Chance to fix Hwy 281 without tolls

Chance to fix 281 without tolls
MPO to vote on Prop 12 allocation Monday

(San Antonio, TX, July 21, 2011) The 82nd Texas Legislature authorized the remaining $3 billion in Prop 12 bonds to be issued for road and bridge projects. The MPO will be voting on which projects will receive Prop 12 money at its policy board meeting on Monday. The criteria for Prop 12 money is that it must fund a project listed in the top 50 of the 100 Most Congested Roadways list.

Here's a link to the 100 Most Congested Roadways list where US 281 is #38:

Loop 1604 from SH 16 to FM 471, US 281 north of Loop 1604, and two segments of I-35 (from Loop 353 to 281 and from FM 1518 to Loop 1604) would meet that criteria.

“We know all of these projects are important and need to be addressed. The question is, in what order? We're asking the MPO to allocate Prop 12 money to US 281 first since it was previously funded with gas taxes for 7 years in the MPO's plan before they spent it elsewhere, and thousands of San Antonians have repeatedly asked that it be done without tolls,” advocates Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF.

Rep. Lyle Larson served on the MPO when he was a Bexar County Commissioner and said that projects that were previously funded that get bumped for any reason should be the first ones funded again when money becomes available. Since US 281 already had funding identified in MPO plans from roughly 2001 to 2008, TURF believes it ought to be the first project in the pipeline to receive Prop 12 funds now. As with Wurzbach Pkwy that was previously identified to be tolled and then reverted back to a non-toll project when stimulus money and Prop14 money was made available, US 281 can be done the same way (even if only a portion of the 8 miles can be done now). In fact, many MPO board members, like Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff, have stated they would do exactly that if funds became available, and the opportunity is here.

MPO staff, including some county staff, will be meeting today to decide which projects to recommend. TxDOT, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA), and MPO staff have been seeking to allocate Prop 12 funds for the ARMA's I-35 toll project above funding non-toll improvements to 281 and 1604. Many taxpayers, including TURF, object to taxpayer money like Prop 12 being used to subsidize toll projects (it's a DOUBLE TAX the same as tolling existing roads that have been paid for).

Of course, TURF has long advocated that US 281 be fixed and kept a FREEway without tolls. TURF wants this Prop 12 money to go strictly to non-toll overpasses and improvements on 281and not to be used to subsidize the ARMA's toll plan. Several TURF supporters sit on the ARMA's Community Advisory Group for the 281 environmental study and believe the study could easily be completed by next year, especially if the controversial toll plan that requires a deeper study of impacts (especially economic impacts) is dropped.

Tolls in perpetuity now law
RMAs got their every wish granted this session under the moniker of ‘local control.’ Two bills in particular, HB 1112 and SB 19, represent a huge policy shift away from traditional turnpikes where the toll comes off the road when it’s paid for to granting authority to keep tolls in place to fund other projects. HB 1112 by Rep. Larry Phillips allows toll entities, in effect, to toll in perpetuity by keeping the tolls in place after the road is paid for.

SB 19 by Sen. Robert Nichols, known as the ‘primacy’ bill, gives toll entities the right of first refusal on all toll projects in its jurisdiction. However, when toll entities exercise a right of first refusal, under Nichols’ bill, they also get development rights for ALL future segments of the project. SB 19 also grants toll entities ownership of the road in perpetuity. This virtually guarantees tolls will be charged in perpetuity and that these projects will be never become non-toll roads. These effectively grant a limitless power to tax to UN-elected toll entities.

Robin Hood tax grab

Some have dubbed this practice known as ‘system financing’ as Robin Hood since it steals toll taxes from one corridor and pledges it to another corridor (that those same users may not use). It can also involve increasing the toll on one segment to gain ‘surplus revenue’ to pledge to another project and so on, making it impossible to take tolls off the original road. The Texas Constitution currently prohibits perpetuities in Art I, Sec. 26, though Sen. Chris Harris advanced a Constitutional amendment, SJR 13 (which died in the Calendars Committee in the House), to change that.

Toll authorities even got the right to conduct their own environmental studies, which is like the fox guarding the henhouse, ensuring the preferred alternative is always a toll road, not a free road.
MPO plans contain 57 toll projects for Bexar County

Few realize the MPO’s long-range plan contains 57 toll projects, 18 of them slated to come under foreign control using controversial private toll contracts called Comprehensive Development Agreements (or CDAs).

The grassroots defeated CDAs during a special called session of the Texas legislature in July 2009, but the 82nd legislature re-authorized the controversial contracts over the loud opposition of over 100 grassroots groups -- across the gamut from tea parties and libertarians to environmental and public interest groups earlier this summer.

TURF has alerted the grassroots to urge the MPO to:

1) Allocate Prop 12 tax money to fix 281 WITHOUT TOLLS as promised

2) REMOVE toll roads, particularly CDA toll roads, from its plans.

3) Use traditional funding (gas taxes, vehicle sales taxes, etc.), NOT privatization and tolling Texas roads as the source of funding for these projects.

“We’ve been warning San Antonians for years that Rick Perry has made his toll tax policy so expansive, they won’t be able to escape it. The MPO’s list of 57 toll projects shows how out of touch our politicians are with the economic realities of their constituents. It’s clear this is about more than getting projects built, it’s an all-out assault on our freedom to travel by making it unaffordable to drive. I haven’t met a single Texan outside the Capitol that thinks it’s a good idea to cede control of our Texas roads to foreign companies,” observes Hall.

As an example of just what a taxpayer disaster it is to hand control of our public roads to private, foreign toll operators using CDAs, drivers on a road operated by Spain-based Cintra (who has won three Texas contracts already) in Canada receive their first bill totaling thousands of dollars in fines years after they supposedly took the tollway. The government has no power to step-in and protect motorists from runaway taxation nor disputed toll fines.

A sample list of toll projects in the MPO’s plans:

-Hwy 90 (from 410 to 211)
- I-10 (from 410 to county line)
- Loop 1604 (the entire loop, not just the northern half currently under development by ARMA)
-281 (from 1604 to Comal County line)
-I-37 (from 410 south to Atascosa County line)
- Bandera Rd (from 410 to 1604 still appears despite amendment to remove it)
- interchange at I-10 & 1604
- interchange at 281 & 1604 (northbound ramps)
- interchange at 1604 & 151
- interchange at 1604 & 90
- interchange at 1604 & 1-35
- interchange at I-35 & 410
- Kelly Pkwy/Spur 371 (US 90 to SH 16)
ALL of I-35 (from Atascosa to Comal County line)

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