San Antonio, TX, February 26, 2008 - Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), a grassroots group defending citizens from tolls on existing roads, and Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (AGUA), advocates for protection of the Edwards Aquifer, have joined together to file a lawsuit in federal court today asking that plans to convert US 281 to a toll road be stopped pending full compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.
The lawsuit alleges TxDOT failed to do a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this massive project over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, the sole source of water for over 1.2 million people as well as failed to study the cumulative effects of the combined 281 and Loop 1604 projects on the region’s economy, property values, tax revenues, businesses, residents, neighborhoods, and motorists.
“The controversy is indisputable. The overwhelming majority of citizens do NOT want their freeways converted into toll roads. This practice is now against the law without a public vote (HB 2702), but that hasn’t stopped our politicians from continuing this highway robbery,” Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), fumed.
PROOF THEY’RE TOLLING EXISTING ROADS
TURF posted a video on YouTube of State Representative David Leibowitz asking Alamo RMA Executive Director Terry Brechtel if, in fact, they are tolling existing roads/right of way already paid for by the taxpayers, and she answers, “That is correct.”
Together the highway expansions and toll projects of US 281 and Loop 1604 will cost well over $1 billion (US 281 is now up to $475 million, and Loop 1604 is approximately $1 billion). Yet TxDOT's environmental assessment claims there is "no significant impact" to residents, motorists, and businesses who will now be charged a toll to use what today is toll-free.
Hall pointed out that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) forced TxDOT to do a full EIS on the Bandera Road toll project (http://texasturf.org/images/stories/pdf/FHWA-Letter_Bandera-Road-EIS.pdf) citing the toll controversy as the reason. She noted the obvious contradiction of FHWA’s own policy of recommending a full EIS on controversial projects by its approval of 281 without an EIS compared to its mandate forcing an EIS on Bandera Road.
Hall thinks the only difference is that the politicians near Bandera Road are reflecting the citizen opposition against the toll road (Helotes, Grey Forest, and Leon Valley have all passed resolutions against the Bandera Rd toll project) while the politicians in the 281/1604 area, Frank Corte and Jeff Wentworth, are not.
“The politicians representing this area are pro-toll even though over 90% of the public feedback is opposed to the toll projects. It’s that stubborn refusal to step in and stop this double taxation that lands us in court today,” Hall concluded.
"Charging a toll will only hurt local businesses and residents who have invested in the 281 corridor. This is clearly taxation without representation. School boards and municipalities have to come to the voters to approve massive bond measures, and yet the Alamo RMA is about to sell $1 billion in toll revenue bonds without voter approval. What a horrific injustice to taxpayers!” said Hall.
Hall continued, “Special interests will profit from these tolls, since road contractors stand to make four times the money ($475 million) for converting 281 into a toll road instead of making the promised freeway improvements that have been funded with our gas tax money since 2003 (total freeway plan cost: $100 million). TxDOT and our politicians who enable them have continued to jam this down the taxpayers' throats over the public's opposition. It's time to install the gas tax funded overpass & expansion plan now.”
In public hearings in 2001, TxDOT promised improvements to 281 would be begin in 2003, but then did a bait and switch and decided to convert the entire 281 freeway into a toll road. Prominent businessmen auto dealer Ernesto Ancira and Tetco President Tom Turner both sent letters asking the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to revert back to the gas tax improvement plan in January of 2007 to no avail. The citizens have done the same.
Concerned citizens through TURF feel TxDOT and elected officials have forced them to go to court just to get them to comply with the law and to halt the toll project. Once the toll project is on hold, the citizens are demanding the gas tax FUNDED plan for overpasses be installed immediately.
“Most people believe TxDOT and the RMA’s lies that the ONLY way to get congestion relief is toll roads, which is patently false. They’ve had the cash in hand to fix 281 for 5 years, but they’ve hijacked our freeway simply to raid our wallets,” says Hall.
“This lawsuit is really about common-sense. It is ridiculous to say there is no significant impact from adding $1 billion worth of infrastructure over the recharge and contributing zones.” said Enrique Valdivia, President of AGUA. "TxDOT and US Fish & Wildlife issued a 'Finding of No Significant Impact' (FONSI) for highway 281, and a 'not likely to adversely affect' finding for endangered karst invertebrate species and the golden-cheeked warbler. Obviously,we think paving over 300 acres of recharge is pretty significant to everyone who depends on the aquifer."
The Edwards Aquifer is a karst aquifer that is highly vulnerable to water pollution because surface water quickly enters the aquifer through recharge features without significant filtration. Many toxic pollutants, such as benzene, are being found in aquifer wells and are common components of highway and parking lot run-off.
The plaintiffs are represented by Save Our Springs Alliance. SOS Alliance’s litigation docket and information on the adverse affects of highways can be found at www.sosalliance.org.
TURF also has a lawsuit pending against TXDOT for its misuse of taxpayer funds to "sell" the public toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor and for lobbying using taxpayer money.
View the filed complaint
AGUA's website is www.aquiferguardians.org
TURF's website is www.TexasTURF.org