Where should the $2 billion go? Fix US 281 without tolls

For Immediate Release

March 6, 2012
CONTACT:Terri Hall
Texans Uniting for
Reform and Freedom
(210) 275-0640
WEB: www.TexasTURF.org
Where should the new money go? TxDOT 'finds' $2 billion
Taxpayers want US 281 fixed without tolls
(San Antonio, TX) - TxDOT recently 'found' $2 billion in extra money ($700 million anticipated from the federal government and $1.3 billion gained from 'efficiencies').

"The San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and ALL of our local elected leaders have the obligation to aggressively seek enough of these funds to fix US 281 WITHOUT TOLLS," contends Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. "The controversy surrounding the US 281 project has gone on long enough. The citizens have spoken out against tolling US 281 by overwhelming majorities, forcing two lawsuits to stop the toll road. Enough is enough. Let's move forward without saddling already stressed commuters with higher taxes, tolls, to get to work."

The public was promised in hearings in 2001 that it would get the overpasses and expansion on US 281 funded with gas taxes (and remain a FREEway) before the Legislature, Rick Perry, and eventually the MPO decided to turn everything into a toll road in 2003 & 2004.

US 281 needs to be top priority
TURF says of all the projects that need to have non-toll funding restored, it's US 281. The MPO's bylaws state that the first project to lose its funding should be the first one to have it restored.

"Getting US 281 fixed WITHOUT TOLLS needs to be the highest priority of our local leaders post-haste," states Hall.

This segment of US 281 is tied for the THE most congested road in the state, according to TTI's commuter stress index.

Bexar County being shorted
According to TxDOT figures for the last five years and the next five years, Bexar County and the San Antonio District has been persistently shorted in both traditional and discretionary road funds. The San Antonio District received just $320 million or 5%, according to the most recent DISCO report, when it should be closer to 10% or 11%, and Bexar County only received 2.87% of the state total (compared to Tarrant County/Ft. Worth that's almost identical in size to Bexar County that received 10.9% of the state total and the Ft. Worth District received $830 mil or 13.1%).

"This is UNACCEPTABLE. Taxpayers rely on our elected representatives to secure the tax dollars we've put into the system to come back to our region to pay for desperately needed transportation projects. It's simply not true to say there's no money to fix our roads without tolls, when Prop 14, Prop 12, stimulus money, and now this new-found $2 billion in funds have all come along since the US 281 toll road battle ensued," contends Hall.

TxDOT is legally bound by its own rules in the Texas Administrative Code that it cannot withhold funds due to a region if they choose not to include toll roads in their plans. Yet, the evidence seems to show Bexar County is consistently being shorted.

"Now is the time to restore what's been taken, and to make right what has been wronged. It's incumbent upon our elected officials to ensure US 281 gets its funding restored in order to complete this long overdue project, and to help take a positive step forward to restore the breach of trust between the public and our leaders with regards to transportation policy across our state," argues Hall. "It only adds insult to injury when you consider the County, with the MPO's blessing, stole $96 million in ATD road funds to install a street car line downtown where there's NO congestion."

Gas price already hammering motorists
Government has figured out that instead of solving congestion, they can manipulate it for a profit (by keeping free lanes congested and forcing people to pay a premium to get mobility), imposing tolls on all new capacity to our roads, even on EXISTING lanes that we travel today without tolls. The plan on US 281 is to slap tolls on every single existing freeway lane, leaving frontage roads with slower speed limits and permanent stop lights, as the only non-toll option.

"It's a huge DOUBLE TAX," Hall points out.

It costs 1-2 cents per mile to travel a gas tax funded freeway, but anywhere from 20 cents a mile up to 75 cents per mile to use a toll lane (depending on whether its publicly or privately run), greatly increasing the cost to travel when motorists are already being hit hard by escalating gas prices. A gas tax funded road costs PENNIES a day versus a toll road that costs DOLLARS a day and THOUSANDS more in new taxes per year.

The way toll roads are being financed today, all Texans are paying to build them through subsidies of taxpayer money like gas tax, but motorists won't be able to use them without paying a toll, too. So whether a person can afford to take these toll lanes or not, they're paying for them.

"This notion that tolls are user fees is a myth when you look at how heavily they're subsidized by ALL taxpayers. You're also paying for them through a higher cost of goods that gets passed onto consumers," contends Hall.

TURF is encouraging commuters to make their voices heard and ask their elected leaders to secure the funds necessary to fix US 281 without new taxation -- tolls. Dial the Capitol Switchboard at (512) 463-4630 and they'll help you find who your state representatives are and put you through.

Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom
TURF is a non-partisan, grassroots, all-volunteer group defending citizens' concerns with Agenda 21, toll road policy, public private partnerships, and eminent domain abuse. TURF promotes pro-taxpayer, pro-freedom, & non-toll transportation solutions. For more information or to support the work of TURF, please visit www.TexasTURF.org.

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