Dissolve RMA, not keep it on life support


Taxpayers to officials: Dissolve RMA, not keep it on life support

City to consider move to rescue RMA from default

(San Antonio, TX - Wednesday, August 3, 2011)
The San Antonio City Council will consider extending the City's $500,000 loan to the Alamo RMA (the toll authority) for another year (Item #27 on tomorrow's agenda). The loan was due last year, when it should have gone into default, but the City voted to extend the deadline to this year. Councilman Reed Williams has signaled he may pull it off consent agenda so it can be discussed as a standalone item. TURF will go before the Council to testify against the City extending the loan.

"Keeping the RMA alive guarantees tolls will be charged to drive on our existing roads (281, 1604, I-35, I-10...total of 57 projects already on the books), since the RMA's only way to pay this loan back is tolling. Do you or I get spared from going into default if we can't pay our debts? The RMA needs to go into default and be dissolved altogether. Time to cut our losses and get rid of 'em. They're the poster child for government waste," contends Terri Hall, Director of TURF.

According to its most recent financial statement, the RMA is now $51 million in the hole. The only way this will be paid back is tolls. The Alamo RMA touts that hey've built non-toll projects - the 281 superstreet and the southern ramps of the interchange at 281/1604 are currently under construction.

"These projects were a fluke, initially to be done with stimulus money that put them on life support until their first toll project opened, yet the taxpayers already pay TxDOT to build non-toll roads. So the RMA is a colossal WASTE and duplication of efforts," Hall points out.

RMA documents show the cost to build the 4 northern ramps is only $59 million in 2013 dollars. The RMA is only building the southern 4 ramps now, but are charging taxpayers the price for all 8 ramps, $120 million.

"Why are they only building half now? Because they want to toll the northern ramps to tie into the future 281 toll road, which they say won't be ready for clearance until 2013," Hall asserts.

Read more about the interchange RIP-OFF here: http://texasturf.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=633&Itemid=26.

The cost to fix 281 went from a NON-TOLL plan of $100 million in 2004 dollars ($13 million/mile), then up to $202 million (or $26 million/mile) in 2005/2006 when Zachry was going to turn it into a toll road and then hand it to Cintra, (until the AGUA/PET lawsuit stopped it), then up to $475 million (or $61 million/mile) in 2007 when the RMA took control (over a time period when highway costs went way down -- most highway contracts have been coming in under the estimated cost for nearly three years now), and now its most recent estimate is all the way up to $500 million (or $64 million/mile).

The RMA has to add in the cost to acquire the right of way, $85 million, (which TxDOT has a separate account the taxpayers have already paid into with gas taxes to acquire right of way when it's a non-toll project), and another $41 million in "management fees" (again, this does not get added to the cost on a non-toll TxDOT project since taxpayers already pay TxDOT's operating expenses). So at a minimum, it's $126 million more to have the RMA do it than if TxDOT did the project non-toll. All of this added cost will be baked into the price of the toll rate.

"So when the RMA does projects, whether tolled or not, taxpayers pay TWICE for the bureaucracy," reveals Hall.

The majority of the RMA Board members are appointed by the county commissioners and county judge, the city council gets one appointee, and Governor Rick Perry appoints the Chair. TURF asked the county commissioners to dissolve the RMA back in 2009.

Here's TURF's testimony before commissioners court when there were three votes to dissolve at commissioners court in 2009:

It didn't happen because the commissioners don't have direct authority to dissolve the agency. According to state law (Transportation Code Chapter 370.331 Subchapter H), the Transportation Commission has to approve voluntary dissolution. However, the county and city control all but one of the appointees and can direct them to do their bidding and the county and city can make their wishes known in no uncertain terms via passage of a resolution. The Alamo RMA was first created by resolution of the county to petition the Transportation Commission to form an RMA (a political subdivision of the state) in 2003. The Commissioners Court can pass a resolution directing their appointees to vote to dissolve the Alamo RMA and to direct the Transportation Commission to do the same.

"Two things. It's a cop-out for both the county and city to say they have no authority over this agency when they appoint the Board. Second, it's real hard for the Transportation Commission to claim RMAs are 'locally controlled' and then ignore the wishes of those who appoint the board members and the Commissioners Court that petitioned to create them in the first place. It's time to change course and politicians change their minds all the time. Getting rid of an UN-elected, wasteful, duplicative government bureaucracy that has the power to levy unlimited toll taxes is in the public's best interest," notes Hall.

Since Alamo RMA Board Member Jim Reed is the City's appointee, the Council can direct Reed by resolution to vote to dissolve the RMA and ask the Commission to concur.

While the Alamo RMA has lobbied our local elected officials with promises of surplus revenue from toll roads to fund all their transportation dreams (mass transit, light rail, etc.), reality shows a different picture. A recent story in the Statesman revealed that the Central Texas turnpike system required a $100 million taxpayer BAILOUT, 70% more in subsidies than originally projected. The 183 A project of the Central Texas RMA was projected to have a 9.6% increase in traffic this year and only 1.5% showed up and the CTRMA is having to consider junk bonds to finance its next project because Standard & Poors has considered it too high a credit risk for investment grade bonds. In North Texas, it's system was over $100 million in the hole last year, even with a 32% rate hike! This analysis of 9 toll systems around the country (three of them in Texas) shows only 2 are operating in the black.

"To quote John Adams, facts are stubborn things. The financial viability of toll roads is based on speculation and rosy traffic projections (read about San Diego's South Bay Expressway where the traffic projections were off by 40,000 cars a day and went bankrupt, requiring a taxpayer bailout) that are far from the financial realities of today's cash-strapped commuters struggling to keep gas in their tanks. Rick Perry's grand toll road experiment is a colossal failure of public policy, it's unsustainable, and it's time to pull the plug on the toll road fairy that over-promises and under-delivers," concludes Hall, "A litany of bad financial decisions will have to follow the decision to toll San Antonio roads if we're forced down this path. Where will the money come from locally to cover the debt on these roads when the traffic doesn't show up? Local government can't dip into the state's gas taxes to plug its hole as TxDOT did. Property tax increases, sales tax increases? Will those tax increases be any more popular with voters than tolls? I think not."

Watch the YouTube of how RMA Chair Bill Thornton treats concerned citizens during public comment: http://texasturf.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1114&Itemid=2

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