Interchange at 281/1604 to cost TWICE as much as it should?

Let's try to compare apples to apples in order to demonstrate how egregious the fiscal malfeasance is here...

The 410/281 interchange that opened not even two years ago, included ALL 8 ramps (northbound and southbound connectors) for $155 million (see article below from June 2008). Now the 281/1604 interchange project being built by the tolling authority, the RMA, (not TxDOT), wants to blow $140 million on just 4 ramps, only the southbound connectors. Considering project bids have been coming in UNDER cost due to the economic downturn and road builders being hungry for work, this betrayal of the RMA's fidiciary duty to the public is that much more irresponsible. Why?

So it can come in later and toll the northbound ramps that will charge motorists nearly 60 cents per vehicle and over a $1.00 per truck for the "privilege" of using a public roadway for which we already pay taxes. The RMA initially promised to build the whole interchange non-toll, but cut the project in half once the feds found out their plans to toll the northbound ramps and insisted it be a part of the new environmental study required for the 281 & 1604 toll roads. If they'd drop the toll roads, the northbound ramps could also be built NOW with existing stimulus money.

But because they just can't stop seeing green from all the money they stand to make from tolling us, they continue to thumb their noses at the thousands of citizens opposed to tolling these freeways (who have fought it at the local, state, and federal level for 5 years now), and proceed to ram it down our throats anyway, abusing taxpayer money to the tune of $84 million (that's the cost of the extra "enhancements" on the project that have NOTHING to do with the interchange, which is designed to blow through the extra money that should be going to build the northbound ramps that have a published cost of $59 million).

Compare cost:

$59 million (published cost for 4 northbound ramps for 281/1604 interchange)

$140 million (published cost for 4 southbound ramps for 281/1604 interchange)

$155 million (actual cost for ALL 8 ramps of 410/281 interchange that opened June of 2008)

What's wrong with this picture?

Padding the cost to taxpayers

The interchange project also closes 3 entrances/exits that exist today and make all traffic exiting or entering 281 to/from the frontage roads have to sit through two traffic lights instead of one.  I wonder if Costco, Walmart, and HEB realize the hassle these "improvements" will create for their customers? It's certainly guaranteed to make access to the neighborhoods affected a nightmare! Then, the plan pads the project with re-surfacing all of 1604 from Bitters to Redland and 281 from Bitters to 1604 (this isn't even needed compared to the poor condition of 281 north of 1604 and could be funded out of maintenance dollars, not the scarce funds for new construction), as well as lighting, sidewalks, and two pedestrian bridges.

They're also adding numerous "auxiliary lanes" (on 1604 westbound from Bitters to Stone Oak and 281 northbound and southbound from Bitters to 1604), which is a way to add capacity without calling it adding capacity in order to get around environmental hurdles. Yet, they claim NO added capacity nor any overpasses can be added to 281 north of 1604 until the new environmental study is completed in 3-5 years. So let me get this straight, the RMA can add two stories (70+ feet high) to the 281/1604 interchange and add lanes to both 1604 west and 281 south of 1604, but it can't build a few overpasses (23 feet high) or add any lanes to 281 north using the same category of environmental review? What hypocrites!

Any thinking person can see the unequal application of the law, and that's why citizens blasted the RMA for its misplaced priorities, flagrant abuse of taxpayer money, and for playing games with people's lives for their own gain.

Net gain or net loss?

While the taxpayers want and deserve this long overdue interchange, the RMA acknowledged Monday night that the ramps would only shave 5 minutes from the current conditions. Compare that to the exponential time savings of overpasses on 281 north, and it's a no-brainer where this money ought to be spent and where the congestion problem really lies.

Web Posted: 01/11/2010
Work on North Side interchange may start soon
By Josh Baugh
Express-News

The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority could begin building a nontolled interchange between U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 on the North Side — relieving gridlock at the city's most congested intersection — by the summer.

But during a meeting Monday to present the project's draft environmental document to the public, the RMA came under fire for everything from plans to install pedestrian bridges and additional lighting to the existence of potholes in a subdivision neighboring the project.

About a dozen residents voiced concerns and opposition to the $140 million project, which would build an interchange connecting northbound U.S. 281 to Loop 1604 in both directions, and east- and westbound 1604 to southbound U.S. 281.

The RMA will include comments from Monday's meeting — and further comments submitted by Jan. 21 — in its environmental document, known as a “categorical exclusion,” which must receive approval from the Federal Highway Administration for the project to proceed.

Toll road opponent Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, said her group doesn't officially oppose the project yet, but it has some concerns over it. Hall said she believes the interchange will stifle access to adjacent neighborhoods and shopping centers and could produce air and noise pollution.

Hall also objects to the RMA's plans to gain environmental clearance through a categorical exclusion — the lowest level of environmental review.

“We hope they're not cutting corners with how they're designing this project,” Hall said, adding that she hopes the RMA will address her group's concerns before the project is built.

Read the rest of the story here.
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U.S. 281/Loop 410 interchange ramps are complete
Express-News
Web Posted: 06/10/2008

One of the most widely ridiculed features of San Antonio's highway network — the lack of an interchange at Loop 410 and U.S. 281 — slipped into history Monday with the opening of the last two ramps.

Crews opened the ramps from both directions of U.S. 281 to eastbound Loop 410 before rush hour, Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Anikka Ayala-Rogers said.

“Oh, really?” said Ken Kephart, an automobile diagnostician who uses Loop 410 and U.S. 281 half a dozen times a week to get to jobs. “Well, when I came to San Antonio 25 years ago, I didn't see how they got along without access.”

Work began three years ago on the $155 million interchange, and the first of the eight ramps started opening in June 2007. Bonds squeezed the work from about 10 years to a record 31/2.

Motorists such as Kephart found the shorter schedule hard to believe, especially after upgrading the interchange at Interstate 10 and Loop 410 dragged on for a decade, with the last ramps opening there just seven months ago.

Read the rest of the article here.

RMA open house on 281/1604 interchange a farce


Link to article here.

See why the "open house" format is an affront to federal requirements for public involvement here.

Web Posted: 08/26/2009 12:00 CDT

Study on highway project disputed

By Josh Baugh - Express-News

The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority on Tuesday held its lone public meeting for plans to build four non-tolled direct connectors between U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 — a plan that's expected to ease congestion in one of the city's worst intersections.

But the RMA's efforts to quickly move through a low-level environmental review came under fire from critics who've raised concerns about everything from environmental impact to the method in which the meeting was conducted.

The RMA will use federal stimulus money to pay for the $140 million project that will connect northbound U.S. 281 with eastbound and westbound Loop 1604 and connect eastbound and westbound 1604 to southbound 281. The northern side of the project can't be built, RMA officials said, because the agency doesn't have environmental clearance for work north of the loop.

Enrique Valdivia, president of Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas, said his group advocates a more holistic approach. AGUA believes that the environmental review ought to include the Loop 1604 and U.S. 281 corridors as well.

“What we've been arguing all along is that any long-term solution needs to take in the entire area — not a piecemeal approach,” he said.

The RMA is conducting three separate environmental reviews on the two highways and the direct-connector project.

Valdivia said he's concerned that constructing the direct connectors will predetermine the scope and plan of expanding Loop 1604 and U.S. 281.

His group, a co-plaintiff with Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, hasn't ruled out reopening a federal lawsuit to ensure that the proper level of environmental review is done.

Stacey Benningfield, a consultant handling the RMA's environmental review, said the level of review isn't up to the RMA. Rather, it's decided by the Federal Highway Administration. That agency has directed the RMA to do the lowest level of environmental review — a categorical exclusion — for the interchange project, Benningfield said.

Agency officials based that recommendation on other similar projects and what they knew about the RMA project, Benningfield said. The federal agency has the final say in approving the document and based on the review could require a higher-level study.

Tuesday's meeting was a successful one, RMA officials said. RMA board members attended and helped answer specific questions from the public.

“This is an opportunity for the public to really get engaged,” RMA Executive Director Terry Brechtel said. “Look around. People are talking. They're asking questions.”

The RMA hopes to hire a contractor by next spring to design and build the project.

Munoz' ties to 281 toll road create trail of corruption

Link to article here. Update: Munoz & team did snag the contract.

Munoz' ties to 281 toll road create trail of corruption
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
September 17, 2014

The Express-News reported yesterday that Henry Munoz is angling to get a piece of the US 281 toll project in San Antonio by seeking a 5-year engineering contract with the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (RMA). The trouble stems from his sordid history of buying and manipulating local politicians, and he’s particularly adept at it when it comes to transportation. He's set-up his own company to now profit from the project he helped fashion while a public official.

Munoz is a former member of the Texas Turnpike Authority and a former Texas Transportation Commissioner, who resigned from the agency under a cloud of scandal for his staff abusing the state travel program and for providing inside information to a Mexican construction company in exchange for lavish accommodations, travel, and other personal pay-offs. Nearly a decade later, Munoz was appointed to the Alamo RMA and served as its Finance Committee Chair. He bolted when Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) successfully sued to halt the US 281 project in 2008. It was just no fun for him to be there anymore. No money to snag for the foreseeable future.

RMA targets toll opposition in taxpayer-funded PR campaign

Link to article here.

RMA targets toll opposition in taxpayer-funded PR campaign
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
September 18, 2014

You’ve probably heard the radio ads with Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) Chairman John Clamp touting the benefits of the US 281 toll project. If you’re like me, you got steaming mad that a toll authority is using our tax money to convince the public that tolling our existing freeways is a great idea.

I wanted to find out just how much money they’re sinking into this public relations campaign. An open records request revealed that they’ll spend up to $371,294 for radio and television ads, extensive newspaper ads, billboards, and a massive public ‘outreach’ campaign selling their toll road to your homeowners associations, civic groups, churches, chambers of commerce, and anyone that will let them in the door.

The primary contractor, HNTB, hired Trish DeBerry for the task, whose firm previously bid on the 281 toll project as part of a design-build team before her run for Mayor. Ultimately, the RMA has retained her PR services at a cost of $25,000 a month.

Tyler toll road bailout an outrage

Link to article here.

The Texas Transportation Commission just authorized a $55 million bailout of the Loop 49 toll project, but you sure wouldn't know it by this so-called news article. More like a puff piece to prop-up a loser toll road. If you carefully read between the lines, they claim traffic is up, and so are revenues, but both are still insufficient to cover the debt payments, so that's not exactly being honest with the public about the tollway's financial health. The reason for the Commission bailout is so that the RMA can look credit-worthy to issue it's next round of toll bonds to extend the failing toll road even further.

Shortcuts: Usage of Toll 49 is up; revenue rises as rates increase
Saturday, 9 August 2014
Written by Adam Russell This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tyler Morning Telegraph

Jimmy Boyd uses Toll 49 every workday. He hops on at Farm-to-Market Road 2493 and makes the 9-mile connection to Texas Highway 31 as he commutes from Gresham to Athens.

Boyd had his doubts that anyone would use the toll road when it was under construction. He believed drivers would continue using other routes to avoid paying tolls.

But then Boyd began using Toll 49. He used it when he was running late or in a hurry at first. Then he noted the time he saved.

Boyd cut 20 minutes off his round-trip commute, which had required him to go up Old Jacksonville Highway to Loop 323 and over to Texas Highway 31. It cut an hour off round-trip visits to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas when his son was undergoing cancer treatment, he said.

Despite a rate increase in April, which bumped the per mile rate from a base rate of 10 cents to 13.5 cents, Boyd said the benefit outweighs the cost.

“The time benefit outweighs the cost,” he said.

Boyd’s typical $60 monthly bill had been recently cut in half when he opted for a toll tag rather than paying bills by mail, which means paying higher rates and a processing fee.

But another rate increase is planned for Jan. 1, 2015, according to the North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority.

The rate increases are part of an agreement made with the Texas Department of Transportation before the mobility authority took management control of Toll 49. It required per-mile base rates be increased to 15 cents from 12 cents to meet an “Understanding Regarding Market Valuation For Toll 49.”

Regional Mobility Interim Director Everett Owen said rates would continue to increase 3 percent to 4 percent annually.

Toll 49 is a 25.4-mile, two-lane, outer loop around the south and west side of Tyler, connecting Texas Highway 110 near Whitehouse to Interstate 20. The road has seven toll stations that charge drivers with toll tags between 30 cents and $1.18 (the same stations charge drivers without toll tags 40 cents and $1.57, respectively) for passage.

Driving from I-20 to Texas Highway 110 would cost the driver of a passenger car $3.33 with a toll tag and $7.01, including a $1 processing fee, when paying by mail without a toll tag.

Cars with a trailer pay twice the base rate per mile.

Tractor trailers pay four times the base rate if they are hauling one trailer and five times the rate when hauling two trailers.

The North Texas Tolling Authority, which manages toll roads in and around Dallas/Fort Worth, including Dallas North Tollway and President George Bush Turnpike, charge 16.2 cents per mile on average, said NTTA Media Relations Manager Michael Rey.

The initial toll rate for the segment between U.S. Highway 69 and Texas Highway 155 was 50 cents when tolling began in 2006. The rate is now 69 cents but still below the 75 cents TxDOT expected to charge before residents spoke up at public hearings for a lower rate.

The first segment opened in 2006 connected Texas Highway 155 with U.S. Highway 69.

The connection to I-20 in March 2013 was a major milestone for the project. Officials anticipated daily transactions to escalate significantly with the connection. Owens said daily transactions on Toll 49 reached more than 29,000, well above early projections.

Revenue projections for 2015 are expected to be up more than $2 million, Owen said.

Proceeds from the toll road go toward the operation, maintenance and expansion of the road, Owen said. Future expansion of the Toll 49/East Texas Hourglass, which includes connecting existing segments to I-20 east of Tyler and segments in Gregg and Harrison counties, will depend on traffic.

The next leg, the Lindale Relief Route, will extend north from I-20 and connect with U.S. 69 north of Lindale. A recent $55 million state grant, which effectively would forgive NETRMA debt, could mean construction of the relief route might begin as early as next summer.

“FREE” vs TOLL
The argument for making the project a toll road has been that tolling would expedite construction by decades. State transportation funding is based on priority and booming metropolitan areas, such as Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston, have the highest priority and receive about 75 percent of Texas highway dollars. The other 25 percent is divided between more rural areas around the state.

In officials view, competition for transportation dollars made tolls the most viable alternative to get the project moving. With traffic along Loop 323 and main arterial roads swelling, officials pushed for construction to begin sooner than later.

Opposing voices viewed Toll 49 as a poor option to relieve traffic. They also felt it was a ploy to enrich developers with land holdings along the route.

There was doubt among much of the opposition that Toll 49 would draw traffic away from “free” roads. They dubbed the first segments “a road to nowhere” because it lacked connectivity.

But as each segment opened, value to drivers increased.

Owen said the NETRMA knows there is value to drivers like Boyd. The authority performs “sensitivity studies” based on interviews with local residents to determine how they value their time.

There is a bell curve when it comes to tolls, Owen said. Low toll rates don’t generate much revenue but increasing toll rates beyond a certain point discourages use, which means revenues decrease.

“There definitely is a theoretical point where if you go over that amount, you’ll actually collect less money,” he said.

Boyd said what he pays for time saved driving could change his route back to free roads at some point if the rate continues to rise.

“At some point I might take the back roads when I’m not in a hurry,” Boyd said. “If the cost gets too expensive, I could see going that route.”

Charlie George, of Tyler, said she avoids Toll 49 at all costs. Ms. George didn’t like the project once it transitioned from a state funded loop to a tolled road.

“I just see it as wrong for tax dollars to go toward a toll road,” she said. “The people who don’t use it pay for it and the people who do use it pay twice.”

Ms. George is suspicious of the reliability of toll cameras that log vehicle license plates and the billing process. She and other area disabled veterans have been wading through a “huge stink for two years” regarding tolls wrongly charged to drivers with disabled veteran license plates.

NETRMA began charging disabled veterans tolls when it took over management from TxDOT in March 2013, but the board approved action to waive fees to qualifying veterans in August after veterans lodged complaints.

The tolling apparatus are “99.99 percent” accurate, Owen said. Some tolls are lost, due to power outages and vehicles with no license plates. Some are double-billed, but there are few problems overall, Owen said.

Owen said he understands some people are philosophically opposed to Toll 49. But as long as people value time over money, they will continue to drive it, he said.

“It’s a user fee. People have to decide whether they get value from using it,” he said. “Evidently a lot of people see value in it.”

NTTA celebrates 25 years

Link to article here.

Flashback: North Texas toll roads through the years
GJ McCarthy, Photographer
Dallas Morning News
August 7, 2014

Seeing as how today is the 25th anniversary of the TollTag, I thought it would be fun to use our “Throwback Thursday” blog series, Flashback, to look at some classic images of toll roads in our area over the last few decades.

You can read more about the TollTag milestone in our daily story here.

When I arrived in Dallas to work at the DMN in 2007, TollTags were the norm, and I was advised by then photo editor Chris Wilkins to get one asap.

Of course I didn’t. For about two or three months I put up with trying — and in a dozen or so cases forgetting — to keep plenty of loose change in my car somewhere other than under the driver’s seat.

I remember one morning, up too early, very sleepy and running late for an assignment, stupidly thinking I could throw cash — as in dollar cash — in to the change collector. That was Error #1. Error #2 became apparent when I realized I’d thrown a $20 in there by mistake. The long line of honking cars compelled me forward, begrudgingly, and I believe I went to the TollTag store that very afternoon.
_________________________________________

Link to article here.

As TollTags turn 25, originals hang on for Dallas-area motorists
By BRANDON FORMBY
Transportation Writer
August 6, 2014

The credit-card-size, quarter-inch-thick piece of plastic hanging on Ted Wilson’s windshield isn’t just a badge of honor proving his longevity as a North Texan. It’s a still-functioning throwback to the summer of 1989, when area residents became the first drivers in the world to use toll tags.

Of course, Wilson wasn’t thinking about his hometown’s place in technological history when he and his wife became among the first people to open a TollTag account. Like Patty Hudson, another original TollTag customer, the Highland Park couple were really just excited at the chance to drive through the toll booths on Dallas North Tollway without having to stop and dig for change.

“I would write checks at the toll booth if I didn’t have 50 cents, so I was the perfect candidate for a TollTag,” Hudson said.

She and the Wilsons are among dozens of people whose early adoption of the TollTag will be celebrated Thursday at the headquarters of the North Texas Tollway Authority. These North Texans’ memories about those early days highlight how much technology and area highways have changed.

Dallas North Tollway and the Mountain Creek Lake toll bridge were the area’s only toll roads 25 years ago. Drivers had to pay their tolls on the spot. There was no getting billed later. That created traffic jams at the toll booths where the turnpike authority’s employees took toll money and made change.

A company called Amtech and toll officials envisioned the new devices as a way to cut down congestion as customers could skip the digging and tossing. That didn’t exactly pan out. Well, not immediately.

“It wasn’t really faster because everyone else was throwing their coins in the basket,” Hudson said.

$2 a month
Only about 2,000 tags were sold when the tollway, which hadn’t yet reached Frankford Road, started using the technology. And yes, you had to buy the tag back then. It cost $2 a month. And you paid an extra nickel on top of whatever the current toll was.

At the time, Amtech needed to sell about 15,000 tags to cover operating costs. Company officials told The Dallas Morning News they fielded plenty of calls from people trying to understand how it all worked. But curiosity outpaced sales.

Slowly, though, people started to catch on.

“It was just such a great idea,” said Spencer Shytles, another TollTag customer since 1989. “I was fascinated by the technology. I didn’t see why it wouldn’t take off.”

As other technologies evolved and the number of toll roads in the area multiplied, TollTags became a normal part of life in North Texas. In 1999, the NTTA introduced express lanes, so people with tags could bypass the booths that still remained for people who wanted to throw change in a bucket.

In the mid-2000s, the NTTA debuted its first all-electronic toll gantries on the south end of the tollway. By the end of 2010, the entire system was electronic. There were no more toll booths, no more stopping, no more tossing coins. People without TollTags were billed through the mail.

“That was pretty revolutionary,” said NTTA spokesman Michael Rey.

By this summer, the NTTA has handed out nearly 3 million tags, which have become stickers that remain on one windshield. There’s no fee these days for a TollTag. In fact, drivers without the tags pay 50 percent more per toll than their counterparts with TollTags.

‘Like royalty’
Original TollTag customers often get odd reactions when they call the NTTA to manage their account or update credit card information. Early customers’ account numbers have less than one-seventh the number of digits of most current customers.

Hudson and Wilson said many customer service representatives assume they’re forgetting several digits on their account numbers until they check the system.

“They treat you like royalty,” Wilson said. “They’re like, ‘Oh my God, you must be one of the owners.’”

Wilson still has that original transponder hanging on his windshield. It’s survived car replacements, countless miles and more than two dozen Texas summers.

“Whoever designed it did a good job,” he said.

Another call to subject NTTA to sunset review

Link to article here.

More reasons to subject these unelected toll authorities to sunset review. They're just as broken as TxDOT.

After no action follows noise study, state rep calls for review of NTTA
by DAVID SCHECHTER
WFAA, Dallas
August 1, 2014

ROWLETT -- A Texas state representative is being critical of the North Texas Tollway Authority for refusing to fix excessive noise problems along the Bush Turnpike in Rowlett to the point that she's asking if the NTTA is still needed at all.



Rep. Cindy Burkett said she will recommend the NTTA go through the Sunset Commission in Austin, which has the power to determine if an agency’s functions are still needed to serve the public.



“I’m going to look at putting them under Sunset review,” Burkett told News 8.



The story starts with Bill Wright, a resident of the Harborside development in Rowlett, who has a simple philosophy when it comes to the North Texas Tollway Authority.

“In my world, if you broke it, you fix it,” Wright said.



What did the NTTA break? In the view of 616 Rowlett homeowners who’ve banded together, a promise to limit noise generated by the 2010 extension of the President George Bush Turnpike.



“We’re not asking for silence. We’re asking for something that doesn’t hurt your ears and keep your children up at night,” Wright said.



Instead of accepting the noise, the Rowlett homeowners chose to fight it. They made such a fuss that the NTTA actually spent $300,000 on a study. The neighbors hoped, if the study confirmed the noise, the NTTA would find a fix.

Well, the study found places in the neighborhoods where the noise levels spiked and even suggested fixes, one of them costing as much as $33 million.

Faced with that information, the NTTA did nothing.



Texas Rep. Burkett said she helped convince the NTTA to undertake its $300,000 study.

“Well, I hope [the mission of the study] was to see if there were some noise issues. Part of it was me prodding, saying my constituents are saying there’s an issue, and let’s see if they do, too,” she said.



That’s not how the NTTA sees it.

The authority declined to be interviewed on camera, but released this statement: "In essence, the question the independent study asked was: 'Did NTTA follow all federal and state guidelines in designing and constructing sound walls?' The answer was 'Yes.' "

And so that’s where we are today; one study with two conflicting conclusions. 

One says the NTTA built enough sound walls when it constructed the road. The other says there’s still an unacceptable spike in noise, for which the NTTA will not accept responsibility.

"

Wright believes the NTTA won’t fix his $33 million complaint because that would set an expensive precedent.



“They didn’t want to do anything, because if they did it for us, they have to do it for others,” Wright said.



Representative Burkett sees a broken system, hence the recommendation for a Sunset Commission review.

“My focus is, is the process adequate? Is there enough flexibility?" she said. "Maybe in the Sunset review, we’ll decide, 'Okay, maybe a thought is to take a percentage of monies raised, tolls raised, putting them in a special fund to address this type of issue.'”

El Paso toll road still being subsidized by taxpayers

Link to article here.

We’ve learned that higher than expected traffic on a toll road does NOT mean it’s operating in the black. Until you look at each toll road’s traffic and revenue projections, all of these puff pieces pushed out but he press are more akin to propaganda than truth. Every toll road has a ramp up period where it operates int eh red. The Austin toll system is expected to operate in the red for the entire life of the bond debt - it’s being annually bailed out by you and I the taxpayer. So don’t buy the soundbites in the press - we’re all paying to bail out these toll projects…

César Chávez Border Highway toll road sees increased users, toll tags still underutilized
By Aaron Martinez / El Paso Times
07/17/2014

The number of transactions on the César Chávez Border Highway toll lane has continued to increase since it opened in January, but most motorists are not using toll tags, officials said Thursday.

So far, about 153,246 transactions have been recorded, officials said. Of that number, 37,394 were with toll tags, the rest were with the pay-by-mail option in which a motorist is mailed the fee.

Austin City Council casts symbolic vote against Texas 45 Southwest

Link to article here.

Austin City Council casts symbolic vote against Texas 45 Southwest
By Lilly Rockwell
American-Statesman Staff
May 16, 2014

In a largely symbolic gesture, the Austin City Council voted 6-1 early Friday morning to declare its opposition to the proposed Texas 45 Southwest toll road, asking the city manager to engage highway decision-makers on various alternatives.

The move is likely futile. Texas 45 Southwest has been lining up the approvals and money it needs to be built. The toll road is controversial because it will be built over environmentally sensitive lands and could direct more traffic on to already-congested MoPac (Loop 1) Boulevard.

This story continues on our new premium website for subscribers, MyStatesman.com. 
Continue reading/get access here.

Letter to Editor: Stop tolls on 281

Link to editorial here.

Stop toll road plan on U.S. 281
Don Dixon, For the Express-News
May 16, 2014

San Antonio is known as the cradle of Texas liberty. There are no people in Texas who love freedom more than San Antonians. Yet politicians and government could take away part of our freedoms by illegally converting public-road rights of way to double-tax toll roads at an extra confiscatory tax of 17 to 75 cents per mile ($3.50 to $15 per gallon of gas).

When ranchers and landowners donated land or had their land taken by eminent domain for a public road, they intended and contracted that their former land would be forever a public road.

Apparently, San Antonio's spirit of freedom and rule of law mean little to the Texas Transportation Commission. It is hellbent that San Antonio public rights of way be converted to toll roads.

281 design flaw: Can't get on the toll road even if you wanted to

Link to article here.

281 design flaw: Can't get on the toll road even if you wanted to
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
April 15, 2014

The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (or RMA) and its army of consultants recently unveiled its new design to purportedly ‘fix’ congestion on Highway 281 outside Loop 1604. The plan morphed from a completed, streamlined expressway design (upgrading the corridor adding two new lanes, needed overpasses, and access roads) to a hybrid toll-transit-HOV mix with fewer non-toll highway lanes than we have today — non-toll lanes that cease at Stone Oak Parkway.

Let’s breakdown what they’re planning to build and then tackle the flaws in the design. The improvements to Hwy 281 begin at Loop 1604 heading north to the Bexar County line (approximately 7.8 miles). Today there are six non-toll highway lanes (three in each direction) to Evans Road, where it goes down to five lanes. Then the existing freeway shrinks to four lanes (two lanes each direction) at Stone Oak Parkway where it continues to the county line and beyond. Today, Hwy 281 does not have access or frontage roads. It’s a divided highway with stop lights at the crossovers. The posted speed limit is 60 MPH.

RMA lies about size of 281 toll road

The RMA purposely misleads the public in this article. Read what happened when we shined the light on these falsehoods here. See the proof that shows the 281 toll road is twice the footprint of the FREEway plan at www.281OverpassesNow.com.

Web Posted: 08/23/2009

Agency ‘aggressive’ on U.S. 281 environmental review


By Josh Baugh - Express-News

By 2012, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority is hoping to have wrapped up the most extensive environmental review ever conducted on U.S. 281, the prerequisite to any long-term relief on the region's most gridlocked stretch of highway.

The results of the federal “environmental impact statement,” or EIS, will dictate if and possibly how the U.S. 281 corridor from Loop 1604 to the Comal County line will be improved. No capacity can be added to U.S. 281 without first completing the EIS. It's typically a five-year process, but the RMA hopes to complete it in three years.

“That is the bestthe best-case scenario in any circumstance,” said Terry Brechtel, executive director of the RMA. “We have decided to be aggressive and do some things to try to get this through. A lot of people and a lot of resources are trying to get it done.”

Improving U.S. 281 has been a controversial issue here for years because of the potential for toll roads, and it likely will continue to be as the RMA moves forward on its EIS.

Toll critic Terri Hall, the agency's most outspoken opponent, has suggested that the cumbersome environmental review isn't necessary — at least not anymore. Hall was part of a 2008 lawsuit that demanded that an EIS be conducted before any improvements were made to U.S. 281.

Her aim is to take toll roads out of the mix.

The EIS will evaluate, among other things, potential environmental, social and economic impacts that the highway's expansion could have on the corridor. The study is supposed to take in a lot of public input.

It's the type of study that toll opponents and environmental activists sought in a 2008 lawsuit they filed against the Federal Highway Administration, the RMA and the Texas Department of Transportation. Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom sought an injunction blocking tolled highway expansion until an EIS was prepared in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

The groups wanted an EIS conducted jointly on U.S. 281 and Loop 1604. But the RMA is conducting an EIS separately for each highway. AGUA President Enrique Valdivia said that in itself taints the EIS process because it signifies the RMA putting its mark on the process before any outcome is reached.

Clearance yanked

In 2007, the Federal Highway Administration had given environmental clearance to the project based on a lower-level study — an environmental assessment — but the federal agency pulled the OK in 2008 after TxDOT announced that it had discovered irregularities in how its San Antonio district had procured scientific services.

The highway administration then sent a letter to the RMA requiring that an EIS be prepared for any future federal transportation project in the U.S. 281 corridor.

Environmentalists and toll opponents point to their lawsuit as a victory in stopping the project.

But Hall — TURF's founder and director, and a plaintiff in the 2008 lawsuit — says the cumbersome EIS process could be avoided if plans to toll the highway were jettisoned.

RMA officials say it's clear that there's no way around conducting an EIS before adding capacity to U.S. 281. The Federal Highway Administration has said as much in a letter requiring that the study be done before any federal money is spent on U.S. 281. But Hall contends that the yanked environmental clearance only applies to the plan to build toll roads. Based on Hall's reading of the National Environmental Policy Act, a non-tolled plan could undergo an “environmental assessment,” or EA, which is a lower-level study.

“We would argue that if you look at NEPA, you could actually do an expedited EA, meaning even faster than a normal EA, which is pretty quick compared to an EIS. And one of the things it says there in NEPA is that you don't have to have public hearings, even. That's a very long process.”

Hall advocates for TxDOT's “original plan,” which called for two additional main lanes, bringing the total on U.S. 281 to six, along with four lanes of frontage roads. All the lanes were to be built as non-tolled.

But Leroy Alloway, the RMA's director of community relations, says the footprint has never changed from the “original plan.”

“If you look at the plan she's talking about, which is overpasses and frontage roads, and you look at the 2005 plan, they're identical,” he said. “You look at the 2007 plan, it's still the same footprint. You're still building the exact same thing. The only difference was the expressway lanes would have been tolled. The frontage roads would have stayed as frontage roads. ... That footprint didn't change.”

That's why the EIS should move forward, he said.

Solution sought

Now nobody knows what will be built. That's where the public comes in.

On Thursday, the RMA will hold the first of several public meetings to gather input on how to deal with gridlock in the U.S. 281 corridor. In technical terms, the RMA will determine “need and purpose” that will help guide the outcome of the study — what the “preferred alternative” could be.

Maybe it's the “original plan,” or the six tolled lanes that currently appear in the Metropolitan Planning Organization's fiscally restrained Transportation Improvement Plan. Maybe it's passenger rail, bus rapid transit or high-occupancy-vehicle lanes.

Throughout the process, a residents advisory group — which includes seats for AGUA and both of Hall's groups, TURF and the San Antonio Toll Party — will meet and offer input for the EIS.

For Hall, though, it's all for naught.

“At the end of the day, we want to get the overpass and original expansion plan for U.S. 281 funded and fixed and move forward with an expedited EA, and this whole EIS thing will be moot,” she said. That is, without toll roads on the drawing board.

But RMA officials say the U.S. 281 corridor is now a “blank slate” and that the EIS will determine the best way to address congestion there. There are a couple caveats: The preferred plan doesn't have to be the most environmentally friendly, and funding sources have to be identified.

The RMA's Brechtel says tolls are on the table and will remain so until another funding source becomes available. There's not enough money from the state or federal governments to build the estimated $450 million project.

Hall said TURF would push in the 2011 Legislature for an indexed gas tax increase that would cover the cost of constructing freeways.

There are other options, Brechtel says, adding that San Antonio and Bexar County could decide to create a public improvement district or use property taxes to fund the project. More stimulus money could become available. Or a local-option sales tax — shot down in the Legislature this year — could take the place of tolls.

“Federal law says to keep a project going through an environmental study process, you have to have a reasonable revenue source, and today that reasonable revenue source is tolls,” Brechtel said. “I've been explaining that to folks on the MPO so they understand how this works.”

Brechtel wouldn't speculate on the possibility of shifting trends at the MPO, the local agency that oversees more than $200 million of federal transportation dollars. Its new chairman, County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, is a toll opponent and ally of Terri Hall.

Hall said she thinks the MPO could vote to rescind its approval of tolls, effectively deflating the RMA. If Brechtel's concerned about that, she wouldn't say.

A toll-road vote isn't on Monday's MPO agenda, she said, so she's not worried about it “this month.”

Commissioners want to get rid of RMA before state interferes

Link to article here.

Web Posted: 03/26/2009 12:00 CDT

Bexar County may beat state at retooling toll road agency


Jaime Castillo - Jaime Castillo, San Antonio Express-News

A major bill being pushed by San Antonio Democratic Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon to consolidate several agencies dealing with local transportation policy hasn't even been assigned to a legislative committee.

But that hasn't stopped the politicking back here in Bexar County.

At least three county commissioners — Tommy Adkisson, Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez and Kevin Wolff — are mulling an effort to dissolve the Regional Mobility Authority, perhaps even before the Legislature acts on the consolidation effort.

In separate interviews, all three said the RMA, the toll road agency that has been the subject of intense criticism, is saddled — rightly or wrongly — with a perception that it's a lapdog for the Texas Department of Transportation.

“I just think the RMA is a fifth wheel,” Adkisson said. “We ought to fold its powers into VIA. The time has come.”

Until now, local officials have been focused on the legislative effort, which would collapse the RMA and VIA Metropolitan Transit into the Advanced Transportation District, the voter-approved entity that currently uses a quarter-cent sales tax for road, bus and transportation improvements.

Rodriguez said he doesn't want to do anything to harm the consolidation effort, which is designed to streamline transportation efforts as local leaders ponder new efforts for light rail and expanded rapid bus service.

But he said the RMA's only current reason for being is a pair of recently awarded projects to add ramps at the interchange of Loop 1604 and U.S. 281 and to alleviate gridlock on a northern stretch of 281 with a “superstreet” concept.

“The RMA only has one hanger to hang its clothes on,” Rodriguez said. “We can transfer those projects elsewhere.”

Bill Thornton, the RMA's chairman, bristled at suggestions that the agency doesn't perform a valuable public function and that it's too closely allied with TxDOT.

“If you give up on the RMA, you're giving up local control that will just fall back to Austin,” he said. “Had we not had the RMA and the right of first refusal, we would've had that Spanish company handling the projects around 281.”

Thornton was referring to Cintra, a private company that was part of the state's initial plans to build a network of tolled lanes in northern Bexar County.

Wolff said he's “been trying to understand the viability of the RMA, and I can't come up with anything.”

But he said he'd like to see a legal opinion regarding the transfer of the RMA's powers before he commits to moving forward.

“I'll know shortly what we'll lose if it goes away,” Wolff said.

The commissioner's father, County Judge Nelson Wolff, said he doesn't think doing away with the RMA is the right approach.

“It would be my position to let the consolidation process work itself out,” he said.

However, it takes only three votes on the five-member Commissioners Court to get something passed.

Bait & switch interchange…red herring to NOT fix 281 north

Link to article here. Read our complete press release with separating fact from fiction on the interchange saga here.

03/21/2009
Toll road debate heats up — again

By Craig Kapitan - Express-News

Two factions that have harbored a running argument in recent years over the fate of a congested stretch of U.S. 281 just beyond North Loop 1604 are at it again.

Each side has held news conferences over the past two weeks — the most recent one on Friday — accusing the other of pulling a bait-and-switch on San Antonio residents.

Representatives for Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom and Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas, both of which oppose a “mega toll road” in the area, stood near U.S. 281 and Stone Oak Parkway on Friday to take aim at the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority.

“The public is sick and tired of the misleading information, broken promises and outright lies,” TURF founder Terri Hall said.

The mobility authority, she added, “will say and do anything ... to gain access to our wallets and build a $1.4 billion boondoggle of a toll road.”

The dispute now hinges on a five-story, $140 million interchange project that would link 281 and 1604 on the south side of the intersection. Ramps on the north side of the loop would be built at a later time.

The mobility authority, which would oversee the project, announced recently that construction on the southern ramps could begin within the year thanks to $80 million in federal stimulus money.

The only catch, agency representatives have said, is the threat of a lawsuit from the opposition groups. With projects required to be “shovel ready” to receive stimulus money, a delay caused by a lawsuit could sink the whole endeavor, officials said.

In his own news conference last week, mobility authority chairman Bill Thornton railed against the groups. The ramps built with federal money would be nontoll, he said, adding that it would be disingenuous for the anti-toll groups to now say they're opposed because of environmental concerns.

But the problem, Hall said Friday, is that building a large-scale interchange lays the groundwork for a large-scale tollway in the future.

Instead, she said, the stimulus money should be used to relieve traffic by building smaller-scale, less environmentally destructive overpasses at U.S. 281 intersections that currently have stoplights.

The mobility authority is overreacting about the possibility of a lawsuit, she said, explaining that her group and AGUA haven't yet decided whether to file one.

“We are not interested in endless litigation,” Hall said, adding that it is their only weapon for negotiation.

Another problem, she and others said Friday, is that the mobility authority is trying to get around developing an environmental impact statement on the interchange by using an exemption intended only for minor projects with little impact. A set of five-story ramps is not a minor project, they said.

But what the groups neglect to mention, mobility authority spokesman Leroy Alloway responded, is that three of the stories for the ramps already are in existence at the intersection.

Further, the Federal Highway Administration has sent signals that it would be impossible to build overpasses with the stimulus money, Alloway said. That would require the building of on- and off-ramps and access roads, which would have a major impact and necessitate a lengthy environmental study, he said.

“It's badly needed,” he said of the proposed interchange. “We recognize their concern, but we question its validity. It starts looking like a straw argument.”

During last week's news conference, the mobility authority announced the launching of 411on281.com — part of a new public relations campaign to promote the road projects. TURF and AGUA responded Friday with Operation: Meltdown the Phones — a new campaign urging residents to call local politicians while stuck in traffic. The project is outlined at FixGridlock.com.

The anti-toll groups also are expected to show up at City Hall today for a public hearing on stimulus funds. It begins at 10 a.m.

RMA launches web site in repsonse to www.281Overpasses.com

Link to news report here. Here is the TURF response to the RMA's propaganda. Read about Operation: Meltdown the Phones here.

Alamo RMA Opens Web Site Touting Toll Roads

Opposition Groups Planning Friday Response
Thursday, March 19, 2009

SAN ANTONIO -- The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority is taking their case for various Highway 281 improvements to the Internet."The conversation with the community needs to get started again with what can be done and what can't be done," said Terry Brechtel of the ARMA.

"A lot of folks believe you can build overpasses. Read the letter from the highway administration, read the prior environmental studies, overpasses do not meet the long-term solution."

Brechtel said the authority believes toll toads are only one option, but that it must be considered along with other financing options.

Opposition forces are expected to voice their opinions at a press conference tomorrow, said Terri Hall of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, a nonprofit group opposed to toll roads.

The Metropolitan Planning Commission is recommending $22.9 million of funds from the economic stimulus package be used to widen 36th Street as well as the so-called super street project along Highway 281 north of Loop 1604, according to sources.

RMA comes unhinged at concerned citizens over interchange


Link to article here. There is NO new lawsuit or a threat of one. All that AGUA/TURF did was send a letter to the Federal Highway Administration questioning the "clearance" the RMA claims to have for this 5 level interchange. The interchange is a red herring and an excuse NOT to fix 281 north. Read more here.

Suit might block use of stimulus money

By Patrick Driscoll
Express-News
03/13/2009

The $140 million in federal and state funds allocated for the building of long-awaited ramps linking North Loop 1604 and U.S. 281 could end up being sent back if two sides in a lawsuit can't find common ground.
The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority hopes to use $80 million in federal stimulus funds and $60 million from state bonds — dubbed “money from heaven” by one local official — to start construction on the four ramps within a year. The ramps on the loop's south side wouldn't be tolled, according to plans.

But lawyers for Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom are poised to challenge federal environmental clearance for the five-level interchange, saying there likely would be significant changes in traffic, suburban growth and Edwards Aquifer water quality.

The groups filed a lawsuit last year to demand a detailed environmental study of planned toll lanes on 47 miles of U.S. 281 and Loop 1604, and the Alamo RMA later decided to do so. The interchange should be part of that study, plaintiffs' attorney Bill Bunch said Thursday.

“We certainly don't think you should sacrifice San Antonio's sole source of drinking water to do that,” he said. “We still have a lawsuit pending. It would probably be raised in that context.”

If the Alamo RMA were forced to probe the interchange's impacts, work could be held up three or more years, and that means the federal stimulus funds could go unused.

“It's not a lawsuit yet, but there's a general concern,” RMA spokesman Leroy Alloway said. “What's going to happen next, that's the big question.”

Bunch said he asked the Alamo RMA to discuss less invasive improvements to the two roads but hasn't heard back.

“We want to avoid the litigation as much as anybody,” he said. “But there's been no response to that.”

Alloway said he hasn't heard of such a request, but negotiations aren't likely anyway.

“We're not willing to negotiate out the environmental protections necessary for our community,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Alamo RMA on Wednesday launched an effort — called 4-1-1 on 281 — to engage residents along U.S. 281 in dialogue. Officials also mentioned AGUA and TURF skepticism as a potential bogeyman to the non-toll interchange.

“We knew we needed a fresh approach,” Chairman Bill Thornton said in a statement. “The public is frustrated by the delay in construction and they want answers.”

Go to www.411on281.com for more about 4-1-1 on 281.

Interchange an excuse NOT to fix 281 north

You may have heard the ad hominem personal attacks against Terri Hall by the UN-elected Alamo Regional Mobility Authority Chairman Bill Thornton on KTSA radio (550 AM) Thursday, March 12, when Thornton insulted stay-at-home moms, commuters who live in Bulverde, and citizens who oppose toll taxes. He came unhinged and has totally lost ANY regard for the citizens due to our questioning the legality of the supposed environmental clearance they claim to have for the interchange. To clear-up the confusion...

In the project list submitted to the Transportation Commission for stimulus funds under Bexar County/San Antonio it lists 281 as a toll road after Thornton promised it would remain a freeway if they got stimulus money for it  (read it here). Clearly, they're not honest brokers and REFUSE to negotiate or work with the community on a consensus, non-toll solution. As far as the interchange, TxDOT/RMA is 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, etc. Yet they used it to build an overpass for the Dominion (off I-10), and then say they cannot use this same exemption (CE) to build overpasses on 281 with stimulus or other funds. It's total hypocrisy! Our 281 lawsuit is still pending with the court and our attorneys sent a letter to the feds questioning this "clearance."

Also, 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. What we've been asking for and insisting on since day one is a non-toll solution to both. They've said 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 toll our freeways. This is taxation without representation and a TRIPLE TAX rip-off. At the end of the day, they can work with the community to get a non-toll solution on 281, for the interchange, and parts of 1604 using stimulus money and other existing available funds RIGHT NOW!

Thorton LIES! Said 281 non-toll if got stimulus money, then still tolls


There can be no doubt about the intentions of our corrupt UN-elected transportation officials. They will lie, cheat, and steal to convert our freeways into tollways, even when they're paid for. Chair of the tolling authority, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA), Bill Thornton promised motorists if it got stimulus funds for 281, it WOULD NOT BE TOLLED. Then, when you look at the project list submitted to TxDOT, it clearly lists 281 as a toll project, in spite of stimulus funding. The deception and lies are breathtaking!

January 14, 2009 -

Bill Thornton states in a news report: “If the project is paid for through federal funds, you don’t need that option of tolling.”

February 23, 2009 -

Project list submitted to House Select Committee on Federal Economic Stabilization Funding: "281 north of Loop 1604 - Construct new toll road" (which is in itself misleading since it's NOT new, they'll convert every lane we drive on today to a toll lane and the NEW lanes they build will be the frontage roads to the outside)

Non-toll alternative proposed for 281


Link to article here.

Non Toll Alternative for 281 Proposed
Local officials to submit wish list for federal economic stimulus funds
By Jim Forsyth
WOAI Newsradio
Wednesday, January 14, 2009

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, 1200 WOAI news reports.

The Regional Mobility Authority today proposed submitting $2.7 billion in local highway construction projects for approval under the proposed Federal Infrastructure Economic Stimulus Act, which President Elect Barack Obama says will allocate hundreds of billions of dollars to ‘shovel worthy’ projects nationwide as a way to create jobs. One of the proposals submitted by the RMA is the $585 million US 281 construction project.

“If those dollars are going to be pushed through to communities across the nation, we’re saying, we have the projects, we’re ready to go, and this will solve real needs in our community today,” said Dr. William Thornton, former San Antonio Mayor and RMA Chairman.

Other projects on the RMA’s wish list include the long awaited interchange between US 281 and Loop 1604, which Thornton says has already obtained environmental clearance and could begin construction immediately, and expansion of Loop 1604 from Military to Braun Road into a six lane expressway. Also, construction of an interchange at Loop 1604 and State Highway 151 near Sea World is on the list, along with completion of the Wurzbach Parkway.

Thornton says any of the projects approved would be designated as ’free’ roadways and tolls would not be collected.

“Tolling is simply a way to pay for the project,” he said. “If the project is paid for through federal funds, you don’t need that option of tolling.”

Thornton held open the possibility that the feds will approve construction of a portion of 281, leaving local officials to find a way to pick up the tab for the rest.

He says competition will be stiff for the money, but he says the San Antonio projects

Have additional advantages that projects in other communities may not have.
>
“These projects are not just for convenience,” he said. “The congestion which exists in that area is not only terribly inconvenient for motorists, but it is also an environmental issue when it comes to clean air due to the idling traffic. None of us like cars driving over the Aquifer, and what we like even less is cars sitting over the Aquifer with their motors running. So this is more than just building a road, it solves congestion, clean air issues, and has many benefits that other projects around the country may not have.”

The economic stimulus plan has not been approved by Congress, so it is unclear when a decision may be mad eon which projects to fund. The RMA’s proposals still have to be approved by the Metropolitan Planning Organization, a move Thornton says he hopes will happen next week.

"Merger" nothing short of hostile takeover of Via by RMA

Link to proposed draft legislation here.

TURF Statement on proposed creation of Consolidated Transportation Authority
RMA Board Meeting
February 11, 2009
The RMA’s involvement in lobbying for this change in legislation is obvious to any casual observer, especially in trying to persuade the Transportation Task Force to modify their initial plan to simply dissolve the RMA and turn it into a merger instead. This constitutes illegal lobbying for the passage of specific legislation (violation of Texas Government Code Chapter 556.005), particularly in the RMA’s attempts to lobby to keep their jobs. We are bringing this to the attention of law enforcement officials.

The fundamental question is, why a merger instead of just dissolving the RMA? The ATD can do toll projects as well as most every other type of transportation project. We do not need to continue $1 million in salaries and benefits for employees who perform the same function of an existing board.

The language of this proposed legislation is so broad and liberal (it even states to construe it as liberally as possible in the text) that its powers could be construed to mean just about anything!

Here's just the start of our list of concerns:
It allows the authority to toll a road without a vote if they use local funds instead of state money! The bill allows CDAs, including concession fees, which the people of Bexar County are adamantly opposed to, and even Judge Nelson Wolff himself stated publicly that he’s against a CDA with concession fees that take the money and control of our highways away from the people of Texas.

This bill throws fiscal responsibility and accountability to the wind. The authority could impose ANY kind of tax allowing total runaway taxation and bureaucracy run amok. The bill likewise allows the authority to steal money from one project to pay for another known as “system financing,” which results in one part of the community being overtaxed to subsidize projects elsewhere.

This lacks transparency and makes following the money trail near impossible. It allows un-elected bureaucrats to use taxes for purposes the taxpayers never intended. A tax should be tied to a specific project and sunset when the project is paid for, period. If more money is needed down the road, then you come to the voters and ask for it. Taxation in perpetuity in the hands of a band of unelected bureaucrats is legalized thievery.

If a road is tolled, it should be paying for the pavement those motorists are driving on, not used as a targeted tax to subsidize projects elsewhere. This bill creates the ability to co-mingle funds and pots of money to deceive voters and hide the fact that certain projects are not self-sustaining or truly viable projects. This authority would be more of the same elitist attitude we’ve seen from this Board….just give us your money because we know how to spend it better than you do.

The bill would allow the authority to form its own government-owned corporation to finance its own projects, which was defeated by the last Legislature. Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse, the level of self-interest and incentive to make poor investment decisions (knowing the taxpayers will bail you out) is staggering!!

Lastly, it’s clear the intent of this authority is to engulf the Hill County and outlying counties into its boundaries by hook or by crook. The people and their elected representatives in the outlying areas have clearly spoken at past MPO meetings that they DO NOT WANT THIS!

A more detailed analysis of our concerns are attached. When will the public comment on the specific proposed legislation begin since last week’s hearing failed to produce the bill?
________________________________________________________________

Specific areas of concern by section:
1) Sec 451.901 6) (c) allows for monitoring of citizens

2) Sec 451.901 6) (f) allows for concession fees (presumably through CDAs and private sheisters)

3) Sec 451.901 7) can lump virtually any transportation project into their "system," which allows for "system financing" (code for stealing from Peter to pay Paul; targeted tax on one set of folks to give it to another, or subsidize another)

4) Sec 451.901 13) creates the ability to co-mingle funds and pots of money to subsidize ANYTHING without coming to the voters or doing so in a transparent way. It also allows an un-elected Board to levy taxes of all sorts without direct representation. It creates the ability to deceive voters and hide the fact that certain projects are not self-sustaining or truly viable projects.

5) Sec 451.902 - allows them to "liberally construe" the law to do anything they want. [again in Sec  Sec 451.905 (d)]

6) Sec 451.903 (b) (1) mentions multiple counties. It was clear at the MPO meeting last October that the people nor their elected representatives in the Hill Country want to have anything to do with Bexar County toll roads and MPO agenda. The language of this bill makes it clear in multiple places that this new entity could perform a hostile takeover of the Hill Country through designating a project outside the county lines as a "system."

7) Sec 451.903 (b) (2) transfers the RMA's toxic debts and its $1 million dollar salaries, benefits, and pensions to VIA/ATD with no assurances in writing that TxDOT will continue to fund this failed agency (and why should they?).

8) Sec 451.904 references planning and development of "mobility" (code for toll) projects in the authority's county(ies) AND region thereby allowing toll projects in areas outside Bexar County where residents may be adamantly opposed to them. Allows the authority to make transportation decisions for other counties!

9) Sec 451.904 (d) transfers RMA salaries, pensions, employees and obligations to ATD...this doesn't shrink government for maximum efficiency, it bloats the agency with guaranteed work and wages for RMA employees who have yet to produce ANYTHING in 5 years!

10) Sec 451.905 (a) grants virtually unlimited powers to itself by this nebulous statement "has the power necessary or convenient to carry out this subchapter or to effect a purpose of this subchapter" ("to effect purpose" has staggering legal implications)

11) Sec 451.905 (f) can impose ANY kind of tax (except property tax)...total runaway taxation and bureaucracy run amok

12) Sec 451.905 (i) - this section is governed by Sec. 451.705.  “SUBSEQUENT ELECTIONS.  (a)  If the initial election under Section 451.702 is held only in the principal municipality, or if the voters of another municipality or the unincorporated area of a county do not vote to join the district at the initial election under Section 451.702, the governing body of the other municipality or the commissioners court of the county may order an election in the municipality or the county at a later date on the question of joining the district..."

People would only be able to vote for or against the proposed tax hike, and aren't given a real choice of between methods of financing and the specific projects that a tax hike would fund. A tax should be tied to specific projects, not placed in a pot of money that can be used on things the voters didn’t directly approve. That would be the only fair way to do an election on transportation issues...you are given choices, not yes or no roads!

13) Sec 451.905 (i) could form its own government-owned corporation to finance its own projects! Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse, the level of self-interest and incentive to make poor investment decisions (knowing the taxpayers will bail you out) is staggering!!

14) Sec 451.907 (4) (b) allows two RMA board members to be holdovers (not to mention Henry Munoz is already running the board).

15) Sec 451.907 (f) (2) prohibits elected official to serve as director of this taxing entity. That’s precisely who should be serving on this Board, it’s called taxation WITH representation, not the other way around!

16) Sec 451.907 (D) allows board member to receive financial compensation for real property acquired by the authority if he/she can claim it wasn't known at the time of his/her initial appointment. The Board member ought to resign from the Board in such an instance and, at a minimum, recuse himself by abstaining from voting on the item. (Basic conflict of interest and bad ethics to not force recusal!)

17) Sec 451.909 (b) allows them to still issue debt without it being its report to the county/city in its strategic plan, so what's the point of the reporting to them and having a plan if it can be ignored? This isn't accountability; it's just checking a box!

18) Sec 451.910 potentially allows the authority to overtake/govern outlying areas by designating a project a "system" without that territory's permission. This section allows them to steal from one project or area to subsidize another. Bad public policy and co-mingles the money making transparency difficult.

19) Sec 451.911 (d) allows debt to be sold to private entities for private gain and allows debt for up to 50 years versus the traditional 30 yr municipal bond terms.

20) Sec 451.912 vague wording, "all powers are cumulative" and can be exercised either independently or in combination (with who? or what?) What does this mean? Could it mean in concert with a private toll operator like a Cintra?

21) Sec 451.913 this section should tie ANY sales and use tax to specific projects. By allowing a big pot of money to be used at the board's sole discretion without notifying voters of what projects types it could fund, they could finance a toll road WITHOUT A PUBLIC VOTE, which was promised when the ATD was formed. So this is a loophole, even Tuggey admitted they could toll without a vote if they didn't use state money and used local money instead! You can be sure they'll exploit it!

22) Sec 451.918 E. would allow CDAs, which the people of Bexar County have consistently rejected (hence the moratorium and the kabosh on the 281/12604 CDA in the 2007 legislative session (SB 792).

Subchapter M of Sec 451 in the Transportation Code allows for the withdrawl from an authority, so surely there's a away to dissolve the RMA, too. However, when you look at the procedure to withdrawl, in some cases, up to 20% of registered voters must sign a petition for a withdrawl election, which is a near impossible threshold to meet! After withdrawl, the region withdrawing has to pay back all the funds it ever received from the authority (again making it near impossible to withdraw)!

By contrast, the existing law on the public hearings to create a Metropolitan Rapid Transit Authority takes just 500 signatures and the City can call for election to create one, but it takes 20% of ALL voters to dissolve it. That's NUTS! The RMA and Via gave less than a week's notice for its public hearing February 5, this law says it should be at least 2 weeks and published in the paper for those 2 weeks. Without a bill to scrutinize or comment on, Sec 451.653 could not be fulfilled. See below…

Sec. 451.652.  NOTICE OF HEARING.  (a)  Notice of the time and place of the hearing on the creation of an authority, including a description of the area proposed to be included in the authority, shall be published once each week for two consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the alternate municipality. The first publication of the notice must be published not later than 15 days before the date scheduled for the hearing.

(b)  The governing body of the alternate municipality shall furnish a copy of the notice under Subsection (a) to the Texas Department of Transportation.

Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 165, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1995.

Sec. 451.653.  CONDUCT OF HEARING.  (a)  The governing body of the alternate municipality shall conduct the hearing on the creation of the authority at the place and time specified in the notice of the hearing. The hearing may be continued during the periods necessary to complete the hearing.

(b)  Any interested person may appear at the hearing and offer:

(1)  evidence on the issues described by Section 451.654(a); or

(2)  other facts bearing on the creation, construction, or operation of the proposed transit authority system.
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