What was the original plan to relieve congestion on 281?
On September 20th and 27th, 2001, TxDOT held public meetings showing their plans to add two lanes to US Hwy 281 taking it from four main lanes to six from Loop 1604 all the way to the Comal county line. Some areas, such as between Stone Oak Pkwy and Loop 1604, would have two additional lanes added due to their heavy volume of traffic. In addition, there would be four frontage roads, two on each side. All lanes were to be free lanes and not toll lanes. These plans called for interchanges, overpasses and/or bridges (also known as Grade Separations) for Bexar County at Sonterra Blvd, Redland Rd, Evans Rd, Stone Oak Pkwy, Wilderness Oaks (Future major thoroughfare), Bulverde Rd, Borgfield Rd, and for multiple sections on 281 in Comal County.
According to the report, TxDOT said that the quality of traffic flow would receive a grade of A+ with this original plan.
The cost of the project within Bexar County (not including the future interchange at 281 and 1604) was going to be $105,669,125. Had that project started on time, it would have been completed in 18 months (sometime in 2005).
When did the Original Plan change from a freeway to a tollway and why?
It is therefore ordered by the commission that the executive director establish and implement guidelines for evaluating mobility projects on the state highway system for development as toll roads.”Their policy changed to make everything that could be tolled to be become a toll road regardless of what was already in the works.
Former TTC commissioner, Robert L. Nichols, stated, “The gas tax is an inefficient way to fund our roads. For every dollar collected only 60c comes back to transportation... another reason, (tolling) allows us to build roads years, if not decades faster.”
On the surface, that sounds believable. But let's look at some facts:
- An audit of TxDOT in 2007 showed that there was $45 billion unaccounted for.
- The cost to construct the Original Plan in 2001 was $100 million. In today's dollars the freeway plan would cost $170 million. TxDOT says they don’t have the money to construct the gas tax freeway plan, yet documents from the MPO show that they have at least $212 million for 281 ($100 million from gas taxes, $112 million from the Texas Mobility Fund), which means they could start building overpasses tomorrow and have it fully funded.
- TxDOT says they have no money for new construction, yet spent $20 million to build a park in downtown Dallas.
- Over $10 billion in gas tax money has been siphoned off to non-transportation uses.
- In November 2006, the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M, in its testimony before the Study Commission on Transportation Financing, stated that Texas could finance its roads without tolls. [Need updated link]
- The Texas Transportation Commission used taxpayer money to hire lobbyists to promote toll roads. This is a direct violation of Texas Government Code chapter 556.
- Our government stands to receive billions of dollars from private investors, both foreign and domestic, through the lease or sale of our public roads to investors. Investors stand to make huge profits through the collection of tolls especially since non-compete clauses in these agreements prevent the expansion of surrounding free routes thereby guaranteeing congestion and forcing drivers onto the toll road. The contracts (called CDA’s) with these investors can last as long as 50 years.
The people who run the Texas Transportation Commission are appointed by the governor. What that means is that these people are not accountable to us. We are asking our legislature to replace the 5-member governor appointed TTC with one that is elected by the people of Texas. Otherwise, we are left with taxation without representation.
What would be the cost to build a toll road vs the original plan for expansion of 281?
Obviously inflation affects future costs for road expansion, improvement, etc. The original cost for adding two to four lanes, overpasses and access roads for US Hwy 281 north of Loop 1604 was just over $100 million. Had they started that project on time, it would have been completed in 2005. So what would it cost today? According to the Construction Cost Index, adjusted for inflation, it would cost around $170 million. Let’s compare that to what TxDOT, the ARMA, SAMPO, and others want.
The toll plans for 281 include:
- Six to eight toll lanes (three to four northbound and three to four southbound)
- Four to eight free access roads (two to four on each side of 281)
- The “free” access roads will have traffic lights with slower speed limits. How many traffic lights are you willing to go through to travel in and out of town before you give in and use the toll road? Which, of course, is what the investors hope for. How slow are you willing to drive? How much congestion can you stand? How much are you willing to pay in tolls to drive on a freeway that is already built and paid for?
- The width, or footprint, of both the original plan and the toll plan started as the same plan except for a few interchange areas that the toll plan calls for. These areas will need to utilize more land to put in all the auxiliary lanes needed there. The original plan will have more open space and wider shoulders whereas the toll plan will crammed with little wiggle room for driver mistakes.
- In 2005, the Legislature passed a law, HB 2702, prohibiting the conversion of freeways into tollways without a public vote and it required as many non-toll lanes to remain as exist today. So then, TxDOT changed the toll plan to add extra frontage lanes (not highway lanes), more than are needed, in order to convert the freeway. The footprint is close to doubled. No public vote is being allowed since the 281 conversion was grandfathered in. Now legislators say downgrading highway lanes to frontage lanes is not the intent of HB 2702 and believe TxDOT is perverting the law to convert this freeway.
The cost for the toll project will be $1.3 billion, not million, billion. $475 million in construction costs plus $864 million in interest from bonds.
When it’s all said and done we will be triple taxed. How? 1) US Hwy 281 has already been paid for with previous gas taxes. 2) There will be additional taxes used to construct toll roads. 3) We will have to pay a toll (which is a tax) to drive on it.
TxDOT claims that there is no money to put in overpasses, but David Casteel, TxDOT’s Assistant Executive Director for District Operations on May 17, 2006 at the Bandera Road Toll Debate said: “…I think we have about $100 million dedicated to the construction of US 281 in gas taxes…” In its April 15, 2008 article, The Newspaper.com discovered that TxDOT had agreed to give $20 million for a park near downtown Dallas.
The RMA originally asked the MPO and the Texas Transportation Commission for $325 million from the Texas Mobility Fund for construction on 281. The Commission then reduced the amount to $112 million.
With the $100 million that TxDOT’s David Casteel says is available, plus the $112 million that we would receive from the Texas Mobility Fund, there’s more than enough to complete the original plan now ($170 million) and keep it a freeway.
How much tax do I pay at the pump and where does it go?
The first part of the question is easy: We pay 18.4 cents of every gallon to the federal government and 20 cents to the state tax. Where does that go? Now you would think that it would all go to things like maintaining and/or widening existing roads and building new ones, right? It doesn’t.
First of all, Article 8 Section 7-a of our State Constitution says that 25% of the 20 cents collected in taxes goes to the “Available School Fund.” How about the other 75%?
According to the State budget, it goes to a lot of places. Here’s a small sample:
- Department of Public Safety: $5.4 billion
- Medical Transportation Program: $111.8 million
- Department of Criminal Justice: $30 million
- Gulf Intracoastal Waterway: $11.6 million
- Aviation: $208 million
- Vehicle Sales Tax to General Revenue: $1.4 billion
- County Roads: $77.2 million
- Mental Health Mental Retardation: $13.9 million
- Texas Historic and Arts Commissions: $9.6 million
- Auto Theft Prevention: $20.4 million
- Cemetery Land: $7.5 million
In their October 2007 Toll Equity Plan, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA) breaks it down like this:
- 50% goes to transportation
- 25% goes to Public Schools
- 22% goes to the DPS and “other” agencies
- 3% goes to administration and “miscellaneous” costs
In April, The Newspaper.com had a story about how TxDOT gave $20 million in gas taxes to the Woodall Rodger Park Foundation so they could build a 5.2 acre park in Dallas (see article Texas: Gas Tax Dollars Spent to Build Park dated April 15, 2008 ). In the meantime, TxDOT claims it has no money for road expansion and therefore must install toll roads (see the "Highway Robbery" flyer).
Our point is this: Our elected officials need to stop diverting our gas tax dollars (over $10 billion) to other projects and keep them for their intended purpose, transportation. If we do that then we can keep our roadways as FREEways and avoid new toll taxes.
What would be the toll rates on 281?
As of this writing, the ARMA, in their public hearing (PDF file), documented that the initial estimated toll rates would be $0.17 per mile for vehicles with 2-3 axles and $0.46 per mile for vehicles with more than 3 axles. In addition, direct connectors for vehicles with 2-3 axles will be $0.57 per connector and $1.15 per connector for vehicles with more than 3 axles.
The rates will escalate each year for the first ten years at a rate of 2.75% or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is greater. After that, they’ll climb to 3% or the CPI, whichever is greater.
These rates are based upon an electronic toll collection system.
A little-known phrase that carries a huge stick is “market-based tolls.” Essentially, this gives the tolling authorities the right to charge what the market will bear. Austin’s toll on Hwy 183 is already as much as $1.50 per mile in some areas. That’s not exactly chump-change if you have to drive that to work and back everyday. With lending costs skyrocketing due to the credit crunch, both Fitch and Moody's site bond debt for toll roads as being risky. Moody's believes as driving goes down, governments will have to raise tolls to keep the roads from defaulting. The RMA is seeking a $95 million loan to complete the financing package that will cost $700 million in interest, brining the total project cost up to over $2 billion. The toll rates are likely to end up much higher than $0.17 a mile to pay back such high interest debt.
$5.90 x 2 = $11.80 $11.80 x 5 days/week = $59/week
$59/week x 52 weeks/year = Over $3,000/year
That’s not counting driving on any other toll roads planned here or throughout the state.
It gets worse. There is another phrase you’ll soon become familiar with if our roads get tolled. It’s called Congestion Pricing. This is where toll rates will go up, as much as double in fact, during peak traffic times. The purpose is to discourage you from using the toll road during peak times in order to relieve congestion. They are hoping that you will instead “be motivated” to use nearby free roads or drive in off-peak hours. Of course, these free roads are already congested with people who can’t afford or refuse to use the toll road. Don’t think that’ll happen? The citizens in Houston are fighting congestion tolling on I-10 toll lanes, but the lanes are set to open soon.
Why are Blanco and Bulverde Roads north of 1604 so congested?
Whenever public toll roads are leased or sold to private investors, one of the most important clauses in the contract is the “non-compete” clause. Basically, the clause states that roads that parallel a toll road, while they can be repaired as needed, will not be widened to relieve congestion. If they are, the government must pay the investors a substantial penalty.
The reason why investors demand that clause is because if parallel roads were widened, more and more people would quit driving on the toll road and start using the free roads. The investors could lose all of their investment. These alternate "free" roads compete with the toll roads and are therefore known as “competing facilities.”
Blanco Road and Bulverde Road north of 1604 are being widened. But the non-compete clause prevents future expansion though thousands of new homes that are platted for the area.
In their public hearing on June 11, 2008, the ARMA stated that the 281 project will have a “non-compete” clause. If a competing facility is built, the taxpayers are on the hook for paying the bond investors a penalty for doing so. There will be financial, punitive consequence for building competing facilities.
I don't drive 281... Why should I be concerned?
First of all, many of the goods we buy now that come into our city via US Hwy 281 will cost more because the trucks that ship them to our stores will pay tolls to get there. Those costs will be passed on to us.
Second, Highway 281 is not the only road slated for tolling. Others include:
- Loop 1604
- Wurzbach Pkwy
- Bandera Rd
- In June 2007, the Texas Transportation Commission added I-10 to the list, from 1604 to US Hwy 87 in Boerne and from East 410 to SH 130 in Seguin. In addition, the USDOT has identified I-10 to become a toll road from California to Florida.
Again, any goods that are shipped here via those tolls will cost more to us, the consumer, just like food prices have shot up with high gas prices.
Third, roads near toll roads become extremely congested as people use them to avoid paying tolls. Neighborhoods become freeways and create nightmares for its residents. Many people, especially those on fixed incomes, simply can’t afford to pay higher gas prices and tolls.
Fourth, according to TxDOT, once the tolls go up on Loop 1604, the cost to travel from I-10 to Kitty Hawk will be $5.90…one way. If you have to travel that stretch of road to work and back, that’s almost $12/day, over $3,000/year. That does not include traveling on the other toll roads planned.
Fifth, tolls are not just being planned for San Antonio. Currently there are over 80 toll projects planned throughout the state, including the Trans-Texas Corridor.
So unless you plan on walking everywhere you go, the idea of tolling US Hwy 281 should be very important to you.
See the map of the plan
What is an EIS and what stage is the project planning in?
Signed into law on January 1, 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) established a national environmental policy and goals for the protection, maintenance, and enhancement of the environment. It also provided a three-step process to ensure that government agencies would adhere to those goals.
This three-step process analyzes the environmental effects of a government project (such as toll roads). These three levels include: determining whether or not a government project can be excluded from an environmental study; preparation of an environmental assessment (EA); and preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS).
For the purpose of illustration, let’s use the Hwy 281 toll project in our examination of the three levels of analysis.
At the first level, a toll project may be excluded from a detailed environmental study if another government agency has previously determined it as having no significant environmental impact. Since the construction of a toll road on Hwy 281 has never been done before, this level of analysis is inadequate.
At the second level of analysis, TxDOT would be required to prepare a written environmental assessment (EA) to determine whether or not that toll project would significantly affect the environment. If the answer is no, TxDOT would issue a finding of no significant impact (FONSI). The FONSI could include measures which TxDOT would take to reduce potentially significant impacts.
If TxDOT’s EA determined that the environmental consequences of a toll road could be significant, then an EIS would be prepared. An EIS is a more detailed evaluation of the toll project and its alternatives. The public, other federal agencies and outside parties could provide input into the preparation of an EIS and then comment on the draft EIS when it is completed.
If TxDOT anticipated that tolling that highway would significantly impact the environment - both ecological and human environments, or if the project is controversial, TxDOT could choose to prepare an EIS without having to first prepare an EA. The sheer footprint (width) alone of the 281 toll project makes it controversial.
After a final EIS was prepared, TxDOT would prepare a public record of its decision stating how the findings of the EIS, including consideration of alternatives, would be incorporated into their final decision.
TxDOT decided that an EA was sufficient and turned in their findings as a FONSI.
In February 2008, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) , a grassroots group defending citizens from tolls on existing roads, and Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (AGUA), advocates for protection of the Edwards Aquifer, joined together to file a lawsuit in federal court asking that plans to convert US 281 to a toll road be stopped pending full compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.
The lawsuit alleged that TxDOT failed to do a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this massive project over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, the sole source of water for over 1.8 million people as well as failed to study the effects that the Hwy 281 and Loop 1604 toll projects could have on the region’s economy, property values, tax revenues, businesses, residents, neighborhoods, and motorists.
The 281 toll project will be 10-20 lanes wide, yet TxDOT’s environmental assessment claims it will have no significant impact to the aquifer. Sole sources of water are given special protections in the law.
In 2007, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) forced TxDOT to do a full EIS for the Bandera Road toll project citing the controversy surrounding the tolling (PDF file). TxDOT failed to do a full EIS on Hwy 281 and Loop 1604 and instead redid the same wrong study, a low level EA after a previous lawsuit by AGUA and PET caused FHWA to pull the environmental clearance.
They have not studied the economic impacts of the toll road on residents, home values, businesses, employees, etc. in those areas. Read here what two prominent businessmen had to say about the tolling of 281. The company TxDOT hired to do the 'independent' environmental study, HNTB, is a contractor with the ARMA for other toll projects. So it's a clear conflict of interest. They have also violated parts of the Endangered Species Act.
It seems that the FHWA has been inconsistent in its findings on the Bandera Rd toll project versus the Hwy 281 toll project. They forced TxDOT to do a full EIS on Bandera Rd due to its controversy, yet, in spite of the controversy surrounding 281, they accepted TxDOT’s EA findings on that project.
The politicians near the Bandera Rd toll project (Helotes, Grey Forest, and Leon Valley) passed resolutions against that project. The politicians (Frank Corte and Jeff Wentworth) in the 281/1604 projects are for the toll roads and are allowing the first FREEway to tollway conversion in Texas despite the citizen outcry.
The Edwards Aquifer is a karst aquifer that is highly vulnerable to water pollution because surface water quickly enters the aquifer through recharge features without significant filtration. Many toxic pollutants, such as benzene, are being found in aquifer wells and are common components of highway and parking lot run-off.
In late July 2008, the judge in TURF’s 281-lawsuit case granted them everything they asked for in a total victory! TURF received discovery and the ability to take depositions (which forces TxDOT decision-makers to testify under oath). A TxDOT memo shows it pre-determined the outcome of the environmental study (NEPA) before the study was even conducted (violating federal law). What they've done to hasten the 281 toll project is indefensible! Caught in deception, TxDOT has since asked for a 60 day stay in the lawsuit so the feds could review the numerous new documents TxDOT previously tried to hide. The FHWA is now reviewing the documents and revisiting the environmental clearance for the project. The judge granted the stay. The case will be taken up again sometime in October.
How did my elected officials vote on the issue of tolls?
For many of us, when it comes time to vote for politicians, we often don’t have the necessary information on a particular candidate to make an educated vote. The purpose of this article is to inform you, from the Governor’s office on down, as to who voted for tolls and who voted against them. In addition, we’ll inform you as to when they come up for re-election. Then, come election day, you’ll have the information you need!
So let’s start at the top. Rick Perry has led the charge in favor of tolls privatizing/leasing public highways to private, foreign investors and the Trans Texas Corridor. He also advocates using public employee pension funds as investment cash for toll roads. In 2007, he also vetoed HB 1892, a private toll moratorium with teeth, and subsequently threatened repeated special sessions until he got the transportation legislation he wanted. The Texas Ethics Commission records show Perry has taken over $1 million in campaign cash from the road/toll lobby since 1997. His term expires in 2010.
Every State Senator voted in favor of market-based tolls in the Legislature in 2007.
The Senators in our area who voted FOR tolls were:
- Judith Zaffirini (D) State Senate District 21
- Jeff Wentworth (R) State Senate District 25
- Leticia Van de Putte (D) State Senate District 26
- Carlos Uresti (D) State Senate District 19 (though he subsequently voted against at local MPO)
State Senators serve four-year terms. Texans will vote for half of them in November of this year (2008) and the other half in 2010. Below is a list of the Senate Districts, the incumbents that will be on the ballot this November and their political party. Remember, the incumbents voted FOR tolls:
- District 4: Tommy Williams (R)
- District 6: Mario V. Gallegos, Jr. (D)
- District 9: Chris Harris (R)
- District 10: Kim Brimer (R)
- District 11: Mike Jackson (R)
- District 16: John Carona (R)
- District 20: Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (D)
- District 21: Judith Zaffirini (D)
- District 23: Royce West (D)
- District 24: Troy Fraser (R)
- District 26: Leticia Van de Putte (D)
- District 27: Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D)
- District 28: Robert Duncan (R)
- District 30: Craig Estes (R)
- District 31: Kel Seliger (R)
All but 19 State Reps voted FOR market-based tolls including Frank Corte (district 122).
Of those 19 who said NO to tolls, 9 of them represent our local area. These GOOD GUYS are:
- Nathan Macias (R) State Rep District 73
- Trey Martinez Fischer (D) State Rep District 116
- David Leibowitz (D) State Rep District 117
- Joe Farias (D) State Rep District 118
- Robert Puente1 (D) State Rep District 119
- Ruth McClendon (D) State Rep District 120
- Joe Straus (R) State Rep District 121
- Mike Villarreal (D) State Rep District 123
- Joaquin Castro (D) State Rep District 125
The State Reps outside of our area that voted NO to tolls (GOOD GUYS) were:
- Lon Burnam
- Garnet Coleman
- Jessica Farrar
- Stephen Frost
- Ana Hernandez
- Jodie Laubenberg
- Sid Miller
- Ken Paxton
- Senfronia Thompson
- Marc Veasey
By the way, those of you in State Representative District 122 should know that your “representative,” Frank Corte (R) is full steam ahead with tolls. In case you’d like to contact him, his contact information is as follows:
2040 Babcock Rd, Ste 402
San Antonio, TX 78229
(210) 349-0381 Fax
Send him an email
State Representatives will be up for election this November (2008).
San Antonio/Bexar County
Next we’ll move on to SAMPO. The SAMPO board consists of both local elected and non-elected members. On December 3, 2007, they voted to approve the toll rates for the conversion of a FREEway into a tollway (on US 281) and to use an additional $112 million in Texas Mobility Funds (total $325 million) to toll 281 & 1604 (when they could have used those funds to keep them FREEways)! Of those that are elected on the SAMPO board, the following are in FAVOR of tolls:
- Sheila McNeil – City Council District 2. She called the people on the north side of San Antonio “those people” who can afford the tolls while taking thousands in campaign contributions from pro-toll interests like Zachry and Red McCombs. See what Ms. McNeil had to say about the people on the north side. And as you watch the video, keep in mind that she’s currently the chairwoman (as of the date of this writing, July 2008) of SAMPO making billions of dollars worth of decisions. Caution: Take your blood pressure medicine prior to watching it.
- Diane Cibrian – City Council District 8. She campaigned as anti-toll and on lowering taxes but within 6 months of taking office, she voted FOR what will amount to the largest tax increase in Texas history, toll roads (according to a Bexar County Commissioner)! Currently, San Antonio Toll Party members are in the process of collecting signatures for a recall vote.
- Jack Leonhardt – Mayor of Windcrest. He claimed that he received 5,000 emails from people FOR toll roads and only a few hundred from people who were opposed; however, we can confirm that 1,200 emails from people OPPOSED to toll roads were sent using our email alias. In other words, he lied to skew the numbers.
- Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez – County Commissioner Precinct 1.
- William Weeper – City Council Selma. He voted for the tolls claiming that he received more emails in favor of tolls than those opposed and was therefore “compelled” to do what the people wanted…to vote FOR a tax increase.
- Lyle Larson – County Commissioner Precinct 3. He has voted against tolls at MPO but began to flip-flop on his original stand by having an appointee that's voting pro-toll on the ARMA (tolling authority).
- John Clamp – City Council District 10. New member of MPO. Voted “yes” on some recent issues that would indicate a pro-toll position. (see SAMPO board meeting June 16, 2008 below)
- Philip Cortez – City Council District 4. Was a consistent "no show" for key votes even though he campaigned against the tolls. He has since resigned from the board.
At the June 16, 2008 SAMPO board meeting, the agenda included five proposed changes to the board’s by-laws that were viewed as controversial to those opposed to the tolling of hwy 281 (and other locally planned toll projects). Near the beginning of the meeting, it was announced that the board had received 190 emails from (grassroots) citizens opposing the proposed changes (they said most of the emails were identical). As a result, they voted to toss out two of the five proposed changes before getting started. Hooray for the grassroots!
That left three items:
- Quorum. SAMPO is made up of 19 voting members, 10 elected officials and 9 non-elected. The nine of course are pro-toll, that’s why they’re on there (they include people from TxDOT, VIA and other pro-toll arenas). That means that any vote on pro-toll issues have 9 “yes” votes before they even start. In the past, in order to have a quorum, at least half of the 19 voting members had to be there. Of those, at least half of them had to be elected officials. On June 16th, they changed that to say that half of the voting members had to be present as before, but now it doesn’t matter how many elected officials are there. As long as 10 members are there, they have a quorum. Remember, 9 members are already un-elected pro-toll voting members. That means that as long as one elected member shows up, they have a quorum. This almost ensures that most of the elected voting members won’t show up to controversial meetings where they’ll be called upon to cast a vote. If the vote is pro-toll, all they have to say was, “I didn’t vote for that!” Well, you’re right! You weren’t there!
- They voted to give the Chair broad unilateral powers to direct the Executive and Finance Committees instead of that power being vested in the entire Board as a whole.
- The MPO also approved language that paves the way to expand its boundaries to engulf the Hill Country in its jurisdiction, sure to cause a near riot once the citizens north of Bexar County catch wind of such a plan.
The Elected officials (GOOD GUYS) consistently against tolling existing roadways are:
- County Commissioner, Tommy Adkisson – Precinct 4. He’s a true advocate of mass transit and simple, affordable solutions.
- State Representative, David Leibowitz – District 117
Mayor Phil Hardberger is a huge proponent of tolls. In addition, he wants to extend term limits for the mayor’s office and city council. Term Limits have saved us billions. Before Term Limits the average yearly City Spending Increase was 20% per year, while the average is approximately 8% per year after Term Limits, except for Hardberger's record of approximately 12% .
City Council members will be elected in May 2009.
- District 1 – Mary Alice P. Cisneros.
- District 2 – Sheila McNeil PRO TOLL (Not eligible for reelection)
- District 3 – Jennifer V. Ramos
- District 4 – Philip A. Cortez PRO TOLL (Eligible for reelection)
- District 5 – Lourdes Galvan (Eligible for reelection)
- District 6 – Delicia Herrera (Not eligible for reelection)
- District 7 – Justin Rodriguez (NO SHOW; therefore sat idly by and allowed tolls)
- District 8 – Diane Cibrian PRO TOLL (Eligible for reelection. She may run for mayor next May)
- District 9 – Louis Rowe
- District 10 – John Clamp PRO TOLL (Eligible for reelection)
County Commissioners will be elected in…
- Precinct 1 – Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez (Running unopposed in Nov. 2008)
- Precinct 2 – Paul Elizondo (Term expires in 2010)
- Precinct 3 – Lyle Larson (Not seeking reelection in Nov. 2008. Two 'tollers' are competing for his office**)
- Precinct 4 – Tommy Adkisson (Term expires in 2010)
The election of Mayor of San Antonio comes up in May 2009.
1State Representative Robert Puente retired in Feb. 2008 and was replaced by Roland Gutierrez (D) in May via a special election called for by Gov. Perry. We don’t know as yet where State Rep. Gutierrez stands on tolls.
If not toll roads, then what?
We have to have money to pay for roads, right? Right. So if TxDOT says they’re broke, that they have a huge shortfall, and since we don’t want toll roads, then how are we to fund our roadways?
The short answer is, it depends. For example, the expansion of US Hwy 281 as mentioned throughout this web site could be fully funded with the gas tax money and the money from the Texas Mobility Fund that TxDOT has in hand.
“Okay, so once that gets done, then how are we going to fund our other road projects?” Fortunately, we have several options.
In 2006, the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M provided a 159-page report (PDF File) (or read the 18 page summary - PDF file) to the Governor’s Business Council Transportation Task Force on ways to solve our state’s growing infrastructure needs. In their report, they spoke about a $44 billion shortfall that TxDOT has (Actually, it was $86 billion, and it wasn’t a “shortfall,” $30 billion was simply unaccounted for). In order to recoup that money, they said:
“The $44 billion shortfall can be funded in multiple ways. These include indexing (the gas tax) in conjunction with the Texas Mobility Fund, financing, toll roads, stopping the diversion of transportation dollars, or an increase in the state motor fuel tax. If state and federal fuel taxes are adjusted by the Highway Cost Index, the entire metropolitan shortfall can be funded with an eight cent per gallon fuel tax increase. If no indexing occurs, the fuel tax must be increased by 31 cents per gallon.”
What they’re saying is this: in order to make up this “shortfall,” they see three options:
- Raise the fuel tax by 8 cents/gallon and increase it (index it) each year by the Highway Cost Index.
- If the state does not increase the fuel tax each year through indexing, then they must increase it now by 31 cents/gallon.
- The report also said however that there’s no need to raise the fuel tax right now at all. Instead, it could be raised in the future by indexing (raising it) by a rate of 80%-90% of the Highway Cost Index, which would roughly be about a 2 ½ %-3% increase each year. The added revenue from this method could be put back into the Texas Mobility Fund and be used to pay off bonds. They went on to say that, under this scenario, tolls would not be necessary!
Currently we pay 18.4 cents/gallon in federal motor fuel taxes and 20 cents/gallon in state motor fuel taxes. State fuel taxes have not increased since 1991. The problem really lies in the fact that that money gets robbed by the legislature to help pay for things other than transportation. The A&M study stated that the State must stop the practice of diverting the fuel tax funds to non-infrastructure related projects, and in fact, needs to reverse that trend.
Consider that the Metropolitan Planning Organization in Austin found that all of their highway “needs” could be funded with a 1-2 cent gas tax increase versus a lifetime of new toll taxes on roads already built and paid for. Even if you agreed with all of what TxDOT calls a “need,” and if you discount the fact that toll roads cost 40-100% more to build and maintain than free roads, like the HWY 281 example (plus 25-35% administration costs), and if you allowed for each major city in Texas to get a 1-2 cent gas tax increase (totaling 8-10 cents maximum), that's vastly cheaper than tolls in the hands of private, foreign companies guaranteed certain profit formulas anywhere from 12-19% a year!
TxDOT's scare tactics of a 50 cent to $1.00 per gallon gas tax hike is totally outlandish and unsubstantiated. They receive 20 cents per gallon in state gas tax revenue now. They're trying to claim they need more than double the current tax, to build what? San Antonio already ranks number 5 in the nation in number of lanes miles of highway per person. We've already built the entire federal interstate system and state highway system; they cannot begin to justify doubling, much less quadrupling (or more) their revenues. Population growth is no excuse to charge us 5 times more money for roads. All new residents also pay gas taxes and the State's revenues grow with any population increase.
If you drive a large vehicle that gets 20 MPG and you drive an average of 20,000 miles a year, you're consuming about 1,000 gallons a year and you're paying about $200 a year in state gas revenues (1,000 gallons x $0.20/gallon in gas tax). Even if you agree with all of TxDOT's proposed projects (remembering that toll projects cost more), a 10-cent gas tax hike would only amount to $100 more a year versus $2,000-4,000 a year in new toll taxes (with no cap and no limit). TxDOT sponsored a survey for Loop 1604 in September of 2005 and quoted 29 cents a mile totaling $5.90 one way for a roughly 20 mile commute. That's over $3,000 a year just to drive to work and back (it'd be like giving yourself a pay cut)! Toll rates in Austin range from 44 cents up to $1.50 a mile.
No matter how you slice it, tolls are the MOST EXPENSIVE option!
How did we get here?
MPO votes to fund all freeway improvements (lane expansion, frontage roads, overpasses) for the 2.5 miles north of 1604 and for Borgfield overpass, places funds in 2002-2004 MPO TIP (upwards of $60 million, total price tag to county line is $100 million, so majority of improvements could have been made in 2003).
Bexar County Commissioners vote to petition the State to open a Regional Mobility Authority (tolling entity).
Transportation Commission passes Minute Order on December 18 mandating all new lanes and new roads be studied for tolling. If they can make it toll viable (including using public subsidies), everything will now become a toll road.
MPO votes to continue to fund 281 improvements with gas taxes in the 2004-2006 TIP.
MPO votes to fund 281 improvements (now a toll project) with gas taxes in the 2006-2008 TIP.
Legislature passes bill, HB 2702, to prevent the conversion of freeways into toll roads. TxDOT and the RMA change plain meaning of words and defy the legislative intent by continuing to convert 281 into a toll road leaving frontage roads, not main lanes, as the free lanes.
In December, People for Efficient Transportation and AGUA (Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas) file federal lawsuit to stop the 281 toll project.
In San Antonio Current article in August, TxDOT confirms there's now $100 million in gas taxes for 281 (the exact price tag for ALL the FREEway improvements from 1604 to Bexar County line).
In December, MPO votes to apply gas taxes for 281 to the toll project in its 2006-2008 TIP.
Cost for 281 & 1604 toll projects jumps from a combined $1.4 billion to $2.2 billion per San Antonio Business Journal (the cost of the 281 project by itself had never been listed as greater than $400 million up until then). There was no explanation for this new figure in the article. Not even with factoring in the highway construction index (which is higher than the consumer price index used for inflation) can such figures be justified.
In December, MPO votes to approve toll rates and to subsidize the 281 toll project with $325 million in public funds (not backed by tolls, that could be used to keep it a freeway) of the $475 million needed to construct the toll road (that is now 4 times more expensive than the freeway in construction costs alone).
In June, Alamo RMA discloses scant financial details in public hearing and reveals the $475 million toll road will cost $864 million in interest bringing the price tag to $1.3 billion for a project cost that started at $100 million in gas taxes (could be done in today's dollars for $170 million).
On July 22, AFTER its public hearing disclosing the financial structure of the deal, Alamo RMA does a bait and switch, changes the type and structure of the loans/bonds and seeks a different type of loan for part of the project. For a loan amount of $95 million, the cost to the taxpayers with interest will be $700 million in order to scrape funds together in a desperate attempt to finance a project the public can no longer afford. This would put the total project cost with interest over $2 billion! This is nothing short of usury and fiscal malfeasance!
Then, Bill Thornton blames citizens for cost escalation, not their own funding schemes, the lending terms are so bad, it's equivalent to a sub prime mortgage loan headed for a taxpayer bailout. Neither lawsuit had anything to do with TxDOT's failure to install the FREEway improvements funded with gas taxes since 2002. The cost escalated when TxDOT/RMA turned it into a toll road.
Even factoring in inflation and higher construction costs, the FREEway plan is now $170 million (which the $325 million the MPO has allocated to the toll road would more than cover) versus the toll road cost of $1.3 billion. TxDOT delayed the project in 2003 when they went on a toll road rampage, not concerned citizens. The RMA and TxDOT will charge the taxpayers 10 times more to make 281 a toll road.
What can I do to help?
- First of all, take note on what politicians voted FOR tolling and those that are the people's champions.
- Secondly, we encourage everyone to get on TURF’s email Alert list (statewide) and the San Antonio Toll Party email Alert list (local). By subscribing to these, you will receive important updates about upcoming events, legislative action, and volunteer opportunities.
- Start coming to SATollParty’s (local group – www.satollparty.com ) monthly meetings. We meet once a month along the Hwy 281 corridor. Meetings start at 6:30 and usually last about an hour. Find out when our next meeting is. Be sure to invite others!
- Tell everyone you know about www.281overpassesnow.com!
- Both the TURF web site (www.texasturf.org) and SA Toll Party blog (www.satollparty.com) provide the latest news on toll issues in our area, state, and country. Make sure you visit them often.
- Donate! You knew that would come up, right? It’s true though. Just like any other volunteer organization, this is an effort by the grassroots and we need your help financially to help the cause…legal costs, publicity events and ads, signs, etc. Donate today!
- Make sure to vote! If you’re unsure whether or not you’re registered to vote, find out here. We’re formulating a team to begin polling local, county, state, and federal politicians on toll issues and we’ll need a small army to accomplish this task. Once completed, we’ll publish our report online and voters will be able to make educated votes! If you’d like to help, contact us today.
- If you enjoy speaking to groups, ask your Home Owner’s Association or your Neighborhood Alliance if you can speak for 15 minutes at one of their upcoming meetings. The issue of tolls is a hot topic!
- Attend Transportation meetings. We need to make our presence known by attending whenever possible.
- The MPO meets the 4th Monday of every month at 1:30 PM. Meetings are held in the VIA Metropolitan Transit building located at 1021 San Pedro, San Antonio, 78213. Occasionally the board changes the date of its meeting so we suggest you visit their web site to make sure of their meeting date (http://www.alamoareampo.org/). To see their agenda for the meeting, got to 'Committees & Agendas', then click on "Transportation Policy Board (TPB)". You can simply sit and listen to the meeting, or if you’d like to address the board, sign up to speak prior to the meeting. Public comment is limited to three minutes a person.
- The RMA meets the second Thursday of the month at noon. Go to www.alamorma.org/ and click on Board Meetings. There you will find the current and past agendas. Their agenda the next meeting is not posted on their web site until the Friday before their meeting. This will also state the location.
- Find out who your City Councilman is.
- Find out who represents you as U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, State Senator, and State Representative.