protect taxpayers from tolls on existing freeways

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Hutchison, Canseco file amendment to STOP tolls on existing FREE lanes

Federal highway bill debate starts in U.S. House today

(San Antonio, TX - February 15, 2012) - Today the U.S. House of Representatives begin to debate the federal highway bill known as the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act. The U.S. Senate will soon follow. It's been 7 years since Congress passed the last federal highway bill. Now its racing through Congress at the speed of light.

An amendment to allow tolls on ALL existing interstates in all 50 states is expected to be presented on the floor by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware. Imposing tolls on existing freeways is a DOUBLE TAX -- charging motorists an additional tax, a toll, to use what they've already built and paid for.

The current House Bill, HR 7, only bans tolls on existing FEDERAL interstates. It GUTS the ban on imposing tolls on existing STATE highways -- a ban that Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison put in place for Texas since 2007. Hutchison has filed her amendment in the Senate and Congressman Quico Canseco filed virtually an identical amendment in the House.

Taxpayers should be concerned with several key provisions of the bill -- public private partnership authority, that sells-off our public roads to private corporations in sweetheart deals, tax hikes through unbridled tolling, borrowing more money from the Federal Reserve to lend to states to prop-up toll roads that can't pay for themselves (to State Infrastructure Banks and through the TIFIA loan program), and lifts the ban on imposing tolls on existing federal-aid highways. There are 500 toll projects being contemplated in Texas alone, some on existing free lanes like on segments of US 281 and Loop 1604 in San Antonio.

"It's going to take a grassroots tsunami to STOP Congress from selling off our public infrastructure to foreign toll operators like Cintra (the same playbook as the Trans Texas Corridor), from borrowing more money from the Federal Reserve to lend to states to prop-up toll roads that can't pay for themselves, and from imposing tolls on existing FREEways in ALL 50 states," warns Terri Hall, Founder and Executive Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), "Our freedom to travel, our sovereignty over our public assets, and fiscal sanity are at stake."

The toll industry just sent out word to get its lobbyists cranking to defeat the "populist amendment" to curb tolling.

"So the battle is on and taxpayers need to be engaged to ensure Congress passes a pro-taxpayer bill," Hall said in a call to arms.

Sneaky new tax
Government has figured out that instead of solving congestion, they can manipulate it for a profit (by keeping your free lanes congested and forcing people to pay a premium to get mobility). Politicians are terrified to raise the gas tax, but seem to have no problem imposing tolls on all new capacity to our roads, even on EXISTING lanes that we travel today without tolls.

It costs 1-2 cents per mile to travel a gas tax funded freeway, but anywhere from 20 cents a mile up to 75 cents per mile to use a toll lane (depending on whether its publicly or privately run), greatly increasing the cost to travel when motorists are already being hit hard by escalating gas prices. A gas tax funded road costs PENNIES a day versus a toll road that costs DOLLARS a day and THOUSANDS more in new taxes per year.

The way toll roads are being financed today, all Americans are paying to build them through subsidies of taxpayer money like gas tax, but motorists won't be able to use them without paying a toll, too. So whether a person can afford to take these toll lanes or not, they're paying for them.

"This notion that tolls are user fees is a myth when you look at how heavily they're subsidized by ALL taxpayers. You're also paying for them through a higher cost of goods that gets passed onto consumers," contends Hall.

Selling us out
Both the House and Senate versions of the federal highway bill, dubbed the American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act, include public private partnerships (or PPPs) that sell-off our public roads to private corporations in 50-99 year government-sanctioned toll road monopolies. PPPs use heaps of public money to socialize the losses, while they privatize and GUARANTEE profits for the private operators.

Columnist Michelle Malkin calls PPPs 'corporate welfare.' Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were some of the first PPPs and eventually caused the sub-prime mortgage crisis and subsequent $1 trillion dollar taxpayer bailout.

The TIFIA loan program is a major source of funds used to subsidize ill-conceived toll roads that can't pay for themselves, and it's the primary pot of taxpayer money given to these private, foreign corporations seeking to takeover our U.S. highways using public private partnership toll road contracts.

The first TIFIA loan was awarded to a private consortium in a PPP deal on the South Bay Expressway in San Diego. It went bankrupt less than three years later due to traffic projections that were off by over 40,000 cars per day! Taxpayers had to accept a write-down of nearly $80 million of a $172 million federal TIFIA loan in yet another taxpayer bailout for private corporations.

Power to tax in hands of corporations
"The TIFIA loan program is all BORROWED money from the Federal Reserve, so who will have to bailout these toll roads when the cars don't show up as they didn't in San Diego along with other projects across the country? YOU and me, the taxpayer," Hall points out, "Think about it - PPPs give private corporations the power to TAX! They are granted the power to levy unlimited toll taxes on the traveling public - and we can't hold corporations accountable like we can politicians at the ballot box. This is why politicians LOVE PPPs. They get to OUTSOURCE the taxation to their special interest buddies and makes us pay back our own money with interest through tolls."

Rather than get rid of the failed TIFIA loan program, the federal highway bill INCREASES TIFIA funding by nearly TEN times from $100/yr to $1 BILLION/yr. Current law requires the taxpayers to be paid back first, now in the bill as written, private interests would get paid back first and taxpayers would be paid back last.

PPPs also contain non-compete clauses that prohibit or penalize the expansion of free roads surrounding the privatized toll roads, guaranteeing congestion on the free routes. Also, PPP toll contracts allow private entities to benefit from the use of eminent domain, and they result in toll rates as high as 75 cents a mile. That's like adding $15 to every gallon of gas you buy.

TURF is encouraging Americans to contact their members of Congress to make their voices heard. They want the Hutchison-Canseco Amendment to prevent existing FREE lanes from being tolled, and to remove PPPs and TIFIA from the bill.

TURF is a non-partisan, grassroots, all-volunteer group defending citizens' concerns with Agenda 21, toll road policy, public private partnerships, and eminent domain abuse. TURF promotes pro-taxpayer, pro-freedom, & non-toll transportation solutions. For more information or to support the work of TURF, please visit www.TexasTURF.org.

Pull the plug on RMA

TURF, Homeowners Taxpayers Association, and others testified before the San Antonio City Council asking them NOT to extend the Alamo RMA's loan another year (the agency is basically in default) and to dissolve them. Read TURF's full testimony below.

Watch what happened...Video unavailable

Dissolve RMA, not keep it on life support

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Taxpayers to officials: Dissolve RMA, not keep it on life support

City to consider move to rescue RMA from default


(San Antonio, TX - Wednesday, August 3, 2011)
The San Antonio City Council will consider extending the City's $500,000 loan to the Alamo RMA (the toll authority) for another year (Item #27 on tomorrow's agenda). The loan was due last year, when it should have gone into default, but the City voted to extend the deadline to this year. Councilman Reed Williams has signaled he may pull it off consent agenda so it can be discussed as a standalone item. TURF will go before the Council to testify against the City extending the loan.

"Keeping the RMA alive guarantees tolls will be charged to drive on our existing roads (281, 1604, I-35, I-10...total of 57 projects already on the books), since the RMA's only way to pay this loan back is tolling. Do you or I get spared from going into default if we can't pay our debts? The RMA needs to go into default and be dissolved altogether. Time to cut our losses and get rid of 'em. They're the poster child for government waste," contends Terri Hall, Director of TURF.

WHAT DO WE WANT? The RMA GONE!
According to its most recent financial statement, the RMA is now $51 million in the hole. The only way this will be paid back is tolls. The Alamo RMA touts that hey've built non-toll projects - the 281 superstreet and the southern ramps of the interchange at 281/1604 are currently under construction.

"These projects were a fluke, initially to be done with stimulus money that put them on life support until their first toll project opened, yet the taxpayers already pay TxDOT to build non-toll roads. So the RMA is a colossal WASTE and duplication of efforts," Hall points out.


RMA documents show the cost to build the 4 northern ramps is only $59 million in 2013 dollars. The RMA is only building the southern 4 ramps now, but are charging taxpayers the price for all 8 ramps, $120 million.

"Why are they only building half now? Because they want to toll the northern ramps to tie into the future 281 toll road, which they say won't be ready for clearance until 2013," Hall asserts.

Read more about the interchange RIP-OFF here: http://texasturf.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=633&Itemid=26.

COST ESCALATION A TAXPAYER RIP-OFF
The cost to fix 281 went from a NON-TOLL plan of $100 million in 2004 dollars ($13 million/mile), then up to $202 million (or $26 million/mile) in 2005/2006 when Zachry was going to turn it into a toll road and then hand it to Cintra, (until the AGUA/PET lawsuit stopped it), then up to $475 million (or $61 million/mile) in 2007 when the RMA took control (over a time period when highway costs went way down -- most highway contracts have been coming in under the estimated cost for nearly three years now), and now its most recent estimate is all the way up to $500 million (or $64 million/mile).

The RMA has to add in the cost to acquire the right of way, $85 million, (which TxDOT has a separate account the taxpayers have already paid into with gas taxes to acquire right of way when it's a non-toll project), and another $41 million in "management fees" (again, this does not get added to the cost on a non-toll TxDOT project since taxpayers already pay TxDOT's operating expenses). So at a minimum, it's $126 million more to have the RMA do it than if TxDOT did the project non-toll. All of this added cost will be baked into the price of the toll rate.

"So when the RMA does projects, whether tolled or not, taxpayers pay TWICE for the bureaucracy," reveals Hall.

HOW DISSOLUTION CAN BE DONE
The majority of the RMA Board members are appointed by the county commissioners and county judge, the city council gets one appointee, and Governor Rick Perry appoints the Chair. TURF asked the county commissioners to dissolve the RMA back in 2009.

Here's TURF's testimony before commissioners court when there were three votes to dissolve at commissioners court in 2009:
http://texasturf.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=654&Itemid=26

It didn't happen because the commissioners don't have direct authority to dissolve the agency. According to state law (Transportation Code Chapter 370.331 Subchapter H), the Transportation Commission has to approve voluntary dissolution. However, the county and city control all but one of the appointees and can direct them to do their bidding and the county and city can make their wishes known in no uncertain terms via passage of a resolution. The Alamo RMA was first created by resolution of the county to petition the Transportation Commission to form an RMA (a political subdivision of the state) in 2003. The Commissioners Court can pass a resolution directing their appointees to vote to dissolve the Alamo RMA and to direct the Transportation Commission to do the same.

"Two things. It's a cop-out for both the county and city to say they have no authority over this agency when they appoint the Board. Second, it's real hard for the Transportation Commission to claim RMAs are 'locally controlled' and then ignore the wishes of those who appoint the board members and the Commissioners Court that petitioned to create them in the first place. It's time to change course and politicians change their minds all the time. Getting rid of an UN-elected, wasteful, duplicative government bureaucracy that has the power to levy unlimited toll taxes is in the public's best interest," notes Hall.

Since Alamo RMA Board Member Jim Reed is the City's appointee, the Council can direct Reed by resolution to vote to dissolve the RMA and ask the Commission to concur.

TOLL ROADS IN SEA OF RED INK
While the Alamo RMA has lobbied our local elected officials with promises of surplus revenue from toll roads to fund all their transportation dreams (mass transit, light rail, etc.), reality shows a different picture. A recent story in the Statesman revealed that the Central Texas turnpike system required a $100 million taxpayer BAILOUT, 70% more in subsidies than originally projected. The 183 A project of the Central Texas RMA was projected to have a 9.6% increase in traffic this year and only 1.5% showed up and the CTRMA is having to consider junk bonds to finance its next project because Standard & Poors has considered it too high a credit risk for investment grade bonds. In North Texas, it's system was over $100 million in the hole last year, even with a 32% rate hike! This analysis of 9 toll systems around the country (three of them in Texas) shows only 2 are operating in the black.

"To quote John Adams, facts are stubborn things. The financial viability of toll roads is based on speculation and rosy traffic projections (read about San Diego's South Bay Expressway where the traffic projections were off by 40,000 cars a day and went bankrupt, requiring a taxpayer bailout) that are far from the financial realities of today's cash-strapped commuters struggling to keep gas in their tanks. Rick Perry's grand toll road experiment is a colossal failure of public policy, it's unsustainable, and it's time to pull the plug on the toll road fairy that over-promises and under-delivers," concludes Hall, "A litany of bad financial decisions will have to follow the decision to toll San Antonio roads if we're forced down this path. Where will the money come from locally to cover the debt on these roads when the traffic doesn't show up? Local government can't dip into the state's gas taxes to plug its hole as TxDOT did. Property tax increases, sales tax increases? Will those tax increases be any more popular with voters than tolls? I think not."

Watch the YouTube of how RMA Chair Bill Thornton treats concerned citizens during public comment: http://texasturf.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1114&Itemid=2

Chance to fix Hwy 281 without tolls

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Chance to fix 281 without tolls
MPO to vote on Prop 12 allocation Monday

(San Antonio, TX, July 21, 2011) The 82nd Texas Legislature authorized the remaining $3 billion in Prop 12 bonds to be issued for road and bridge projects. The MPO will be voting on which projects will receive Prop 12 money at its policy board meeting on Monday. The criteria for Prop 12 money is that it must fund a project listed in the top 50 of the 100 Most Congested Roadways list.

Here's a link to the 100 Most Congested Roadways list where US 281 is #38:
http://apps.dot.state.tx.us/apps/rider56/list.htm

Loop 1604 from SH 16 to FM 471, US 281 north of Loop 1604, and two segments of I-35 (from Loop 353 to 281 and from FM 1518 to Loop 1604) would meet that criteria.

“We know all of these projects are important and need to be addressed. The question is, in what order? We're asking the MPO to allocate Prop 12 money to US 281 first since it was previously funded with gas taxes for 7 years in the MPO's plan before they spent it elsewhere, and thousands of San Antonians have repeatedly asked that it be done without tolls,” advocates Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.

Rep. Lyle Larson served on the MPO when he was a Bexar County Commissioner and said that projects that were previously funded that get bumped for any reason should be the first ones funded again when money becomes available. Since US 281 already had funding identified in MPO plans from roughly 2001 to 2008, TURF believes it ought to be the first project in the pipeline to receive Prop 12 funds now. As with Wurzbach Pkwy that was previously identified to be tolled and then reverted back to a non-toll project when stimulus money and Prop14 money was made available, US 281 can be done the same way (even if only a portion of the 8 miles can be done now). In fact, many MPO board members, like Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff, have stated they would do exactly that if funds became available, and the opportunity is here.

MPO staff, including some county staff, will be meeting today to decide which projects to recommend. TxDOT, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA), and MPO staff have been seeking to allocate Prop 12 funds for the ARMA's I-35 toll project above funding non-toll improvements to 281 and 1604. Many taxpayers, including TURF, object to taxpayer money like Prop 12 being used to subsidize toll projects (it's a DOUBLE TAX the same as tolling existing roads that have been paid for).

Of course, TURF has long advocated that US 281 be fixed and kept a FREEway without tolls. TURF wants this Prop 12 money to go strictly to non-toll overpasses and improvements on 281and not to be used to subsidize the ARMA's toll plan. Several TURF supporters sit on the ARMA's Community Advisory Group for the 281 environmental study and believe the study could easily be completed by next year, especially if the controversial toll plan that requires a deeper study of impacts (especially economic impacts) is dropped.

Tolls in perpetuity now law
RMAs got their every wish granted this session under the moniker of ‘local control.’ Two bills in particular, HB 1112 and SB 19, represent a huge policy shift away from traditional turnpikes where the toll comes off the road when it’s paid for to granting authority to keep tolls in place to fund other projects. HB 1112 by Rep. Larry Phillips allows toll entities, in effect, to toll in perpetuity by keeping the tolls in place after the road is paid for.

SB 19 by Sen. Robert Nichols, known as the ‘primacy’ bill, gives toll entities the right of first refusal on all toll projects in its jurisdiction. However, when toll entities exercise a right of first refusal, under Nichols’ bill, they also get development rights for ALL future segments of the project. SB 19 also grants toll entities ownership of the road in perpetuity. This virtually guarantees tolls will be charged in perpetuity and that these projects will be never become non-toll roads. These effectively grant a limitless power to tax to UN-elected toll entities.

Robin Hood tax grab

Some have dubbed this practice known as ‘system financing’ as Robin Hood since it steals toll taxes from one corridor and pledges it to another corridor (that those same users may not use). It can also involve increasing the toll on one segment to gain ‘surplus revenue’ to pledge to another project and so on, making it impossible to take tolls off the original road. The Texas Constitution currently prohibits perpetuities in Art I, Sec. 26, though Sen. Chris Harris advanced a Constitutional amendment, SJR 13 (which died in the Calendars Committee in the House), to change that.

Toll authorities even got the right to conduct their own environmental studies, which is like the fox guarding the henhouse, ensuring the preferred alternative is always a toll road, not a free road.
MPO plans contain 57 toll projects for Bexar County

Few realize the MPO’s long-range plan contains 57 toll projects, 18 of them slated to come under foreign control using controversial private toll contracts called Comprehensive Development Agreements (or CDAs).

The grassroots defeated CDAs during a special called session of the Texas legislature in July 2009, but the 82nd legislature re-authorized the controversial contracts over the loud opposition of over 100 grassroots groups -- across the gamut from tea parties and libertarians to environmental and public interest groups earlier this summer.

TURF has alerted the grassroots to urge the MPO to:

1) Allocate Prop 12 tax money to fix 281 WITHOUT TOLLS as promised

2) REMOVE toll roads, particularly CDA toll roads, from its plans.

3) Use traditional funding (gas taxes, vehicle sales taxes, etc.), NOT privatization and tolling Texas roads as the source of funding for these projects.

“We’ve been warning San Antonians for years that Rick Perry has made his toll tax policy so expansive, they won’t be able to escape it. The MPO’s list of 57 toll projects shows how out of touch our politicians are with the economic realities of their constituents. It’s clear this is about more than getting projects built, it’s an all-out assault on our freedom to travel by making it unaffordable to drive. I haven’t met a single Texan outside the Capitol that thinks it’s a good idea to cede control of our Texas roads to foreign companies,” observes Hall.

As an example of just what a taxpayer disaster it is to hand control of our public roads to private, foreign toll operators using CDAs, drivers on a road operated by Spain-based Cintra (who has won three Texas contracts already) in Canada receive their first bill totaling thousands of dollars in fines years after they supposedly took the tollway. The government has no power to step-in and protect motorists from runaway taxation nor disputed toll fines.

A sample list of toll projects in the MPO’s plans:

-Hwy 90 (from 410 to 211)
- I-10 (from 410 to county line)
- Loop 1604 (the entire loop, not just the northern half currently under development by ARMA)
-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)

Council to vote to give toll authority BAILOUT on loan

IMMEDIATE RELEASE


Council to vote to give toll authority BAILOUT on loan

Says repayment a ‘financial hardship’ on the RMA

(San Antonio, TX, October 13, 2010) Thursday, the San Antonio City Council is set to vote to extend its $500,000 loan to the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) for one year. The RMA is officially in DEFAULT and says it doesn't have the money to pay the loan back until it has a revenue stream (ie - tolls) to pay it back. City staff claim to require payment of the loan would pose a “financial hardship” on the RMA. It’s only available revenue stream is toll roads, which has led to widespread controversy, litigation, and public backlash.

“Instead of axing the dead weight of a toll road bureaucracy that's used up $40 million in taxpayer money and that draws $1.2 million annually in salaries for just 10 people, they're planning to vote to give the RMA a one year extension on its loan. What about the ‘financial hardship’ of tolls in perpetuity on the taxpayers?” asks TURF Founder Terri Hall.

“A vote to extend this loan is, in effect, an RMA bailout. A vote to extend is a vote FOR toll roads. Guess what that means? Your taxes are going to go up to keep this tax-sucking entity alive! If you and I couldn't pay back a loan, we'd be in foreclosure, have our car repossessed, or go bankrupt. It's time to PULL THE PLUG on the RMA!”

The item is on the consent agenda, which means it'll be voted on in a group with other items. It's not even up for discussion. TURF is urging its supporters to call councilmembers and ask them to pull the item and vote to NOT extend the loan, but cut its losses and close down the RMA.

The loan controversy comes on the heels of Mayor Julian Castro’s meeting  with the President just yesterday about 281/1604. Express-News columnist Scott Stroud hinted at the possibility of getting the roads fixed without tolls as being a political coup for Castro. Thursday’s vote will be a big test of Castro and the city council’s willingness to cast a vote for tolls, knowing the community opposition to them.

NEW 'Truth Be Tolled: 281 Special Edition' to premiere in San Antonio

Link to Truth Be Tolled web site here.


 Watch more trailers:

Trailer 3

Trailer 2

Trailer 1
___________________________________________________________________________________

PRESS RELEASE

New documentary shines the light on the citizens' fight against tolling 281 and the Trans Texas Corridor

Official Selection of The 2010 WorldFest-Houston International Film and Video Festival and Gold Award recipient premieres in San Antonio September 30



EVENT INFORMATION -

NEW Truth Be Tolled Film Premiere
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Palladium Theater
17703 W IH-10
San Antonio, TX 78257

Event Timeline:
-- KTSA's Kevin Wall to broadcast LIVE from theater! (4-5:30 PM)
-- Meet the Cast & Crew Reception - 6:00 PM

Author Matt Dellinger will also be on hand for a book signing on his new book about Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69.

-- Film begins - 7:00 PM
-- Q & A after the film


_______________________________________________________________________________________________________



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—Storm Pictures LLC has just completed an entirely new special edition of William H. Molina’s award-winning feature documentary, 'Truth Be Tolled: 281 Special Edition,' which documents and exposes the controversial truth behind the tolling of US Highway 281 and the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The 281 Special Edition chronicles the dramatic events that emerge during public meetings, environmental lawsuits, press conferences and a State Legislative session plagued by back room deals, secret contracts, and corrupt leadership. The documentary also exposes the truth about the Trans-Texas Corridor, a threat still alive for many ranchers, farmers and residents that sit in its path (only one-quarter of the corridor is truly "dead").

“This is not just one toll road, it's a sweeping new policy -- every new lane, every new road in the State of Texas, with few exceptions, is slated to become a toll road. There are 57 toll projects on the books for Bexar County alone,” reveals Terri Hall, a home-schooling mother turned anti-toll activist who has led the grassroots effort to halt the proliferation of toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The Texas Department of Transportation is so entangled in its own shortcomings that the Sunset Commission declares, “Until trust is restored at TxDOT, the state can not effectively meet its transportation needs.”

Government and unelected bureaucracies have figured a way to make money on public infrastructure.  The current plan is to convert existing right of ways, already paid and funded by taxpayers, into tollways and hand them over to foreign and private interests without so much as a public vote. Citizens are crying "highway robbery."

The political establishment is not listening to the people, but their voices will be heard.

MPO rams 37 toll projects down San Antonians’ throats

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

UPDATE: It's been brought to our attention that there are actually 57 toll projects in the plan. The MPO adopted the plan December 3, 2009.

Eye-popping 37 toll projects appear in MPO’s new plan, 18 to come under foreign control
Taxpayers’ revolt ahead of Monday vote

(San Antonio, TX, December 3, 2009) While San Antonians were enjoying turkey and counting their blessings this Thanksgiving, their politicians were scurrying to load-up the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPO) long-range plan with no less than 37 toll projects, 18 of them slated to come under foreign control using controversial private toll contracts called Comprehensive Development Agreements (or CDAs).

The grassroots defeated CDAs during a special called session of the Texas legislature in July, yet the MPO plugged these now illegal contracts into its plan anyway, apparently following TxDOT’s playbook of using it as a means to get CDAs re-authorized over the LOUD OPPOSITION of Texans in the next legislative session in 2011. TURF has alerted the grassroots to urge the MPO to:

1) REMOVE toll roads and CDAs 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.

“We’ve been warning San Antonians for years that Rick Perry has made his toll tax policy so expansive, they won’t be able to escape it. The MPO’s list of 37 toll projects shows how out of touch our politicians are with the economic realities of their constituents. It’s clear this about more than getting projects built, it’s an all-out assault on our freedom to travel by making it unaffordable to drive. I haven’t met a single Texan outside the Capitol that thinks it’s a good idea to cede control of our Texas roads to foreign companies,” observes Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.

As an example of just what a taxpayer disaster it is to hand control of our public roads to private, foreign toll operators using CDAs, drivers on a road operated by Spain-based Cintra (who has won three Texas contracts already) in Canada receive their first bill totaling thousands of dollars in fines years after they supposedly took the tollway. The government has no power to step-in and protect motorists from runaway taxation nor disputed toll fines.

A recent article in the Toronto Star chronicles the nightmare:

"’We, as a government, have no control over that, as a result of the (Mike) Harris government's deal,’ to lease the toll road to a private consortium for 99 years and include a provision in the contract forcing the transportation ministry to deny new plates to anyone who doesn't pay the 407 whatever it demands, said Bradley.

“The 407 ‘negotiated a deal that was very favourable to them and they covered all the aspects of the deal that they would want,’ said Bradley.

“Many readers said they think the 407 deliberately holds back invoices on unpaid balances to allow interest charges to grow, but Bradley noted that it "is responsible for establishing its own business practices, and under its deal ... it has the right to set and collect tolls and administration fees and interest."

Here's some of the anti-taxpayer provisions involved in CDA sweetheart deals:
-In Texas, they can last up to 52 years
- Contracts kept secret from the public until AFTER they're signed (no transparency, no way to ensure public protections)
-Charge oppressively high toll rates, like 75 cents PER MILE (like the deals in DFW) which on average will mean $3,000 a year in new taxes on driving
-Grant foreign companies the right to levy taxes, the power to take away drivers licenses or car/license plate registration
-Removes rights of due process for toll violations and fines
-Non-compete agreements that guarantee congestion on the free routes
-Guaranteed annual profits (so they can raise the toll rates to whatever price needed so they always get their guaranteed level of profit)
-Massive taxpayer subsidies (so it's a double and even triple tax scenario) yet all the profits leave Texas
-Toll companies write off the depreciation of the "asset" on their taxes (then spin it off to another subsidiary company and start the depreciation all over again)
- Exemption from alternative minimum taxes and often special use of tax-exempt public bonds
- Little to no actual risk transfer
-Slower speed limits on free routes and higher speed limits on the tollways to drive more traffic to the toll roads (financial incentive given to TxDOT for driving more traffic to the tollways)

A sample list of toll projects on the docket:

-Hwy 90 (from 410 to 211)
- I-10 (from 410 to 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)

Taxpayers ask Board to dump tolls


PRESS ADVISORY

Taxpayers to ask planning board
to dump tolls on 281, 1604

(San Antonio, TX) - The fight to keep tolls off existing freeways will reach new heights on Monday, October 26, as the local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) will take action on whether or not to remove 281(north of 1604) and the most congested part of 1604 (on the west side from 151 to Bandera Rd) from the toll plans. The MPO has called two special meetings this month in preparation for the vote, and toll opponents are delighted to have the battle moved from downtown (at the Via Metro Center where MPO board meetings take place) to the northside where the toll roads are proposed to hit first. Opponents also scored a victory by changing the usual meeting time from 1:00 PM in the middle of the workday to 6 PM when the public can actually participate.

The sparks are already flying as both sides seek to line-up the votes on the 19 member board: 10 elected, 9 appointed. The partially taxpayer-funded San Antonio Mobility Coalition has consistently lobbied for tolling of all types, and has sent out multiple emails blasts to it's 70 private companies, the majority of whom profit directly from road building (and who want a road building slush fund), to lobby the MPO Board in favor of higher taxes (tolls). SAMCo itself is also lobbying the Board, in part, on the taxpayers' dime with "sky is falling" type hysteria. It's already causing a backlash among taxpayers. Read more here.

WHO/WHAT: MPO Meeting to vote down 281/1604 toll roads
WHEN: Monday, October 26 @ 6:00 PM
WHERE: Alzafar Shrine Temple, 901 1604 W, San Antonio, TX 78232

TURF is spreading the word through two street banners (one at 281 & Evans Rd and the other at 1604 & Braun Rd.), by passing out thousands of fliers (see it here) in the proposed toll corridors, a special web site with meeting information and which elected officials to call, as well as making robo phone calls to get folks to the October 26 meeting. Their message?

Toll roads mean...

• $12/day or $3,000/year in new toll-taxes!
(Based on published estimates)

• Guarantees congestion by prohibiting expansion of free routes! (prevents surrounding arteries like Stone Oak, Blanco, Bulverde, Bandera, Braun, and Shaenfield from being widened)

• TRIPLE TAXATION! (1-Paid for existing road, 2-will use tax $ to build it, 3-charge toll-tax to drive on it)

• Hands our public roads to foreign corporations for 50 years! (Two Spanish companies already have 5 contracts in TX)

• Businesses will pass toll-tax on to YOU!
(Prices for goods & services will skyrocket)

More information at www.FixGridlock.com.

Tolling Exec pulls $10,000 bonus in down economy

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

San Antonio, TX, September 3, 2009 - While the average Texan is thankful to have a paycheck, even if it's a shrinking one, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) has been living large getting across the board 10% pay increases (FY 2008-2009, with another 5% budgeted for merit increases that were never paid out), and the Executive Director, Terry Brechtel, raking in an additional $10,000 performance bonus, paid to her in June. Performance bonus? Perhaps they mean her performance as a master in obfuscating and misleading the public on its toll plans? (Watch it on You Tube here).

Considering the Bexar County Commissioners were grilling county agencies at Commissioners Court Tuesday over 2% pay hikes in this down economy, it begs the question why a county-appointed tolling authority, the ARMA, is getting off scot-free without a whisper of scrutiny or without challenge to such lavish luxuries when so many in the community are economically hurting.

Considering the ARMA has NOTHING to show for itself, not one road open to traffic after five years in existence, their proposed 5% "merit" increases (budgeted in FY 2008-2009, but were never actually paid out) certainly wouldn't square with actual performance. Even its 5% cost of living pay increase (FY 2008-2009) is more than most Texans will see in their paychecks this year or next.

In fact, a dozen citizens asked the county commissioner to dissolve the ARMA altogether Tuesday. Three commissioners have already floated the idea of closing the ARMA earlier this year. Yet at today's ARMA Board meeting, the Board approved the $1.2 million in salaries for the small staff. Though next year's salaries will not increase, out of eight employees, only two make less than $100,000 a year. Considering the median household income in San Antonio is only $36,000, it shows just how out of step this agency is with the plight of the ordinary citizens it's anxious to tax to get to work.

Greed and the proverbial "gravy train" motivate the ARMA to continue its gratuitous spending, dishonesty, and intransigence in pushing toll roads on an angry public that rejects tolling existing freeways.

In yesterday's Washington Times article about executive pay being out of step with main street America, Nell Minow of the Corporate Library, said "the continued big earnings and pay at bailed-out banks is feeding a sense of injustice and outrage among ordinary citizens who are feeling the brunt of the financial crisis. Pay that is out of whack with performance ... is a symptom of bad corporate governance, bad economic judgment, but it's also the disease."

The same can be said of this government agency. They've adopted the worst of corporate America's bail-out indulgences with government inefficiency and exploitation of the taxpayers who pay the bills.

Enough is enough! It's high time the County Commissioners put a stop to such abuse and extravagance. Dissolve the ARMA, now!

For more info go to: www.281OverpassesNow.com and www.TexasTURF.org

Adkisson elected Chair, declares war on toll roads

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Grassroots hail new Chair of MPO
Adkisson retains power to set agenda, declares war on toll roads

San Antonio, TX, Tuesday, July 28, 2009 – Commissioner Tommy Adkisson officially became Chair of the San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Monday, but not without the usual powerplays and controversy that have surrounded toll roads in San Antonio.  A proposal to change its bylaws to strip the Chair of the power to set the MPO agenda and give it to the Executive Committee, was thwarted, after an intense debate, due to the failure to properly place it on the agenda. But the media left believing all the fireworks had gone off only to MISS the flame that ignited later in the meeting over keeping 281 and 1604 in the toll plans.

Read Terri Hall's article in the Examiner for details on the VICTORY, the players, and the betrayals here

MPO Power Grab III: faction to strip agenda from Chair


PRESS ADVISORY

MPO power grab, Round III
Faction on MPO propose to strip Adkisson of power to set the agenda

San Antonio, TX, Monday, July 27, 2009 – Monday’s San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meeting contains a proposal to changes its bylaws to strip the Chair of the power to set the MPO agenda and give it to the Executive Committee that’s 50% UN-elected bureaucrats. Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, a vocal opponent of toll roads, will be elected the new Chair at the meeting, so the proposed changes come as toll advocates are dealt a blow. The grassroots are crying foul.

Read Terri Hall's Examiner article with all the gory details on the players and the betrayals here.

 “We the people have seen these tactics by the political establishment time and again. If the taxpayers reject their policies, they just keep changes the rules in the middle of the game to try to maintain control at all costs. Well, the public rejected the MPO power grab in 2007 and 2008, and we reject it again now,” observes Terri Hall, Texas TURF Founder.

In 2007, there was an attempt by Mayor Phil Hardberger to appoint an unelected alternate to the MPO Board (that would have voting powers in the place of an elected appointee). The grassroots rose up, and it was soundly rejected by the public and tabled at the City Council.

In 2008, former MPO Chair Sheila McNeil sought more controversial changes to the bylaws that diluted what constituted a quorum, making un-elected appointees have greater say than elected officials. The bylaw changes also formed this Executive Committee and gave new powers to the UN-elected Executive Director to make changes to MPO plans. The grassroots fought the changes and won much of the battle (defeating boundary changes and changes to project scoring to make tolling easier) last June.

Now, for a third time, a power grab is taking place at the MPO. Since Adkisson is the Vice Chair and now the acting Chair (since McNeil’s term expired in May), it begs the question: who drafted and approved this agenda hostile to the Chair without the Chair’s approval?

Be there for the SMACKDOWN!

WHO: Taxpayers through Texans United for Reform and Freedom (Texas TURF)
WHAT: MPO meeting where they’ll vote to elect the Chair, address controversial changes to the bylaws (granting TxDOT direct say over the agenda involving billions in taxpayer money), and some controversial changes to MPO plans that would make non-toll alternatives to 281/1604 harder.
WHEN: Monday, July 27 @ 1:30 PM
WHERE: Via Transit Center, 1021 San Pedro (near SAC)

Community wants the RMA to go away!

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DISSOLVE THE RMA!
TURF/Toll Party
Comments to Bexar County Commissioners
April 7, 2009
The Alamo RMA is on life support. After spending tens of millions of taxpayer money, they have not one thing to show for it but a trail of dishonesty, and abuse of taxpayer money on every front like its 411 on 281 propaganda campaign and high-priced lobbyist to lobby lawmakers to keep their own jobs, not to mention relentless below the belt attacks on ordinary citizens, especially housewives and homeschooling moms.  

The Alamo RMA and TxDOT are trying to convince the public NOTHING can be done on 281 for 7-9 years (3-5 years for a new environmental study and 3.8 years to build it). The law plainly shows this mantra is patently false. The clearance got pulled for the toll project only. There are provisions in the law that would allow the scaled down, non-toll original overpass expansion plan to move forward in months not years.

The ONLY thing that’s delaying the fix to this freeway now is the Alamo RMA’s REFUSAL to work with the community on a smaller scale, non-toll solution to 281 north. This isn’t about a lack of funding or lack of clearance, it’s about a lack of political will by those who want to tap the vein of congestion-weary commuters to make money off this freeway.


The “slice & dice” interchange – an RMA bailout!

Here’s the rub over the stimulus money. WOAI news radio reported January 14 that the RMA submitted a proposal to fix the main lanes on US 281, without making them toll lanes. Yet in the project list submitted to the Transportation Commission for stimulus funds, it clearly lists 281 as a toll road! RMA Chairman Bill Thornton promised it would remain a freeway if they got stimulus money for it. But they never submitted 281 as a non-toll project and never intended to do a non-toll fix as these documents show. Then in yet another twist, the RMA abandoned the freeway fix completely to pursue the interchange.

It’s a bait and switch and the public is SICK and TIRED of the misleading information, broken promises, and outright lies.

Clearly, the Alamo RMA is NOT an honest broker.

An Express-News article states only the southbound connectors would be built using the stimulus money. The RMA says the reasons they sliced and diced the interchange is because that’s all they have money to build. Just last year, the entire interchange cost was listed at $150 million. Now they say $143 million will only build half if it.

Total HOGWASH!

The interchange is a red herring to use up the stimulus money on something other than fixing the BIGGER problem, which is getting overpasses built to remove the stoplights from our freeway and get traffic moving again. This interchange is an “RMA bailout”!

Short of the environmental work for 281, they’ll be twittling their thumbs for the next 5 years. They’re grasping at straws to find anything they can call “shovel ready” to keep their doors open.

The reason they don’t want to build the northbound connections is because they plan to toll them (as shown in MPO documents dated February 23, 2009, that stated “connections to managed lanes optional” -- managed lanes are toll lanes). When angry taxpayers made such a stink about using stimulus money on toll projects (which is a TRIPLE TAX), the RMA subsequently backed away from building the whole interchange knowing they’d get blowback if they came in later and tolled those ramps that were paid for already.

So instead of building the entire interchange, they scrapped the northbound connections and will let all of 281 north wither on the vine for 7-9 years until they get their toll road built.

They've promised if a new pot of money appeared, they'd keep them freeways. Now they've got it (stimulus money), and they're still going to end-up tolling our freeways.

We do not need new legislation to get rid of this out of control agency. Simply direct them to vote to dissolve. And please do it quickly since they’ll say and do anything to stay on life support, and keep us doling out their lavish $1 million dollar salaries and benefits, instead of serve the best interest of the taxpayers. A bill in the Legislature to merge the RMA into a new agency just had a public hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee yesterday. So time is of the essence!

Stimulus Bait & Switch: Interchange is an RMA bailout, excuse not to fix 281 north


IMMEDIATE RELEASE


Stimulus Bait & Switch:
Interchange is an RMA bailout, excuse not to fix 281 north

San Antonio, TX – Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (AGUA) and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) set the record straight about the status of 281, the litigation over the project, the interchange, the use of stimulus funds, and the Alamo RMA's REFUSAL to work with the community on a smaller scale, non-toll solution to 281 north in a press conference today.

It took a lawsuit to STOP the 281 toll road. With the toll road off the table, TURF and thousands of concerned citizens believe it's well past time to get on with building a smaller scale, non-toll solution on 281. The Alamo RMA and TxDOT are waging a propaganda campaign to convince the public NOTHING can be done on 281 for 7-9 years (3-5 years for a new environmental study and 3.8 years to build it). TURF says the law plainly shows this mantra is patently false. The clearance got pulled for the toll project only. There are provisions in the law that would allow the scaled down, non-toll original overpass expansion plan to move forward in months not years.

"The ONLY thing that’s delaying the fix to this freeway now is the Alamo RMA’s REFUSAL to work with the community on a smaller scale, non-toll solution to 281 north. This isn’t about a lack of funding or lack of clearance, it’s about a lack of political will by corrupt politicians and government agencies who want to tap the vein of congestion-weary commuters to make money off this freeway," said Terri Hall, Texas TURF’s Founder and Director who didn’t mince words.

The “slice & dice” interchange – an RMA bailout!

Here’s the rub over the stimulus money. WOAI news radio reported January 14: “For the first time ever, officials are floating a proposal to build the long planned new main lanes of US 281 outside of Loop 1604, without making them toll lanes.” Yet in the project list submitted to the Transportation Commission for stimulus funds, it clearly lists 281 as a toll road! Alamo RMA Chairman Bill Thornton promised it would remain a freeway if they got stimulus money for it (read it here): “If the project is paid for through federal funds, you don’t need that option of tolling.” But they never submitted 281 as a non-toll project and never intended to do a non-toll fix as these documents show. Then in yet another twist, the RMA abandoned the freeway fix completely to pursue the interchange.

“It’s a bait and switch and the public is SICK and TIRED of the misleading information, broken promises, and outright lies,” Hall fumed.

“Clearly, neither TxDOT nor the Alamo RMA is an honest broker and both REFUSE to negotiate or work with the community on a smaller scale, more affordable, non-toll solution for these freeways.

“What we've been asking for and insisting on since day one is a non-toll solution for 281, 1604 and the interchange. They've promised for years if a new pot of money came out of nowhere, they'd keep them freeways. Now they've got it (stimulus money), and they're still going to end-up tolling our freeways. This is taxation without representation and a TRIPLE TAX rip-off.”

This Express-News article states only the southbound connectors would be built using the stimulus money. The RMA says the reasons they sliced and diced the interchange is because that’s all they have money for. Just last year, the entire interchange cost was listed at $150 million. Now they say $143 million will only build half if it.

“We say that’s HOGWASH!” Hall related.

The interchange is a red herring to use up the stimulus money on something other than fixing the BIGGER problem, which is getting overpasses built to remove the stoplights from our freeway and get traffic moving again. This interchange is an “RMA bailout”!

TURF said the RMA is on life support, and has spent over $10 million taxpayer money and have not one project on the ground to show for it.

“Short of the environmental work for 281, they’ll be twittling their thumbs for the next 5 years. They’re grasping at straws to find anything they can call “shovel ready” to keep their doors open,” Hall pointed out.

TURF thinks the reason they don’t want to build the northbound connections is because they plan to toll them (as shown in MPO documents dated February 23, 2009, that stated “connections to managed lanes optional” -- managed lanes are toll lanes). When angry taxpayers made such a stink about using stimulus money on toll projects (which is a TRIPLE TAX), the RMA subsequently backed away from building the whole interchange knowing they’d get blowback if they came in later and tolled those ramps that were paid for already.

“So instead of building the entire interchange, they scrapped the northbound connections and will let all of 281 north wither on the vine for 7-9 years until they get their toll road built,” Hall concluded.

“This slice and dice interchange project is an RMA bailout, plain and simple.”

AGUA and TURF encouraged folks to turnout to the Public Hearing on Stimulus Funds at City Hall at 10 AM tomorrow to weigh-in on this issue. They contend the wrong projects are being built with these funds (70% of them are being used to build toll roads) and that a toll tax adds economic distress, not relieve it.

RMA trying to have it both ways

TxDOT and the Alamo RMA are using a "categorical exclusion" (or CE) exemption as a way to claim it has the “clearance” to get away with building a 5 STORY interchange. This category is used for minor changes to intersections and meant for changes that have literally NO IMPACT. How can they say a 5 level interchange has NO IMPACT? Yet they used this same exemption to build an overpass for the Dominion (off I-10), and now try to say it can’t be used to build overpasses on 281 with stimulus or other funds.

“They can’t have it both ways,” says Hall.

Next, how can they build an interchange without knowing what it will connect to (a toll road, 6 lanes, 8 lanes, some tolled, some not what)?

“By locking-in the configuration of the interchange, they lock in the long-term plan for both those freeways,” notes Andrew Hawkins, AGUA/TURF attorney.

Another lawsuit?

“Our attorneys simply sent a letter to the feds questioning the exemption being used to build a 5 level interchange, and Thornton, came unhinged and spread rumors of another lawsuit. Our 281 lawsuit is still pending with the court, and NO decision has been made about whether AGUA and TURF will sue, either in a new lawsuit or by re-opening the
current lawsuit,” Hall emphasized.

Hawkins stated the groups’ concerns this way: “If the interchange they propose to build nails down the configuration for both 281 and 1604, then the analysis of alternatives -- which is the most important part of the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act, the federal law that guides road projects) process -- becomes entirely meaningless.

“Since the financing and design of 281&1604 all tie together, then the only honest way to look at alternatives is to look at comprehensive alternatives for the whole system -- which basically means looking at alternatives to serve transportation needs for the aquifer region. Segmenting, or piecemealing, the project as they now propose would severely prejudice the outcomes.”

RMA “411 on 281” ad campaign abuse of taxpayer money

Instead of working the community, the Alamo RMA is engaging in an aggressive, slick propaganda campaign (www.411on281.com) USING TAXPAYER MONEY to spread misleading and even false statements, including blaming concerned citizens for the stalemate when it’s really the RMA causing the delays now.

One of the outright falsehoods on the web site states that the original overpass plan for 281 didn’t include frontage roads when it did. TxDOT’s own documents show that plan included 6 main lanes and 4 frontage lanes. It’s linked from www.281OverpassesNow.com. The RMA claims on the site that there is no funding for 281, when MPO documents show $100 million in gas taxes, $325 million in Texas Mobility Funds, and now there’s $143 million in stimulus funds in the mix. Their web site also states it’s illegal to give these contracts to foreign companies when the legislature just had a hearing on a bill to extend the use of such contracts, and 2 of these deals just got signed in North Texas only months ago.

So who’s lying to whom? It’s certainly not the taxpayers, these groups contend.

The groups’ said the credibility of these agencies is shot, and that their slick ad campaigns (which their own documents expose) demonstrate time and again that the public cannot trust one word that comes out of the mouths of these agencies.

“They will say and do anything, even break the law, to get access to our wallets and build a $1.4 billion boondoggle of a toll road that their own documents show isn’t toll viable or sustainable,” noted Hall.

The groups’ message: we can get this project underway in months, not years, if these agencies would work with the community on a solution today.

Operation: Meltdown the Phones

The EARLIEST the MEGA toll road option could be built (20 lanes wide, $1.4 billion price tag) is 7-9 years from now (3-5 years for a new study, 3.8 years to build per RMA documents). TURF says the toll road is clearly NO longer an option and that residents, commuters, and businesses cannot and WILL NOT wait nearly a decade to get relief when all that’s needed is the smaller overpass & expansion plan that’s one-tenth the cost, and would take less than half the time to build.

To get politicians to fix this mess, TURF launched a new campaign today found at www.FixGridlock.com called Operation: Meltdown the Phones. Every day when folks are stuck at these stoplights, they’re asking angry commuters to call-up their politicians and demand the fix now.  TURF suggested motorists program their cell phones with the phone numbers of their State Representative, Frank Corte, and State Senator Jeff Wentworth, and call them EVERY morning and EVERY evening to INSIST on the non-toll overpass plan on 281.

“Unless we meltdown their phone lines EVERY DAY, we'll be stuck in limbo indefinitely,” concluded Hall.

For more info go to: www.281OverpassesNow.com and www.FixGridlock.com.

Interchange to nowhere, stimulus fiasco


IMMEDIATE RELEASE

AGUA/TURF question status of 281/1604 interchange, stimulus funds

 

San Antonio, TX, February 23, 2009 – AGUA and TURF have concerns about the status of the 281/1604 interchange in light of the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPO) vote today to submit it as a "shovel ready" project for stimulus funds.

“While we welcome ANY non-toll funding to FINALLY complete these projects, we have to ask…what will this interchange connect with? Toll lanes or non-toll lanes? Will it only connect with what’s there now or what? How can they build an interchange without knowing what sort of lanes it’ll connect with?” Terri Hall, Founder of TURF, asks.

Enrique Valdivia, President of the Board of Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (AGUA) wondered, ”We’re concerned that stimulus money is being used to fund projects within the scope of the issues we've raised in our lawsuit.”


Hall says the non-toll fix to 281 and1604 and the interchange should all be on the table. While the toll road clearance has been pulled, there are provisions in the law that would allow all these improvements to move forward as scaled down non-toll projects if the politicians would demand that TxDOT work with community groups to agree on a less invasive, more affordable plan.

“Until now, TxDOT and the RMA have REFUSED to negotiate. They want a massive toll road that steals our freeway and raids our wallets,” Hall said.

Citizens have been clamoring to get the original, non-toll freeway plan built on 281 for 4 years, and they have recently launched a campaign to pressure politicians in the area to get the job done. View it here. The freeway fix was promised in public hearings in 2001, had environmental clearance, no opposition, and it was funded with gas taxes in 2003. Then the Texas Legislature, including State Rep. Frank Corte and Sen. Jeff Wentworth, voted for Governor Rick Perry’s toll road plans. That’s when 281 FREEway improvements were turned into a toll plan instead.

“It’s all about the money. Our politicians want to tap the vein and charge 281 commuters an extra tax to get to work in order to fund their pet projects elsewhere. It’s highway robbery and citizens, rightly, went nuclear to stop it,” Hall declared.

Though the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) and TxDOT stubbornly claim there is no money or environmental clearance to fix 281, [the money is still there in Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) documents], $425 million total, which is more than enough for the less invasive original plan AND the interchange at 281/1604 and the most congested areas of 1604.

“The stalemate over 281 isn’t about lack of money or lack of clearance, it’s about a lack of political will. It’s about rogue bureaucrats and unresponsive politicians who can magically produce $20 million for an overpass for wealthy campaign donors in the Dominion, yet they’d have us believe the same ‘can’t’ be done on 281. The pathway to a solution the taxpayers and environmental groups are happy with is ripe for the picking, but our politicians refuse to choose it. They want our money, and they don’t care about the environment or whose lives’ they’re wrecking to do it,” Hall noted.

Judge keeps 281 lawsuit alive

IMMEDIATE RELEASE


FEDERAL JUDGE RETAINS OVERSIGHT OF US 281 AND LOOP 1604 PROJECTS

San Antonio, TX – February 6, 2009 - Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery turned to common sense, “old lessons,” the wisdom of Aristotle, and even a bit of poetry in a ruling on the lawsuit filed by Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (AGUA) and Texans United for Reform and Freedom (TURF) against the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) over the proposed US 281 and Loop 1604 toll roads.

Specifically, Judge Biery denied motions by FHWA, TxDOT and ARMA to dismiss the case as moot.  Instead, the Judge took an interim step that left the case closed but pending on the court’s docket and subject to further requests for relief by the parties.  At the same time, Biery denied motions by the Plaintiffs to order the Defendants to release study documents on the proposed toll roads that were previously withheld.


While stopping short of ordering the Defendants to study the proposed, intersecting US 281 and Loop 1604 projects together in one comprehensive environmental study, Judge Biery wrote that while “the Court has no highway engineering expertise, it seems commonsensical that two intersecting parts costing billions would be connected to create an Aristotelian whole.”

In response to the lawsuit, FHWA had previously reversed course on US 281, revoking its approval and ordering TxDOT to prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed seven mile long toll road.  The project would extend from Loop 1604 north to the Comal County line.  TxDOT had also recommended that the proposed 36-mile long Loop 1604 toll road, which similarly traverses the recharge zone for the Edwards Aquifer, be approved without an EIS.  But in recent months ARMA has stepped forward to begin the process of preparing preparing EISs on both projects.  All of the Defendants, however, have resisted Plaintiffs demands that the two projects be studied together, in a single study on what ARMA has called its “starter toll system.”

The court makes clear that it will watch the next moves from FHWA and TxDOT and that it expects “transparency and public participation” in the decision-making process.

Judge Biery’s six page order writes of “Uncle Fred and Aunt Della Grantham . . . [who] knew nothing about computers or air conditioning or environmental impact statements, but they were wise enough not to build the privy close to their water supply.”

In leaving the case pending, Judge Biery wrote that while the projects remain “at a red light, the issues of water quality and quantity and traffic gridlock will not disappear into the legal smog. . . .  What is known is that we, like the dinosaurs and the cockroaches, will either adapt, move or die.”  He concluded with this adaptation of John Donne’s meditation of 1624 (which, in turn, inspired Hemingway’s novel, “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

“No San Antonian is an island, entire of itself;
Each is a piece of South Texas, a part of the Edwards escarpment.
If our refuse washes into the aquifer,
all are the less.

And species’ death diminishes the whole,
Because we are all involved in life,
and therefore never send to ask for whom the road tolls;
it tolls for thee.”

Representatives for the Plaintiffs deferred comment for another day, preferring that the people of San Antonio consider the words of the court.

To read the Court’s opinion, go here.

TURF, Toll Party endorse Pape Dawson's 281 plan


IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Grassroots hail Pape Dawson’s interim fix for 281

San Antonio, TX, February 5, 2009Gene Dawson, President of Pape Dawson Engineers, saw a problem, unbelievable gridlock on 281 North of 1604, and he was just the guy who knew how to fix it. Pape Dawson has been briefing neighborhood groups on what many see as a workable interim solution to help get weary commuters on 281 N moving again.

What’s the best part about it? The fix is only $7.2 million, can clear environmental hurdles, boost traffic flow by 40%, and be done by the end of the year. See the schematic of the proposed J-turn intersections here. It’s called a superstreet, and they’ve been successfully implemented in North Carolina, Michigan, and Ohio and could be an affordable solution applied to other parts of Bexar County, like 1604 and Braun Rd. area and on Bandera Rd.

“The grassroots are thrilled at the truly innovative solution Pape Dawson has brought to the table. It shows how we don’t need a 20 lane toll road plan to get traffic moving again. It also shows that there's plenty of talent in this community to get the long-term fix on 281 when we all work together toward a sensible, speedy solution. While we believe the long-term solution to the county line can commence in months not years if the politicians would insist TxDOT work with community groups to agree on a less invasive, more affordable plan, this superstreet will at least stop the bleeding,” Terri Hall, Founder of TURF and the San Antonio Toll Party, relates.

Citizens have been clamoring to get the original, non-toll freeway plan built on 281 for 4 years, and they have recently launched a campaign to pressure politicians in the area to get the job done. View it here. The freeway fix was promised in public hearings in 2001, had environmental clearance, no opposition, and it was funded with gas taxes in 2003. Then the Texas Legislature, including State Rep. Frank Corte and Sen. Jeff Wentworth, voted for Governor Rick Perry’s toll road plans. That’s when 281 FREEway improvements were turned into a toll plan instead.

“It’s all about the money. Our politicians want to tap the vein and charge 281 commuters an extra tax to get to work in order to fund their pet projects elsewhere. It’s highway robbery and citizens, rightly, went nuclear to stop it,” Hall declared.

Though the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) and TxDOT stubbornly claim there is no money or environmental clearance to fix 281, the money is still there in Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) documents, $425 million total, which is more than enough for the less invasive original plan AND the interchange at 281/1604.

“There are provisions in the law that would allow the project to commence with environmental clearance, and these agencies know it. They vehemently deny it because their jobs depend on it.

“The stalemate over 281 isn’t about lack of money or lack of clearance, it’s about a lack of political will. It’s about rogue bureaucrats and unresponsive politicians who can magically produce $20 million for an overpass for wealthy campaign donors in the Dominion, yet they’d have us believe the same ‘can’t’ be done on 281. The pathway to a solution the taxpayers and environmental groups are happy with is ripe for the picking, but our politicians refuse to choose it. They want our money, and they don’t care about the environment or whose lives’ they’re wrecking to do it,” Hall noted.

City of San Antonio to change ordinance due to TURF lawsuit

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

City of San Antonio to gag political speech in proposed change to ordinance

City’s hypocrisy seen in “Vagina Monologues” banner being hung, yet it denied toll road/recall banners for being too “controversial”

San Antonio, TX, January 29, 2009 – Today, the San Antonio City Council will consider a change (agenda item #21) that would gag political speech in its street banner ordinance in response to TURF’s lawsuit over the City’s approval then abrupt denial of two street banners.

TURF filed suit against the City in United States District Court on December 2, 2008 for infringing upon its free speech for denying two street banners: one announcing a recall petition drive involving District 8 Councilwoman Diane Cibrian that directed citizens to a recall web site (www.RecallDiane.com) and another announcing a web site www.281OverpassesNow.com with non-toll solutions to fix Hwy 281 N.

This proposed change in ordinance is a direct response to the litigation still pending before the court. The City’s Development Services Department brief submitted to the Council for this agenda item by Director Rod Sanchez makes legal claims that remain an open question before the court. Whether or not the space above streets and between utility poles is a traditional public forum or not and whether or not the City can restrict free speech in this forum is not a settled matter. Judge Xavier Rodriguez' ruling even states that the plaintiffs may prevail.

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“To make changes to the ordinance prior to any final action by the court is beyond the pale. The Judge stated in his first ruling that ‘...There is a distinct possibility that the plaintiffs may ultimately prevail on the claim that the ordinance violates the First Amendment as applied to them...’ so for the City to act now is entirely premature and may invite further First Amendment challenges over the blatant restriction of free speech in this forum.

“”Protecting political speech and the right to dissent in a public forum was the primary purpose of the First Amendment. This case has enormous implications for future First Amendment rights over public streets. We’re urging the City to pull this agenda item until the litigation is settled and we ask that Councilwoman Diane Cibrian recuse herself from any action on this agenda item since one of the banners involved a recall of the Councilwoman,” states a concerned Terri Hall, TURF Founder and Director.

Then, in a turn of events that can only be construed as a double standard, the City at this very moment has granted a permit for a banner emblazoned with "Vagina Monologues" (see photo here) that’s hanging above Alamo Street near Durango, yet the same entity denied TURF’s banner about toll roads and a recall campaign for being what it claimed was too “controversial.”

“Isn't ‘Vagina Monologues’ controversial if not more so than toll roads? Some might call it outright offensive or even obscene speech. This unequal application of the ordinance bolsters our claim that the City is discriminating against TURF based on the content of its banner and suggests the City is blatantly suppressing TURF’s message while giving other controversial messages a free pass,” notes Hall.

For background on the case: go here

See complete text of comments submitted to the City Council below:


To be read prior to any vote on Agenda Item #21 regarding changes to the City Code for Street Banners

Submitted by Terri Hall, Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), a non-profit, all-volunteer grassroots group promoting non-toll transportation solutions

Public comment on First Amendment Street Banner concerns

This agenda item is a direct response to a lawsuit filed by TURF challenging the City Development Services Department’s denial of permits for (2) TURF street banners under the current ordinance which reads: temporary signs “…must advertise or promote a non-commercial, not for private profit event, a charitable community drive, or a community announcement.”

This case is still in litigation and it is beyond the pale to make changes to this ordinance until the case is settled. Whether or not the City can restrict free speech based on content in this forum is an open question before the court that ought to be fully considered prior to any changes in the City code.

United States Judge Xavier Rodriguez states in his initial ruling: "Given the lack of definitions or limiting terms in the Code and the placement of decision-making authority in the director of development services, the ordinance appears to allow virtually unfettered discretion in the director to determine what qualifies as a 'community announcement.' Standing alone, this evidence would suggest that the ordinance is constitutionally problematic because that amount of discretion seems unreasonable in light of the nature of the forum and could permit the director to make decisions based on viewpoint.

"...There is a distinct possibility that the plaintiffs may ultimately prevail on the claim that the ordinance violates the First Amendment as applied to them..."

Whether or not the space above streets and between utility poles is a traditional public forum or not is an open question before the court where the plaintiffs may prevail. In the brief by Mr. Sanchez, he tries to claim the City has consistently shut out political speech. Yet based on the blatantly contradictory testimony in the case, it is NOT clear as to whether or not a consistent application of the ordinance has been applied since the City approved the banners knowing the content only to later deny them after much deliberation and confusion ensued about whether or not the banners were permissible under the code.

When the City denied the banners it stated TURF didn’t meet “the category and definition” only to later claim in court documents that the message of the banners is “controversial,” and therefore the legal basis for its denial. However, the statute gives the City no such authority to deny permits based on content, which violates of the citizens’ First Amendment rights in the U.S. Constitution.

Then, in a turn of events that can only be construed as a double standard, the City at this very moment has granted a permit for a banner emblazoned with "Vagina Monologues" (see photo here) that’s hanging above Alamo Street near Durango, yet the same entity denied TURF’s banner about toll roads and a recall campaign, which the City approved and then later denied for being what it claimed was too controversial! Isn't "Vagina Monologues" controversial if not more so than toll roads?! Some might call it outright offensive or even vulgar and obscene speech. This unequal application of the ordinance bolsters our claim that the City is discriminating against TURF based on the content of its banner and suggests the City is blatantly suppressing TURF’s message while giving other controversial messages a free pass.

The City of San Antonio seems to lack the proper respect for Free Speech and the fair treatment of ALL groups, regardless of their make-up or message. The City denied TURF’s banners simply because it disagrees with the message of toll opponents. We the people own the public right of way, and the First Amendment protects the citizens from government gag orders on speech, particularly political speech.

First, we ask that this agenda be pulled and that any changes to the ordinance occur after the lawsuit is settled and the public is allowed to fully weigh-in on this crucial Free Speech issue. Second, Councilwoman Diane Cibrian should recuse herself from any action relating to this item since one of the banners involves a recall campaign for the councilwoman.
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