San Antonio, TX, Wednesday, September 10, 2008 – Citizens fed-up with delays to the fix on 281 have launched a new campaign to demand the gas tax funded fix to 281 be installed immediately, not a toll road. A new web site www.281OverpassesNow.com is chalk-full of documentation, videos, and data including a comparison of the “original” gas tax funded fix to 281 to the enormously expensive $1.3 billion dollar toll road plan.
“We don’t need a toll road, we need overpasses,” notes Terri Hall, TURF Founder. “The QUICKEST, most affordable, least invasive solution has been promised in public hearings since 2001 and funded with gas taxes since 2003. When they can fix 281 for $170 million and keep it a freeway instead of waste $1.3 billion and take nearly 4 years to make it a toll road few can afford, it borders on malfeasance to REFUSE to do the fiscally responsible solution IMMEDIATELY.”
After exhausting every other means to stop the toll road for three years, the citizens through TURF along with co-plaintiff’s Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas, or AGUA, filed a lawsuit in February to stop the toll road in order to advance the gas tax freeway fix. On the day the lawsuit was filed, the two parties announced there is NO opposition to installing the promised and funded overpasses and expansion of 281 from either group.
In what amounts to a total victory for the grassroots, TxDOT had to ask the court for a 60-day delay in the 281 lawsuit to buy time to persuade the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) NOT to yank its environmental clearance for the 281 toll project. Through the discovery process of the TURF/AGUA lawsuit, it's been discovered that TxDOT withheld key documents not only from the public and TURF attorneys, but also the feds!
TxDOT purposely withheld a key study from a geologist they hired that stated the potential long-term effects of the toll road on the Edwards Aquifer could be “severe.” Such a study didn't conclude what TxDOT wanted it to in order to get clearance from the feds, so they intentionally hid the report and failed to submit it to the FHWA who uses that crucial information in their decision on whether or not to give federal approval for the project.
There is also an email that shows TxDOT tried to "fix" the environmental work for 281 to pre-determine a "Finding of No Significant Impact" (or FONSI) BEFORE the study even began. TxDOT then hired a company, HNTB, to do the so-called "independent" environmental study even though HNTB has a MAJOR conflict of interest, in that, the tolling authority (ARMA) also hired HNTB to do the preliminary engineering for all their toll projects! So HNTB had a vested interest in a "Finding of No Significant Impact" (or FONSI).
“TxDOT and the RMA blame us for the delay instead of their own incompetence and deception. As usual, they seem to think they can wiggle out of their corruption without consequences simply by supplementing the record. They were FORCED to come clean through a lawsuit brought by concerned citizens, not by them being forthcoming,” said Hall. “We will NOT tolerate willful deception nor politicians’ stubborn refusal to give taxpayers the most affordable fix to 281. Give us the overpasses on 281 NOW.”