Conflict of interest: 281 consultant writes city's transportation plan

Link to article here.

Bulverde Transportation Plan written by 281 toll consultant
By Terri Hall
October 20, 2014

A Transportation Forum sponsored by the City of Bulverde, the Economic Development Foundation, and the Chamber of Commerce was held at GVTC on October 16. It was a 4-hour marathon brought to you by the same consultants, HNTB, hired by the Bexar County toll authority known as the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (or RMA).

The HNTB moderator, Tom Wendorf, used to head the Bexar County Public Works Department and actually VOTED to toll US 281 during his entire tenure on the local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). The fact that the City of Bulverde hired this company to write its Major Thoroughfare Plan (MTP) for our area is breathtaking. Whom you hire determines the outcome. Bulverde residents have loudly declared they do not want to pay $8/day in tolls to get into San Antonio (as the current proposal would require), nor do we want 12 stop lights added to US 281, as the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is planning to do as presented to an overflow crowd at the public meeting in July at the library.


HNTB is the RMA's hired-hand for a taxpayer-funded PR campaign to persuade the public that the 281 toll road is a done deal. It’s also one of the engineering firms that landed the 281 contract. However, the panel at the forum emphasized, it’s still possible to replace some of those toll lanes with non-toll lanes if the legislature gives more funding to state highways next year. Environmental clearance is expected for the toll project in December. So the timeline is tight and citizens must get involved and contact their elected officials about it immediately.

Every single lane we drive on today toll-free will become a toll lane. The ONLY non-toll option will be the newly built stop-light ridden, slower frontage roads, not highway main lanes. HNTB’s ads tell the public they’re doubling the capacity of US 281, but they’re counting the frontage roads in that claim. From Loop 1604 to Stone Oak Pkwy, there will be NO new highway main lanes (only the addition of frontage roads and merging lanes to the outside), and north of Stone Oak, only one new lane each direction. That’s hardly doubling the capacity. Most Texans don’t count access roads as a main lane of a highway. TxDOT and the RMA want those who can’t pay tolls to become accustomed to being second class citizens stuck on a substandard option riddled with stop lights into perpetuity.

Indeed, the RMA’s Fact Sheets being mailed to 30,000 households says of its toll plan: ‘It’s the only (emphasis mine) solution.’ The Alamo RMA "wants to control and own the message” even when the final configuration is still in doubt.

Just a few months ago, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Texas State Senator Donna Campbell sent a letter to the Texas Transportation Commission requesting Prop 1 funds (if it passes in November) be used to replace some of the toll lanes with more free lanes. So it’s still possible US 281 could get the needed overpasses and road expanded without tolls. Both gubernatorial candidates are campaigning as anti-toll and Attorney General Greg Abbott promises help is on the way. His transportation plan will properly fund roads without any more tolls.

However, State Representative Doug Miller indicated at the forum that he's not for converting existing free lanes into toll lanes, but he supported adding truly new toll lanes to the highway. However, we pointed out that there the plan will toll every single existing non-toll highway lane and frontage roads will be the only non-toll option. He replied that he’d take a look at it.

Land heist?
When HNTB presented the thoroughfare plan, it showed several major highways are planned in the northern reaches of the city’s ETJ as well as other places. No copy of the plan was given to the public and is not easily available on the city's web site. The reason cited was for ‘future development.’ Landowners in the path of these potential land-grabbing new highways need to get those proposals removed from the plan before the city council votes on it. Property owners in both New Braunfels and Boerne have managed to stop two proposed outer loops in their communities.

HNTB’s plan also shows a transit center at 1863 and Hwy 281 as well as three bike lane projects. A recent study conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute shows that when asking Texans to rank transportation solutions, toll roads came in DEAD last and hike & bike lanes came in just above it. Texans are very upset that so much emphasis is put on bike lanes. Bicyclists already share the road with cars. Few if any Bulverde residents are clamoring to get on a bus to ride into San Antonio. It’s a total waste of money ($10-$20 million) and it’s not a good fit for our community. That money should be spent on overpasses on US 281 instead of adding stop lights as TxDOT plans to do due to the uptick in development in the 281 corridor.

The city should remove those projects from its thoroughfare plan. The MPO, which enveloped the Hill Country last year in a hostile takeover from Bexar County, has a ‘complete streets’ policy that requires bike and pedestrian facilities be built with any highway expansion. The complete streets policy needs to be repealed and every project should be weighted and scored on its individual merit, not automatically wasted on adding bike lanes and sidewalks where it’s not needed or wanted.

Toll road biggest threat to home values and businesses
Who will want to buy homes or plant a business in Bulverde when residents and customers have to pay $8/day in tolls to get to work or visit our wonderful community? Property values will take a hit if our only way into and out of Bulverde is a toll road. Folks will locate somewhere else where they don’t have to pay tolls. Studies also show drivers try to avoid toll roads and divert onto neighborhood streets and side roads. This will increase the city and county’s costs for road maintenance and make our local streets less safe. There are many adverse impacts if this toll road gets built.

Contact Sen. Donna Campbell and Rep. Doug Miller to tell them we need our road fixed without tolls, and we won’t tolerate this targeted tax on Comal County residents.

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