(San Antonio, TX - November 5, 2014) It’s been a long battle, more like a ten year war, over converting US 281 in San Antonio into a tollway, but with passage of Proposition 1 shifting $1.7 billion in oil and gas severance taxes immediately into the state highway fund, the ‘we’re out of money’ excuse to toll this freeway just got chucked.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Sen. Donna Campbell sent a letter to the Texas Transportation Commission in May asking for more non-toll lanes on US 281 should Prop 1 pass. Now Wolff still wants one transit-toll-HOV ‘managed’ lane each direction regardless of having the money to fix it completely without tolls, but Campbell, who represents the corridor, has stated unequivocally that she wants expansion and wants it all to be without tolls.
State Rep. Lyle Larson has been a long-time advocate against tolling US 281, and he and Campbell asked for the $92 million taken from road funds for the now defunct streetcar plan to be returned to road projects after voters turned in 29,000 signatures opposing the street car. Campbell and Larson specifically asked those dollars to go to US 281. Their request fell on deaf ears at the Commission and the Via Metropolitan Transit Authority was allowed to keep $92 million in state road funds and announced its plans to spend it on bus stops instead.
Recent research released by the Texas Transportation Institute asked Texans to rank transportation solutions, and toll roads came in dead last out of 14 different options. Texans do not want more tolls. Polling in Campbell’s district during the primary showed 85% opposed tolls on US 281. The city of Hollywood Park, that borders the toll project, passed a resolution opposing tolls on US 281 (and Loop 1604) in 2013. The City of Bulverde in bordering Comal County also passed a resolution opposing tolls on US 281 in 2005.
In 2012, the local Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Bexar County Commissioners both passed resolutions asking for complete non-toll expansion of US 281. However, the Texas Department of Transportation, whom Texans do not get to elect, quickly swooped in and insisted tolls remain in the plan. So the question now is, will decision makers listen to the people and their representatives or not?
Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom and Texans for Toll-free Highways (a successor organization to the anti-toll group, San Antonio Toll Party) will continue to work to ensure sufficient Prop 1 funds are allocated to US 281 to do the expansion without tolls. With the election of anti-toll Greg Abbott as Governor and Dan Patrick as Lt. Governor, new leadership many finally tip the scales in favor of a non-toll US 281. Abbott will have the opportunity to reshape the Commission shortly, so help is on the way. It’s up to the voters to hold their collective feet to the fire to ensure their will is heeded so our freeways remain free of new toll taxes.