Editorial: Light rail too expensive

Link to Editorial here.

Since the tolling authority, Alamo RMA, and the San Antonio transit authority, Via, are proposing to merge the agencies and use toll revenues to subsidize mass transit and light rail, this editorial is crucial to the debate.

Light rail isn't the track to the future

By Randal O'Toole - Special to the Express-News

As America's largest city without rail transit, some people want San Antonio to “keep up” by building light rail. You need to know only one thing: Light rail is really expensive.

I mean, really, really expensive. The average mile of light-rail line costs two to five times as much as an urban freeway lane-mile. Yet in 2007 the average light-rail line carried less than one-seventh as many people as the average freeway lane-mile in cities with light rail.

Do the math: Light rail costs 14 to 35 times as much to move people as highways.

The Government Accountability Office found that bus-rapid transit—frequent buses with limited stops—provided faster, better service at 2 percent of the capital cost and lower operating costs than light rail.

If light rail is so expensive, why are cities building it? Starting in the 1970s, Congress offered cities hundreds of millions of dollars for transit capital improvements. If they bought buses, they wouldn't have enough money to operate those buses.

So cities like Portland and Sacramento decided to build light rail—because it was expensive. Only light rail would use up all the millions of federal dollars. Other cities that wanted their share of federal pork soon began planning light rail, too.

How successful is light rail? In 1980, before Portland began building light rail, 9.8 percent of the region's commuters took transit to work. Today, it is 7.6 percent.

Since 1980, Portland has spent more than $2.3 billion, half the region's transportation capital funds, building light rail. Yet light rail carries less than 1 percent of Portland-area travel. That's a success?

In 2002, Dallas opened a new light-rail line, doubling the number of miles in the city's light-rail system. The new line attracted some rail riders, but the region lost more bus riders than it gained rail riders.

This often happens because rail's high cost forces transit agencies to cut bus service. When Los Angeles started building rail transit to white, middle-class neighborhoods, it cut bus service to black and Hispanic neighborhoods. The city lost more bus riders than it ever gained in rail riders, and an NAACP lawsuit forced the city to restore buses and curtail its rail plans.

Is light rail good for the environment? Hardly. Dallas and Denver light-rail lines consume about as much energy and emit about as much greenhouse gases per passenger mile as the average SUV.

Engineering, construction, and rail car companies make huge profits from light rail. Their political contributions promote new rail lines. Siemens Transportation donated $100,000 to Denver's light-rail campaign and was rewarded with a $184 million railcar contract.

Some people say San Antonio should build light rail because Dallas and Houston have light rail. To paraphrase American mothers, if Dallas and Houston jumped off a cliff, should San Antonio jump as well?

Taxpayers lose because their money is wasted on rail when buses could do the same thing for less. Transit riders lose when transit agencies cut bus service to pay for rail. Commuters lose when money spent on rail, which does nothing to relieve congestion, delays projects that actually can reduce congestion.

Light rail is a giant hoax that makes rail contractors rich and taxpayers poor. San Antonio should be proud to be America's largest city that hasn't fallen for this hoax.

Public meeting on tolling authority, transit merger a JOKE!

Link to article here.

Details offered on bus, toll agency

Details in the latest version of a plan to merge the city's bus and toll-road agencies, aired at a public hearing Thursday, have VIA Metropolitan Transit doing the swallowing.
And a firewall that only voters could dismantle would prevent the super agency from using sales tax funds and bus fares to subsidize any of some 70 miles of planned toll roads now on the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority's books.

But if the fused agencies ever build a toll road and pay back the bonds, ongoing toll fees could then help pay for light rail or other transit projects without a public vote.

“We will find a way to build a (toll) road,” Alamo RMA Chairman Bill Thornton said at a joint meeting of the two boards prior to the hearing. “In 20 years, we'll have a cash flow that everybody will envy.”

VIA board member James Lifshutz said he wants to make sure the sales tax and bus fares aren't raided to foot some of the costs for toll roads.

“At the end of the day, toll roads need to finance transit and not the other way around,” said Lifshutz, an advocate for developing light rail.

No need to worry about that, Thornton said, because transit never generates surpluses.

“Twenty years from now, transit will still be subsidized,” he said. “The revenue box is going to be subsidized forever.”

Meshing the agencies also won't guarantee a public vote on toll roads as officials had said in December, when the idea was to pull them into an Advanced Transportation District passed by voters in 2004. Campaign promises at the time forbid ATD spending on tolls or rail without such votes.

Under VIA's umbrella, a toll-road vote would be needed only if local sources such as a sales tax were used, not any state money, said attorney Tim Tuggey, who's drafting state legislation to merge the agencies.

“That (promise) was tied to the ATD vote and ATD money,” said Tuggey, a former VIA and ATD chairman who now advises the Alamo RMA.

The ATD, with a board membership identical to VIA's, would also be blended into the overarching agency.

The ATD collects a quarter-cent per dollar sales tax, with 1/8-cent spent on city streets and state highways and the rest on buses, while VIA oversees a half-cent for buses.

The super agency might also get a chance to ask voters to enact other local taxes and fees. A city-county Transportation Task Force last week called for a change in state law to make it happen, and in coming months might recommend an election to raise the sales tax.

Ballot language, not yet written, could tag those new funds to help pay for projects ranging from light rail to toll roads.

Three speakers at the hearing supported the proposal to merge the agencies while two voiced doubts. Among concerns is that a draft bill still isn't publicly available.

“What are we supposed to comment on,” toll critic Terri Hall of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom said later. “It's insane.”

Just before the hearing, Tuggey outlined what the legislation would do, saying:

The 11-member VIA board would pick up two more seats, with the new members initially coming from the board of the subsumed Alamo RMA.

The city and county would each appoint an extra member to the board, six and four, respectively. Suburban cities would continue seating two.

Other board rules would stay the same — two-year terms, eight-year cap on service and ethics obligations.

The VIA, ATD and Alamo RMA boards, San Antonio City Council, Bexar County Commissioners Court and the Texas Department of Transportation would all have to agree.

ARMA puts out propaganda at taxpayers' expense

The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) is waging an all-out propaganda war on the citizens who oppose their toll agenda. Using our taxpayer money, they're sending this letter to every property owner in the 281 corridor, in some cases, more than one letter per household! That's a heap of dough! This affirms why ELECTED officials, not un-elected bureaucrats seeking to justify their continued existence at taxpayer expense, should be making these tax decisions and getting all parties to the table for the simple solution NOW.

Here's our response to help you discern TRUTH from the half-truths and outright deception in the ARMA letter:

1) One of the fatal flaws to the most recent 281 environmental study conducted by TxDOT is that management conspired to pre-determine the outcome of the study BEFORE the study was ever conducted. They suppressed documents showing the potential negative impacts of the mega toll road, and only divulged the information that would get the feds to give them the clearance for the toll road.

This email shows TxDOT management colluded to break federal law in how they conducted the study by ordering a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) regardless of what their study found. Now ARMA's letter essentially puts them on track for the same violation of the law. By virtue of the tolling authority doing the study, it again biases any 281 study in favor of the toll road, hence tainting any honest consideration of the non-toll option which over 90% of the public feedback on the last 281 study demanded.

2) ARMA claims it is the entity in charge of our regional transportation "options" (code for tolls), which is a blatant falsehood. Our elected officials who have oversight over TxDOT, especially those who sit on the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and vote to allocate our gas taxes and who decide which projects are tolled or not tolled (and who must agree to the market valuation and toll rates of toll projects), have a broader and more superior role in transportation decision-making than a mere tolling authority whose only "option" is toll taxes. ARMA is gettin' too big for its britches!

3) ARMA claims no capacity can be added to 281 for 3-5 years. Not so. If TxDOT would immediately agree to the original, non-toll, gas tax funded plan which all concerned groups have asked for, there are provisions in federal law that would allow for an expedited environmental assessment that would be subjected to public review for a 30 day period, and the feds could re-instate the clearance and commence with the non-toll solution immediately thereafter. They have to make the public believe there are NO OTHER OPTIONS but the path that leads to the approval of their toll road.

4) ARMA's letter cleverly states that an "overpasses only" option has been rejected by the feds for "safety" concerns when that's NOT what the citizens have been asking for. There is no "overpasses only" plan. The plan we refer to is TxDOT's plan promoted and promised in public hearings in 2001 that included overpasses, 2 extra highway lanes, and frontage lanes where needed (to give access to businesses). See www.281OverpassesNOW.com for proof.

There is neither citizen nor environmental opposition to that plan, and we announced that on the day we filed the lawsuit. All parties are well aware that if TxDOT would build the original plan and not convert an existing freeway into a toll road, the fix would commence immediately WITH NO OPPOSITION. Their intractable insistence on clinging to the toll road as the only solution (and routinely dismissing out of hand all other viable, more affordable, less invasive solutions), is tantamount to abusive government bent on using its billy club to beat the taxpayers into submission.

Another immediate option to improve the flow of traffic, and hence the safety of the corridor, is synchronizing the timing of the stop lights. This improvement is noticeably absent from the letter and the fundamental way TxDOT and the ARMA create gridlock on 281 to punish citizens who oppose their toll road.

5) It is an outright lie to state that the environmental clearance was pulled for "contract procurement irregularities" and not because the study was "flawed or inaccurate." We have evidence from our lawsuit that TxDOT suppressed a study showing the potential severe impacts of the toll road (hence making the study inaccurate on its face), hired firms with clear conflicts of interest, and that management conspired to rig the outcome of the study to get clearance for the toll road, all of which makes the study fundamentally flawed and inaccurate. It's this failure to admit wrongdoing that requires law enforcement and the court to step-in to ensure an honest study is conducted without further violations of the law.

6) ARMA's letter ends saying they are the local leadership for transportation and will look at other modes of transportation as options. First of all, all RMA's were formed under STATE law (HB 3588) and are officially subdivisions of the state. Currently, ARMA is 100% funded by TxDOT. Though there may be locally appointed figureheads as the un-elected bureaucrats in charge of raising your taxes on driving, they are NOT a local entity but a STATE agency.

Also, by their own admission in public meetings, they have NO OTHER SOURCE OF FINANCING THAN TOLLS! So if they "consider" other modes of transportation, they would have to use their toll slush fund from congestion-weary motorists to subsidize other modes, unlike TxDOT who can use non-toll revenues.

Tolling Authority did inadequate toll study for 281, no study of impact of high gas prices

Link to article here. See the letter the State Auditor sent to the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) warning them of their inadequate toll viability study that failed to take into account high gas prices. High gas prices have been responsible for declines in driving and toll road use. Yet the ARMA continues to stick its head in the sand and ignore the economic signs that the 281 and other toll projects are in jeopardy due to high gas prices. And who will pay for such malfeasance? The taxpayers left to bailout the bonds when the toll roads default.

U.S. 281 toll-road planners didn't figure on costly gas
By Patrick Driscoll
August 8, 2008

Gas prices shot through the roof this year and a debate drags on over what the future holds, but none of that was reflected in recent traffic and revenue projections for the planned U.S. 281 toll road.

As a result, the estimates got a thumbs-down last month from State Auditor John Keel, who meted out his case in a single page of bean-counter lingo.

“Explicit consideration for the possible effects of higher motor fuel prices on the usage of the toll facility and, therefore, on revenues would seem warranted,” he concluded in a letter to the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority.

The state auditor doesn't actually sign off on traffic and revenue reports from toll agencies. According to a 2007 tolling law, the auditor just reviews and comments on them.

Alamo Regional Mobility Authority Director Terry Brechtel noted that in a letter responding to Keel, saying the audit's over.

However, she said the local agency agrees with his criticism and already had asked the consultant, URS Corp., to do a gas-price impact analysis.

“We will nevertheless forward to you a copy of the fuel sensitivity analysis once it is completed,” she said.

Such an analysis was a no-brainer to toll-road critics as long as two years ago.

Activists had tried to get the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which approved 70 miles of tollways in San Antonio, to study rising gas prices and the impacts to toll bonds that can stretch over several decades. The MPO board refused.

“It doesn't make sense,” said Terri Hall of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. “We're glad the state auditor has the same concerns that we do. Will this road even be viable in 10 years with the trends we're seeing in gas prices?”

Wary motorists have been scaling back in the face of gas prices soaring to a record U.S. average of $4.11 a gallon last month, according to AAA.

Americans drove 2.4 percent fewer miles through May compared to the same time last year and rush-hour congestion eased in many U.S. cities from March through May, federal data show.

San Antonio drivers spent 4.7 percent less time stuck in traffic, though officials say new lanes opening on Interstate 10 and new ramps at two Loop 410 interchanges helped.

Americans also have started avoiding some toll roads, with Houston reporting a 3 percent drop in traffic from March through June, and Dallas seeing a 2.3 percent slip in June on its President George Bush Turnpike. Growth on the Dallas North Tollway was flat.

Dallas' North Texas Tollway Authority asked its consultant to take another look at traffic projections for planned toll lanes on Texas 161.

“But they're not anticipating any change,” Dallas toll spokeswoman Sherita Coffelt said.

Unlike San Antonio's toll-road consultant, Moody's Investors Service took rising gas prices seriously Thursday when it issued a stable but cautious report on U.S. government toll roads through 2009. The long-term outlook was more uncertain.

“Gas prices at around $4 per gallon for a prolonged period could have a dampening effect on traffic and revenue and, if declines are not offset by rate increases, it could cause Moody's to change our stable outlook,” Moody's Senior Vice President Maria Matesanz said in a statement.

Federal forecasters say gas prices will spike even higher next year, but where they go from there is wrapped in a muddy debate on when global oil production will peak and begin to slide. Some say it's happening now; others say there's a four-decade cushion for technologies to come to the rescue.

San Antonio toll officials, getting ready to sell 40-year bonds later this year to help fund toll lanes on eight miles of U.S. 281 north of Loop 1604, are undeterred. They point to the success of Austin's 65 miles of toll roads, which began opening in late 2006 and are raking in more money than expected.

“If we get higher fuel efficiencies in our vehicles, that could have an impact,” Alamo Regional Mobility Authority spokesman Leroy Alloway said. “People are still going to be driving, we're still a very auto-centric country.”

Still, many toll critics aren't sold on the car-dominated vision.

“It's time for us to shift to sustainability, by moving to mass transit, or pay the price,” Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson said. “All the warning signals are there.”

Travis County decides to pony up $15 million for SH 45

Link to story here.

Every time taxpayer money goes into building toll roads it’s a DOUBLE TAX scam.

Travis County decides to pony up $15 million for SH 45
By Kate Weidaw
Wednesday, March 19, 2014

MANCHACA, Texas (KXAN) –  Travis County Commissioners voted Tuesday to approve spending roughly $15 million on the proposed road that would connect FM 1626 to MoPac at State Highway 45 and give drivers another option to avoid Interstate 35 traffic off Brodie Lane.

The commissioners approved the plan with a 4-1 vote.

This would be a joint venture between Travis County, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, and Hays County — with Hays County pitching $5 million for the project. Capital Area Metro Planning Organization and TxDOT will fund $32 million and CTRMA will cover the rest of the balance at $48 million.

Commissioner Ron Davis was the lone nay vote.

Environmentalists worry the road could endanger wildlife along the route.  The Save Our Springs Alliance asked the court to postpone voting until environmental studies are complete.

The group filed a complaint Monday, March 17 against Commissioner Gerald Daugherty for violating the Texas Public Information Act.  They claim Daugherty deleted emails and text messages about the road project that should be made available to the public.

Critics of the project say the proposed road will only make MoPac more congested than it already is, especially during rush hour.

Supporters believe it will make a significant impact for the local neighborhoods that are seeing an increase in traffic.

View story here.

County commissioner accused of destroying records
March 18, 2014

TRAVIS COUNTY -- Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty is being accused of withholding and destroying public records.

The Save Our Springs Alliance filed a criminal complaint with the county attorney on Monday, claiming Daugherty failed to respond to public information requests.

The complaint also claims the commissioner deleted texts and emails relating to county business, held committee meetings without public notice and did not take minutes of those meetings, in violation of the Texas Public Information Act. The group says it does not know what those messages may contain.

At a commissioner's court meeting on Tuesday, Daugherty said he is confident he followed the rules.

"I know what I've done and what I haven't done," Daugherty said. "There's again another red herring if they think that there is something criminal about it. Let's see if a judge finds that."

The Save Our Springs Alliance is trying to stop a proposed extension of State Highway 45 from MoPac Expressway to FM 1626 in Southwest Austin.

Daugherty says it's been 17 years since voters approved the highway extension project and it's time to move forward.

SOS members fear it will cause irreparable harm to the Edwards Aquifer.

Austin app gives toll refunds for carpoolers

Link to article here.

Who says Texas isn't like the liberal northeast and western U.S.? Austin, TX is already using an app that gives you a toll refund if you do what the government wants - carpool. If you don't meet the politically correct requirements for travel, you'll be paying an extra tax. If you partake in socially acceptable social engineering programs like carpooling to get a free ride on toll lanes, then you're allowing the government to control your freedom to travel. Oh, liberty, where art thou?

Note you have to have three people in your car to get the free ride. Gone are the days of just two...

Carpool app offers toll refunds
By Heather Kovar
February 27, 2014

CENTRAL TEXAS -- For those who think tollways are too expensive, there is a way to get 100 percent of your money back on some of them.

It's a carpooling experiment to see if toll rebates can inspire people to ride share.

The free mobile app, Carma, matches drivers with riders. If you have one rider using the app, your toll will be discounted 50 percent. If you have two riders, your toll is free.

More tolls for Hwy 183 in Austin

Link to story here.

Transportation planners could add lanes to Highway 183
By Ashley Goudeau
February 18, 2014

AUSTIN -- Day and night, traffic on Highway 183 in Northwest Austin is thick.

"[It's] horrible on most days. Sundays [are] about the only day that traffic is light," said Sheryl Witschorke, who drives on the highway daily. 

Joshua Snipp agrees.

"I do a little bit of 183, a little bit of the side road. I get on until it starts to get bad, and then I get off the rest of the way," Snipp said.

Experts predict it's only going to get worse. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, every day an average of 187,000 people drive on Highway 183 near Braker Lane. With that much congestion, TxDOT officials say it creates delays for ambulances taking patients to Seton Northwest Hospital and other health care facilities.

SA officials unveil 'congestion' plan, not 'mobility' plan

Link to article here.

SA leaders unveil ‘mobility,’ er, ‘congestion’ plan
By Terri Hall
January 6, 2014

Today, Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ted Houghton announced an $825 million ‘5-year Mobility Plan’ for San Antonio’s congested north side freeways that includes toll lanes on US 281 and Interstate 10 and free expansion on Loop 1604 West (for now).

Houghton was joined by Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, Mayor Julian Castro, and officials from Via Metropolitan Transit and the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) who stood united in their plans to add toll lanes to much of the north side -- even converting two-four existing free main lanes on US 281 into a toll lanes. This comes on the heels of public meetings to add toll lanes to Interstate 35.

Public feedback sought as US 281 toll project advances to next step

Link to article here.

Officials seek public feedback on flawed toll plan for US 281
By Terri Hall
June 23, 2013

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) are soliciting public comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Highway 281 expansion project. They held a public hearing Thursday, June 20, at the San Antonio Shrine Auditorium and nearly 250 people attended despite it being held on the same night as the final game of the Spurs World Championship play-offs. Over 90% of the public feedback opposed tolls on Hwy 281.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) currently has two HOV/transit toll lanes planned from Loop 1604 to Stone Oak Pkwy., and tolls on all six main lanes (including the 4 currently toll-free lanes) north of Stone Oak Pkwy. to the county line.

$12 million windfall: Bexar County fee hike could subsidize toll roads, transit

NOTE: HB 1573 is a $10 vehicle registration fee hike that only applies to Bexar County. Unlike the other local fee hike bills, this is the ONLY ONE that does NOT require voter approval! It is specifically administered by the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (RMA), the local toll authority -- so it will undoubtedly be used to SUBSIDIZE toll roads.

None of the Bexar County toll projects are toll viable. That means there is not enough projected toll payers to cover the cost of construction and retiring the debt. Rather than scrap the ill-conceived, unsustainable toll roads, the RMA sought another source of revenue to SUBSIDIZE its toll projects so that all vehicle owners will be paying for the toll project but only those who can afford to pay tolls will actually be able to use it!

The RMA can also operate parking structures, intermodal hubs, transit projects and systems, and RAIL projects. So this fee hike can be used to fund all of these types of projects, without a public vote. It can also be used to subsidize Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff’s unpopular street car system.

This $12 million a year in new revenues gives the RMA a healthy revenue stream it then bond against -- meaning MORE debt for Bexar County residents.

Sen. Donna Campbell, with the help of Jeff Judson, amended the bill to keep the ATD Board from getting access to the funds, however, the RMA can operate a street car as well. So she voted for a tax hike that can go to fund both toll roads and street cars when she ran opposing both.

Fee increase could yield $12 million for Bexar County roads
By Vianna Davila, Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The state Senate approved a substitute bill Tuesday that would authorize the optional collection of a motor vehicle registration fee of $10 that would yield $12 million for Bexar County road and bridge projects annually.

The bill now will be sent back to the House for consideration. Friday is the last day the House can act on Senate amendments.

Even if the substitute is approved in the House and signed into law by the governor, Bexar County commissioners still would have to vote to invoke the fee, which would be on top of existing vehicle registration fees.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said it's not clear if commissioners would decide to do that or when, but this bill “would give us that option.”

Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/politics/texas_legislature/article/Fee-increase-could-yield-12-million-for-Bexar-4536533.php#ixzz2UureeVww

MoPac lane closures begin

Link to article here.

MoPac lanes closing nightly to prepare for project to add toll lanes
By Ben Wear
American-Statesman Staff
May 20, 2013

MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) will see the first lane closures beginning this week as part of a two-plus year project to widen the expressway and add a toll lane in each direction between Lady Bird Lake and Parmer Lane.

The work, surveying and soil sampling, will cause rolling lane closures between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.
The only daytime activity, likely to happen next week, will be some helicopter flyovers at relatively low altitudes that, while potentially distracting to drivers, will not close lanes. Officials with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which will build and operate the $200 million express toll lane project, said the flights, part of the surveying work, will be about 500 feet above the road.

MoPac toll project bid comes in under estimates

Link to article here.

Instead of return the excess money for the project to build other badly needed highway improvements eleewhere, they plan to spend it on 'enhancements.' This is what happens when you have unelected toll boards in charge of building public highways -- they spend, spend, spend and only think of how to keep their doors open and feed their own bureaucracy, not provide affordable travel with our scarce tax dollars.

Contract for MoPac toll lanes lower than expected
By Ben Wear
Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013
American-Statesman Staff

The low bid for adding express toll lanes to North MoPac Boulevard came in well below expectations, toll authority officials said Wednesday, allowing engineers to consider up to $20 million in enhancements to the project.

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority board awarded the contract for final design and construction of the 11-mile project Wednesday to a consortium led by the Colorado-based engineering firm CH2M Hill. The $136.6 million bid was more than $62 million below the second-lowest of the three bids submitted, and about $33 million below the mobility authority’s estimate of $170 million.

Alamo toll agency lays off nearly all its workers

Tolling authority to lay off employees

By Vianna Davila


January 22, 2013

Several employees of the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority will be out of a job by March 2, not quite a year after Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff first called for downsizing the tolling agency's operations.

They include the RMA chief financial officer, director of engineering, community development director and public information manager.

Austin toll authority manages to hit age 10 despite opposition

Link to article here.

Toll Agency hits age 10 with stability, big plans
By Ben Wear
American-Statesman Staff
December 28, 2012

There was a time, early in the history of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, when it was by no means clear that the agency would see its 10th birthday this fall.

Neither was it clear that it would have two toll roads open by now, nearly a billion dollars in assets and enough credibility that local elected officials, with little or no constituent blow-back, could vote this year to loan the authority $130 million to add toll lanes to MoPac Boulevard. Under that arrangement, the authority has 25 years to pay back the money, plus $100 million in what amounts to interest.

Those express lanes on MoPac (Loop 1), to run from near Lady Bird Lake to Parmer Lane, should be under construction by summer 2013 and take about two years to open.

Toll agency ponders dollars for 281, 1604

This effectively means they plan to use tax money to build a toll road, which is a DOUBLE TAX. Any road built with tax money should be a freeway, not a tollway!

Toll agency ponders dollars for 281, 1604

Published 12:26 a.m., Friday, October 12, 2012

Despite a steady erosion of expected funding over the years, San Antonio’s tolling agency may have enough money to fund a toll system on Loop 1604 and U.S. 281, officials say.

The project would cost more than $700 million, which could be partly funded by $130 million the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority has in hand.

The RMA then could leverage that money in a couple of ways, officials said — for instance, by issuing toll bonds — to finish out the total project cost.

RMA vows to press forward with tolls on 1604

More obstinance from this un-elected Board.

RMA vows to press on with 1604 toll project

Updated 10:52 p.m., Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority leadership stressed again and again Thursday its pledge to move forward with construction of a long-planned toll project on Loop 1604, despite a recent political shakeup that put Bexar County in charge of the agency's operations.

The declaration came at the mobility authority's first public board meeting since Commissioners Court voted to take over the RMA's staff operations last month, in what was called a cost-saving move. The move came weeks before the agency planned to start the search for a contractor to tackle the 1604 toll project, which could be under construction by December 2013 if things go according to plan.

Interim RMA Board Chairman Robert Thompson remains determined that they will.

Austin: Free lanes degraded to drive more people to pay tolls

Link to article here.

As usual, TxDOT and toll authorities are doing everything possible to make the freeways unbearable and substandard form of travel compared to their tollways. Of course, they make money off congestion so they have a profit incentive that drives their highway decisions. It's no longer about serving the public interest and getting Texans moving again, it's about manipulating congestion for profit -- even if that means degrading the level of travel on the freeways to force more people to pay the toll tax.

On tollways and making omelets
Ben Wear, Getting There
Austin American Statesman
Published: 8:16 p.m. Sunday, July 15, 2012

The medical maxim could be applied to tollways: First, do no harm.

Meaning, in building a tollway, shouldn't the public expect that the pre-existing situation for nonpaying drivers be made no worse? The Legislature agreed, enshrining in Texas law language that to some degree guarantees this. To some degree.

The issue first arose around here about 2006 when the Texas Department of Transportation was building the Texas 45 North tollway in North Austin on top of RM 620, routing the toll lanes through an existing underpass at Parmer Lane. Someone pointed out about halfway through construction, however, that before it all started people were able to use that underpass on RM 620 and not have to stop at the Parmer traffic lights up above.

Now, unless something was changed, the only people who would get that unobstructed passage would be those willing to pay a toll on Texas 45 North.

So TxDOT, at great expense and some delay, added a free lane on each side running under the bridge. A similar story played out on the Loop 1 tollway, also at MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1). A precedent was set.

The law, however, does not necessarily require this. It says only that TxDOT, or any other toll authority building a tollway where a free road existed before, must make sure that adjacent to the pay-to-drive lane there are free lanes equal to or greater than the number of free lanes that existed before.

Lanes, not "number of lanes unobstructed by traffic lights."

This has come up again out on U.S. 183 in Northeast Austin, where the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority is building a tollway on the intersecting highway, U.S. 290. And that includes four towering flyover bridges that will connect U.S. 290 and U.S. 183.

What makes these flyovers unique is that, for the first time in Texas, drivers will have to pay a toll just to use those bridges. And in this case, the design of one of those bridges, specifically where it intersects with U.S. 183, caused the elimination of an exit ramp from northbound U.S. 183 just north of Manor Road. With that ramp closed, people who want to turn onto U.S. 290 up ahead have to exit earlier, south of Manor Road.

Which means they have to go through a traffic light at Manor Road. Before, they could bypass Manor on an overpass and then exit.

So, lost mobility for that subset of drivers. But no lost lanes.

On the southbound side, a similar situation exits with an eliminated entrance ramp. But it turns out that ramp was closed several years ago, long before the mobility authority began building the tolled flyovers.

Steve Pustelnyk, the authority's spokesman, said the agency's current plan is to restore those ramps when it builds the "Bergstrom Expressway," which will be a tollway overlaying U.S. 183 as it goes around the east side of Austin. However, environmental work is just beginning and the tollway, and thus those restored ramps, are unlikely to open for at least five years. Until then, a lot of people will have to wait at that Manor Road light.

This falls into the category, I suppose, of having to break some eggs to make an omelet.

The U.S. 290 tollway, which the authority calls the Manor Expressway, will run five miles from U.S. 183 to east of Texas 130 and will have six toll lanes and six frontage road lanes. That's eight more lanes than exist now, including two extra free lanes.

U.S. 290 in that section now has 30,000 to 45,000 vehicles a day on it, according to a 2010 TxDOT count. The mobility authority estimates that the tollway, the first section of which will open early next year, will have more than 41,000 toll charges a day by 2015. Hard to translate that into cars a day, but if you assume each trip involves two toll charges (one on the road itself, one on a flyover), that would mean something like half of the cars now using U.S. 290 now would instead be up on the tollway.

That would make life a lot easier not only for those who can afford to take the toll road, but also for the folks who chose not to pay, instead staying on those now-wider frontage roads.

The people waiting down at the Manor light will be dealing with broken eggshells and yolks. Maybe some of them will get a taste of omelet as well.

Hispanic Chamber Director tapped for RMA post

Link to article here.

Does anyone else see a conflict of interest in having the head of a Chamber of Commerce have voting powers to assign billions of dollars in toll projects to companies that are members of the Chamber?

Cavazos appointed to RMA
By Marissa Wagner
KTSA Radio News
July 2012

The Bexar County Commissioners Court appointed Ramiro Cavazos, who is the head of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, to the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority Board of Directors Tuesday.

Cavazos is replacing long time board member Jim Reed, who resigned on June 18th alongside Chairman Bill Thornton after the Commissioners Court announced that they would be assuming management of the RMA's staff operations.

"I know there's a lot of work ahead, and complicated challenges. I'm honored that the court and Judge Nelson Wolff would recommend my name," said Cavazos.

At his appointment on Tuesday, each commissioner expressed their concerns to Cavazos about the difficult job ahead of him.

"This is a tough job, and as you know we are in the middle of negotiations with the board, and we feel that if they contracted with the county that we could save a significant amount of money, and we hope that moves forward and we look to your leadership in that," said Judge Wolff.

"It's also part of the task to find out what we are going to do come this next legislative session. Number one on top of my mind is that we don't want to do anything that is going to lessen or damage what little local control we have, so keep those things in the back of your mind. On the operational side, as you transition them together we don't want to do anything to slow down the current EIS (Environmental Impact Surveys) that are taking place or the projects that are being worked on. We want to make this as seemless and comfortable for all concerned as possible," said Commissioner Kevin Wolff.

Cavazos started his term with his appointment, and will serve until it expires on June 1, 2014.

"It's a team effort, and our city is a great city. We need to move very fast when it comes to transportation and generating local resources also," said Cavazos.

Texas Governor Rick Perry is responsible for filling the RMA's board chairman position, left vacant by Thornton.

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