Tolling Authority votes to increase cost of 281 fix by THREE times!
Losing bidder, Zachry, to get $325,000
San Antonio, May 14, 2008 – Today the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA), a fancy term for tolling authority, voted to have a consortium headed by toll road extraordinaire Fluor Corporation pay over $330 million to bulldoze US 281 and rebuild it as a toll road. Even worse, the losing bidder, Zachry Construction, will get paid $325,000 simply for losing the bid!
“The original FREEway plan to build overpasses and expand the highway as promised in public hearings in 2001 (and funded with gas taxes in 2003) came to $100 million and would have taken 18 months to complete (versus 3 1/2 years to build the toll road). Now the ARMA is deliberately deceiving motorists by saying a 5-year delay is somehow speeding things up.
“On top of that, they’re crowing ‘we saved you money’ while charging taxpayers THREE times the price of the FREEway plan! The RMA also says there will be non-toll lanes, but fails to tell commuters their only non-toll option will be access roads with slower speed limits and permanent stop lights. That’s not a choice, it’s highway robbery,” notes Terri Hall, Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) whose organization teamed up with Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (AGUA) in filing a lawsuit to stop the US 281 toll road and FORCE TxDOT to install the funded FREEway improvements.
The taxpayers have demanded TxDOT install the cheaper, faster, and funded gas tax FREEway improvements on US 281 from day one (see the proof it's been funded since 2003 here.. For more than 3 years, the Texas Legislature, the San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization (SAMPO), and the ARMA have repeatedly thumbed their noses at the thousands of taxpayers who have attempted to reverse these organizations’ votes to toll US 281.
TURF has also asked for a public vote on ALL toll projects, especially a freeway to tollway conversion. Make no mistake, this is a conversion. Every single lane motorists drive on today will be converted to toll lanes, and the NEW lanes will be frontage roads with non-highway speed limits and permanent stop lights.
“This is thievery pure and simple. It’s criminal that our politicians have repeatedly voted to rip-off taxpayers in a massive money grab. There is NO excuse for failing to build the FUNDED FREEway improvements other than to make money. They can’t make money off a freeway, only a toll road. In fact, 281 users need to know their FREEway will be converted into a toll road to fund improvements to 1604 in a BIG, FAT, UNFAIR Robin Hood scheme. It’s a targeted new tax on driving at a time with record high gas prices with no end in sight,” Hall said.
The US 281 toll project will also include a non-compete agreement where the ARMA agrees not to expand or improve ANY roads surrounding the toll road, which means Blanco Rd., Stone Oak Pkwy., Redland Rd., and Bulverde Rd to name a few. The ARMA says a non-compete would not prevent TxDOT, the City, or County from expanding roads, but none of those entities would dare put the toll bonds in jeopardy by expanding nearby roads and violating a non-compete investors demand. The ARMA is also declining to insure the bonds for this project putting the taxpayers on the hook if the road goes belly-up.
The ARMA is also relying on it’s a risky traffic projection adding 25% to the already aggressive growth projections the SAMPO uses. Considering the soaring price of gas and the trend toward moving inside Loop 1604 and 410 to shorten commutes, the failure of the US 281 toll road is likely. Express-News columnist Ken Allard seemed to agree in his column last week (read it here.).
“This is fast becoming a risky boondoggle in a time of economic crisis. There will not be enough political cover for the politicians when this hits the fan,” Hall finished.
Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson fired off a letter of concern about the financial viability of toll roads in this economic climate with high gas prices forcing people to change their behavior to reduce costs. Adkisson and ARMA Executive Director Terry Brechtel met today, but neither changed the other’s mind.