Saturday, November 20, 2004

Toll Road Opposition in Austin

Opposition to toll roads rises

In Austin, one group got plans changed for fee-based bridge

November 20, 2004
Associated Press
Copyright 2004

AUSTIN – Sal Costello schedules his appointments to avoid rush-hour traffic leading from his Circle C neighborhood in South Austin into downtown.

Associated Press
Associated Press
Sal Costello shows a copy of the transportation plan that includes area toll roads.

The marketing consultant would rather start and finish his days late than sit with other cars backed up at red lights and choke on the exhaust fumes hanging in the air during peak traffic times.

That's why he and thousands of others eagerly awaited completion of a new bridge that would avoid the lights and keep traffic moving. Then came the news: To use the bridge, drivers would have to pay a toll as high as 70 cents.

"Uh, no," Mr. Costello said. "That bridge has been promised for many, many years as a freeway. We've already paid for it."

The bridge turned into the flash point of a debate over the state's ambitious new plan to use tollways and bonds to help pay for new transportation projects in Texas.

The Texas Transportation Commission on Thursday adopted the 2005 Statewide Mobility Program, with about $15.4 billion going to the state's eight largest metropolitan areas during the next decade. The plan was developed from regional plans, nearly all of which include toll roads, and includes $3 billion in bond proceeds – a first for Texas transportation planning.

Transportation Commissioner Hope Andrade of San Antonio called the statewide plan "visionary and creative."

But Mr. Costello described it differently when talking about the $2.2 billion plan for the Austin area, which includes six new toll roads.

"This whole thing is a scam," said Mr. Costello, whose organized opposition led planners to scrap plans to make the bridge near his house a tollway. "It stinks and it reeks and people know it."

But state leaders say toll roads offer a way to keep traffic moving.

"Traffic congestion in Texas cities is getting so bad it's affecting their ability to attract jobs and deteriorating the quality of life," said state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee. He sponsored the law in 2003 that opened the door for the tollway road expansion.

Supporters say toll roads speed up road building because they require less state and federal money. And, given reluctance to raise gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees, Texas has few other options.

Toll roads are a central part of Republican Gov. Rick Perry's $175 billion Trans-Texas Corridor transportation initiative he proposed in 2002.

A Perry spokesman has said the governor does not support tolls on existing roads, although it's something the governor believes should be left to local governments.

Mr. Krusee said the Legislature will probably address the toll plan again in 2005 to more clearly define how freeways can be converted to tollways and how revenues raised from tolls can be spent, which should help resolve disputes like the one in Austin.

He contends tollways and bonds take Texas in the right direction and predicts they will be an option for most major road projects.

"This will enable us to build major new road projects literally decades in advance," Mr. Krusee said.

The Associated Press:


Commisioners wage rhetorical battle to convince Texans that toll roads are inevitable

State dollars to speed toll road rollout

Agency backs Central Texas leaders, sets aside $1.3 billion in transportation plan for area work

November 19, 2004

Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

Central Texas, having endured political pain and facing pocketbook pain from toll roads, began to realize the gain Thursday when the Texas Transportation Commission approved a massive statewide transportation plan that includes the five toll roads remaining in the local plan.

About 70 percent of the $1.3 billion cost of those five roads will come from the Texas Department of Transportation, the rest from investors in the form of bonds that will be paid back with toll revenue.

State transportation officials have made it clear that Central Texas leaders' willingness to wade neck-deep into toll roads, especially in the face of fierce public resistance that put some of their political necks in jeopardy, had a lot to do with the state's willingness to finance those roads.

"And it's going to get better," commission Chairman Ric Williamson said Thursday in an interview. "Communities that are willing to help themselves are going to get the maximum partnership effort" from the commission.

Aside from the money for those toll roads -- U.S. 290 East near Manor, U.S. 290 West in Oak Hill, Ed Bluestein Boulevard (U.S. 183), Texas 71 east of Interstate 35 and Texas 45 Southwest -- the commission recently came up with $25 million on short notice to make long-needed improvements at MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) and Parmer Lane.

In addition, Williamson said, agreement is forthcoming to plow a to-be-determined amount of state money into MoPac north of Town Lake, including sound-dampening walls and an expansion from six lanes to eight lanes. The additional lanes probably would be subject to tolls.

And there are other road or rail projects looming -- transportation officials aren't ready to announce them yet -- that probably will need and get substantial money from the commission.

Attention this summer focused on a $161 million share of the Texas Mobility Fund promised to Central Texas if it built all seven of the toll roads in the original version of the local plan. Supporters of the plan said repeatedly that Dallas and Houston might raid Central Texas' share if the local plan was changed.

Although one road will no longer be tolled, MoPac at William Cannon Drive, and another, Loop 360 (Capital of Texas Highway), has been shelved indefinitely, the $21.5 billion, 11-year statewide plan approved Thursday gives Central Texas that entire $161 million.

In fact, all eight Texas metropolitan areas -- even four that resisted turnpikes and in the end agreed to build one apiece -- got their promised slice of the $1.74 billion pie slated for urban areas under the mobility fund.

But Central Texas also got $57.6 million of so-called "strategic priority" funds for 2005 through 2008, money that the five-member commission disburses at its discretion. That amounts to 13.6 percent of the $422 million the commission will hand out under that category during the next four years, more than Central Texas' typical share of about 9 percent.

The Rio Grande Valley, meanwhile, with just one toll project, got no strategic priority money. And Corpus Christi, again with a single toll project, got just about half of its normal percentage.

Commissioners for more than a year have been waging a rhetorical battle to convince Texans of the wisdom, or at least the inevitability, of toll roads. Aside from the political argument that the Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry will never approve an increase in the state's 20-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax, the commissioners have said tolls will get roads built faster.

Under the plan approved Thursday, commissioners said, about $15.4 billion in new or expanded highways will be built in Texas urban areas by 2015. Without tolls, and the borrowed money that allows construction to begin sooner, they said, just $6.8 billion in such roads would have built in the same period.; 445-3698

© 2004 Austin American-Statesman:


Friday, November 19, 2004

Rep. Joe Pickett talks about TxDOT and toll roads.

Interview: Rep. Joe Pickett weighs in on toll roads


by James A. Bernsen

The Lone Star Report
Volume 9, Issue 15
Copyright 2004

Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso) served as a member of the House Transportation committee until last session and was a former chair of the El Paso Regional Transportation Board of the city’s Metropolitan Transportation Organization. Currently, he is the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government, which among other issues, oversees the budget of the Texas Department of Transportation.

Pickett sat down with LSR this week to talk about toll roads and transportation priorities. The highlights of the interview are printed below. The full text can be viewed on the LSR website.

LSR :You’ve said that the current toll road plan pits certain cities against other cities.

Pickett: And it’s growing. Initially, it started a couple of sessions ago when we talked about toll equity and Sen. [ Florence ]Shapiro had pushed to get the foot in the door which we did, and then there was a constitutional amendment which was kind of a straw poll vote, and then the last session, we came in with some funding for that. I was on transportation at the time, and I was fine about the toll equity issue. And the selling point that I gave the other members of the committee...was, if an area wants to toll, that’s O.K...

I support toll equity, I support people wanting to do a toll, let them do that. It will put more money into the pot for non-toll projects.

That didn’t happen. After all this stuff passed, then TxDOT’s policy is: ‘Not only will we commit $40 million to you, we’ll get you even more money if you will toll.’ And that’s causing a problem now, because I think we’re going to have an unbalanced infrastructure system in Texas. And as much as TxDOT has scared communities in trying to toll, there’s been a lot of misinformation out there.

Initially, they came to my area and said, ‘You’re going to lose all this money,’ and they came up with a dollar figure, and it scared the chambers of commerce, and it scared the local leaders. ‘If you don’t toll, you’re going to lose these millions of dollars.’...

So now we’ve got eight metropolitan areas, and four of them, it’s going to be difficult to come up with tolls: the two in the Valley, Lubbock and the El Paso area, we don’t have our basic infrastructure completed. We don’t have true alternative routes to offer people...

There’s nobody in El Paso who is saying that congestion is so bad, we’ll pay extra if you build us another route to get us there. We don’t have the initial route to start with.

And going back to trying to keep this simplified, TxDOT had been telling everybody that this was just a tool, and this was a way for areas that were accepting of tolls to go ahead and expedite those, and the pot would become bigger for non-tolled projects. And right now, TxDOT almost never talks about non-tolled projects.

I don’t really believe we’re in that big of a problem as TxDOT tries to portray. They go around the state saying we can only fund a third of all the projects that people want. Well, in Appropriations in the Legislature, we get $300 billion in requests for what people want, and we fund less than that...

I’m not against tolls. I’m on the record of supporting the legislation. I even voted for 3588 this last session, but I think that instead of trying to pit area against area, it should be kind of an operation of TxDOT and [should] take care of the maintenance situation that they claim is costing the big bucks.

This is where I believe that TxDOT needed to look at the bigger picture and come up with a way of funding the maintenance from here on out, because the maintenance is something that we know exactly what it is going to be [in the future]...I think they did it backwards...

So people in these areas where there are tolls were given a false security in that, [they were told] ‘You’re tolling, but it’s your money and you get to keep it.’ And we know that tolls are not going to go away. There’s been a toll go away somewhere, sometime.

LSR :I think I-30 in Dallas is the only one I can think of.

Pickett: Right, that’s going to be the exception. So now, unfortunately, it’s going to be hard to go back and change some of that, because I think we played upon fear and greed. I think first off, people were afraid that they were going to lose money if they didn’t toll, and then the greed factor came in, in that if you do toll, at least you get to keep all of your money, so now you’re not going to want to share it with anybody, and TxDOT should have created a perpetual maintenance fund...and controlled the tolls throughout the State of Texas. That way, they would have also picked the most toll viable projects in the entire state.

They’ve been pushing us in El Paso to do a project, and the best candidate for a toll in El Paso is only 35 percent toll viable...So here they want us to double-tax the people where I live, who don’t even have the basic infrastructure completed, just to say that there is a toll when it’s not even a good toll project...

Here in Austin you’re seeing a backlash. You’re hearing people in Houston and Dallas where they’re used to tolls saying, ‘You’re doing too much. You’re tolling existing roads and you’re getting around it by saying that it’s added capacity.’...

Well, you’re still going to have a fractured system throughout Texas, and tolls are going to be around, there is a use for them, but this whole plan that they have is not a perpetual plan. They’re calling it “the gap.” We’re funding “the gap.” ‘We’ve need so many projects to fix congestion, we’ve got to catch up.’ So this whole thing is supposedly just a short-term to ‘catch up,’ but it’s just not going to work.

They’re getting people creating RMAs [Regional Mobility Authorities] because of the fear and the greed...And the RMAs, they’re going to create mini-TxDOT’s with the full force and effect of the state of Texas.

LSR :Right. With all of the powers to condemn and these other things TxDOT does.

Pickett: And I asked the commissioners several months back. I said,10 years from now there’s going to be numbers that you’re going to have to defend to the public that are not being spent on construction and maintenance, because you’re growing government, too. You’re going to have these RMAs out there that have all that come with it. All that executive administration and maintenance, and all that comes with it, creating mini-TxDOT’s . And how efficient is that?

We’re talking about school finance, we’re talking about limiting government. We had a committee created in the House just for that reason, to look at things that were duplication. And now we’re talking about having mini-TxDOT’s all over the state that are going to be competing with each other instead of working for the bigger picture...

And they also went and sold it on local control. It’s not local control. If you look at the way the RMA really is set up, it takes it away from local control because the cities, the counties, the Metropolitan Planning Organizations are the forces in a community. Once you do an RMA, you turn it over to a group of appointees who are not elected officials.

And you have basically given them your proxy now on those transportation projects that have to do with the tolls, and I think that local communities are going to find out that they can no longer go to their city councilman, their county commissioner, their state legislator and have any influence on those projects that the RMA is doing.

It’s no longer going to be something of going to a public hearing or having political pressure applied. ‘Sorry, we’re an appointed board. Our whole existence depends upon generating revenue.’

And we’re creating this, and it’s our fault. We’re creating monsters out there that may have not originally been intended, but that is still what is going to be the reality.

LSR :What you’re saying sounds like special utility districts that have sprouted over the landscape in the last few years.

Pickett: And I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t have tolls and shouldn’t expand it on making them an easier situation to create. I think everybody was fine with that. That wasn’t a problem, but when TxDOT came back and said, ‘You have to.’ And they’ll tell you right off the bat, ‘We never said that.’ What you did say was, the mobility fund is only going to be for tolls...Well, if nobody presents any toll projects, then we’ll just divide the money up by the eight metropolitan regions. Well, how likely is that that nobody is going to present a toll project?

LSR :Not likely.

Pickett: O.K., Well, if somebody does, all the money is going to go there, so all of the other seven are out. Well, then, one more of the seven is probably going to present one, because they want to be involved, and then another one.

Again, the that if you don’t toll, you don’t get to participate in the mobility fund money... TxDOT is saying ,we want to cut congestion, but only for those who are willing to create RMAs and toll their constituents. So if you’re not willing to toll, and you’re not willing to double-tax your constituents, then we do not have a plan for fixing congestion in your area. How hypocritical is that?

LSR :What you’re describing sounds like extortion. They give you an offer you can’t refuse.

Pickett: Right. And so far in our community - and it’s scary, and a lot of political leaders there held together - we were pressured by a lot of people who are in the construction business, thinking we’re anti-growth and construction.

Are you kidding? I want to build more roads in El Paso. I want the local construction suppliers of aggregate and concrete to be doing great, but a lot of those people saw it just as a windfall. ‘Well, you’ve got to be for this.’ Why? ‘Because it’s good for business.’

O.K., I understand it’s good for business. But what about the driving public, the bigger picture? But if we looked at the entire state, instead of pitting region against region, we could have picked the best toll projects to do in the state and still taken care of our maintenance.

LSR :Is TxDOT holding back money, or do they simply have this infrastructure that allows them to divvy it up in a way that’s efficient?

Pickett: TxDOT so far hasn’t held back money, but I will tell you, in my experience on appropriations – and TxDOT’s really going to dislike this...they don’t know how much money they’ve got. The best guess estimates on our side – House Appropriations – is they’re at least $400 million over the revenue estimates, because TxDOT is one of those agencies that their appropriation is an estimate.

So their actual money is more than what you and the public sees in writing as a public document. It’s more. And they’ll tell you there’s a possibility it could be less. Yes, but that’s not the reality. And that hasn’t been the reality for several years, and I want more accountability...

It’s actually more than $400 million – there are some projects that didn’t get done. Again, me looking at it, they’re sitting on about $800 million right now...

LSR :Do you think that there’s a possibility that they’re over-building? If you drive up MOPAC north and see the new part they’re building, they’ve got a Great Wall of China there. Are they over-engineering these things? Are we getting something for that? Are those going to last longer?

Pickett: To defend TxDOT, I’ve never seen us over-build things to date. There have probably been things where even they admitted several months ago that priorities got skewed , and they should have done other things first and all of that. But I have never really heard anyone complain after the fact that we built too wide of a bridge or too many lanes.

But I would rather we prioritize...

Again, I’m trying to give credit to TxDOT, because over the last 10 years , TxDOT is doing a much better job. My experience goes back to before being a legislator to being a city council member in El Paso, being involved in our MPO, and over the last 10 years, it was like, ‘Wow. TxDOT’s on the move, they’re doing the right thing, they’re looking at the big picture,’ and then, bam.

Things change, because the policy has changed, and the policy is, toll or get out of the way, and if you don’t toll, you’re not getting any money, and you’re not treated the same as other folks. And it’s just policy, and I think TxDOT needs to re-look at the policy. I’m not an advocate of changing more things legislatively to tie their hands. I would rather it stay the system that we have, because it works faster that way...

LSR :If we do move back to a system where TxDOT looks at projects statewide, and looks at toll roads state wide, do you not get the ‘Not in My Back Yard’ effect?

Pickett: No. I think you sell it differently. Most of the driving public, most of the leadership around the state focuses on construction, not maintenance. Maintenance is not glorified. We don’t realize how much it costs. You build a $20 million overpass, but the life of that cost is a lot more than $20 million and I realize that.

What if I went home and said that we’re going to double the construction of transportation projects in our area. We’re going to double it.

But we as a community have to buy in. We have to participate in the bigger picture and come up with a way to help the State of Texas offset the costs of maintaining all these roads that we are maintaining, meaning, we’re going to have to have some kind of toll projects in our community. I could sell it. I could sell it because we wouldn’t be looking at 35 percent toll viable projects to force it on a public who doesn’t have an alternative route, because I gave them something. Right now, we’re not giving anything to anybody in my community. We’re saying we’re going to toll you. Why?

LSR :So would the cities and the communities come up with their preferences on toll roads and take them to TxDOT?

Pickett: Yes. I think the system would include, of course the cooperation, and you’d have to find out what is viable...And we’re still not addressing the current maintenance system...TxDOT doesn’t have a plan, and I’m saying you should have a plan.

LSR :What do you think is the driving force behind TxDOT’s going to this approach? Is it easier for them? Is it the governor’s Trans Texas Corridor Plan?

Pickett: I don’t know. I could take a guess, being an outsider. I think there’s a lot of money to be made in Regional Mobility Authorities for private firms, construction companies. I think it’s a windfall, and I worry about that. I don’t know of, and am not complaining about any backdoor deals or anything like that, but I think if I was in the construction business, I could see where my business could triple, or quadruple over the next few years if I can get in on the ground floor of some of these...

LSR :If we have projects that are not viable for tolls, are we going to have to come back in 10 years and come up with a new plan, with new funds for those?

Pickett: I would say less than that, and I’m sure TxDOT’s argument is that the money we’ve been receiving will now be used for those non-tolled projects and for maintenance. But there’s not a plan that I’ve seen that shows how that’s been laid out...

I’m not against the “tools in the toolbox” that they talk about. I’m not against TxDOT gifting dollars to a toll project. In the past, you could lend money, but you could not gift it.

I’m fine about that. But the whole idea was to expand the pot of dollars to use statewide...But again, they’re not creating synergy, they’re creating fear, distrust and [they’re saying] ‘I want your money if you’re not going to use it.’ O

The Lone Star Report:


Thursday, November 18, 2004

"We could put 50 Texans on the moon cheaper. And I've got a list."

Fly me to the moon . . .


Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2004

The toll road opponents who gathered in Austin last weekend for a "summit" spent much of the day sharing statistics, strategies and rhetorical approaches to arguing the issue.

But for people who have spent most of the past year fighting the battle with keyboards and modems, the event also served as reinforcement that they have comrades in arms.

In part, that took the form of an unstated contest for best cheap shot at toll roads and toll advocates. Summit organizer David Stall of Fayette County, who along with wife Linda particularly dislikes Gov. Rick Perry's 4,000-mile Trans -Texas Corridor plan, probably earned that prize.

Stall took note of the plan's estimated $184 billion price tag.

"We could put 50 Texans on the moon cheaper," Stall said. "And I've got a list."

After the laughter died down, Stall topped himself: "Or we could take a hundred there one-way."

Austin American-Statesman:


Monday, November 15, 2004

"Anybody who doesn’t toll isn’t going to get any of the money."

Tactics to promote toll roads upset El Paso lawmaker

October 14,2004

Elizabeth Pierson
The Monitor
Copyright 2004

AUSTIN — An El Paso lawmaker said on Wednesday that the Texas Department of Transportation is using heavy-handed, misguided tactics to get local governments, including those in the Rio Grande Valley, to develop plans for toll roads.

State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, said TxDOT is quietly forcing counties to develop Regional Mobility Authorities by telling them they won’t get part of a $3 billion Mobility Fund for roads if they don’t make an RMA, Pickett said.

Chambers of commerce and elected officials in Texas “are being told by TxDOT, ‘Anybody who doesn’t toll isn’t going to get any of the money,’” Pickett said. “TxDOT has gone around and threatened everybody.”

This month, Cameron County became the fourth area to develop an RMA. Hidalgo County is working on a plan for an RMA, said Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia.

Unlike the older Metropolitan Planning Organizations, RMAs have the authority to finance road projects locally and pay for them through state grants, local tolls or other means. Their boards are appointed by county commissioners, and the chairman is appointed by the governor.

RMAs do not have to develop toll roads, but they have the authority to do so.

Cameron County Commissioner John Wood, who helped develop the Cameron County RMA, said they did so because they wanted to have another option for building roads if the state couldn’t pay for them from its road fund.

TxDOT told officials there that RMAs were a possibility for local control in a time of tight state budgets, Wood said.

“I don’t think any ax was held over our head,” Wood said. “This was the way TxDOT was going, and we chose to get on board.”

Leaders in Hidalgo County know they don’t have to develop the RMA for roads, Garcia said. He has visited with TxDOT officials to help develop an RMA for Hidalgo County that will allow for the eventual construction of a truck bypass from the Pharr Bridge to Expressway 83, he said.

“Nobody’s holding a gun to our head,” Garcia said. “We understand the issue, and we’re trying to be as cooperative as we can because the reality is that we need roads and we can’t wait 10 years.”

The Hidalgo County proposal will include a pass-through toll, Garcia said. Pass-through tolls do not charge trucks or cars as they pass, but allow the state to count traffic and reimburse the local RMA to pay for the road if the road meets a certain traffic level, said Gabby Garcia, spokeswoman for TxDOT.

Pickett supported legislation in 2003 that allowed for the formation of the RMAs, but he didn’t think TxDOT would make local officials feel they had to develop one just to keep their road funding, he said.

Gabby Garcia said TxDOT is using tools given to it by Legislature to implement the RMA programs. She called Pickett, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, a “friend of the department.”

“We have a different view of how this should get done, but that’s not such a bad thing, is it?” she said. “It just means we’re going to continue to dialogue with him and the other members of the Legislature to do what’s best for the state.”

Pickett said he is not opposed to toll roads. Rather than RMAs developing into “fiefdoms,” each with their own plans and administrative expenses, the state should develop a plan to put toll roads only where they would generate a substantial return.

According to Pickett’s plan, money from the toll roads would go to a statewide fund to maintain roads, rather than keeping the money in the regions. In return for giving up their toll revenues, TxDOT could ensure local RMAs it would fund 100 percent of needed road construction projects out of its $6 billion budget, Pickett said.

Pickett pitched his idea for transportation funding to the Texas Motor Transit Association, which represents the trucking industry, on Wednesday in Austin.

Pickett said he is not proposing massive changes be made to legislation that made the RMAs possible. He would rather see TxDOT change its policies.

Gabby Garcia said there are no immediate plans for that, and TxDOT is moving forward with its current plan.

Elizabeth Pierson covers the state capital for Valley Freedom Newspapers. She is based in Austin and can be reached at (512) 323-0622.

© 2005 The Monitor


Rep. Keel: "Lawmakers who voted for House Bill HB 3588 were given a misleading summary ."

Talkin' about anti-toll road revolution


Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2004

No one would confuse the Clarion Inn & Suites on South Interstate 35 with Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

But someday, if the scattered anti-tollway skirmishes grow into a full-fledged toll revolution, Saturday's meeting at the Clarion ballroom may take on a July 1776 aura in the retelling.

A disparate group of tollophobes, most of them everyday wage-earners transformed into activists and obsessives by the state's move toward toll roads, was called together by a Fayette County couple to learn from one another's experiences and plot future moves.

Just a partial list of the founding fathers and mothers gathered at the Clarion for what organizers David and Linda Stall called the Toll & Corridor Summit:

* The Stalls, a former Columbia city manager and a legal secretary who months ago formed CorridorWatch .Org to take down Gov. Rick Perry's 4,000-mile dream of toll roads, railroads and utility lines called the Trans -Texas Corridor .

* Mark Quackenbush, a geophysical engineer from Houston, who formed Citizens Against State Highway to Toll Road Abuse and Proliferation (CASHTRAP) in reaction to the state's proposal to convert Texas 249 to Tomball into a toll road without making improvements.

* Randy Jennings, a software engineer from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, who created to stop a toll conversion on Texas 121 near Grapevine.

* Sal Costello, a Circle C Ranch marketing consultant who has waged an abrasive but seemingly effective campaign against the toll road expansion plan in Austin. Costello has a Web site with the appropriately colonial name of AustinToll

In all, about 45 people passed up the Texas -Kansas football game to watch PowerPoint presentations and hear talks on toll roads, including one from state Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin. The former sheriff was among seven members of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board who voted on the losing side in July when that board approved the Austin plan.

Aside from knocking down or curbing specific toll road plans -- the conversion of Texas 121 and Texas 249 have been shelved, at least for now, and one road probably will be taken out of the Austin plan -- Stall and the others who met Saturday want to overturn or significantly defang House Bill 3588.

Keel, along with the overwhelming majority of both houses in the 2003 Texas Legislature, voted for that huge bill, which made the turn to tolls possible. He had advice for the crowd of mostly amateur lobbyists Saturday.

Don't condemn lawmakers who voted for HB 3588, Keel said, because most were given what he said was a misleading summary of the bill. Make constituents, not folks from another district, call their legislators. And convince their contributors -- folks who Keel said can reach lawmakers where it matters -- that tolls are a bad idea. Votes, in this case, he said, will follow the money.

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