Thursday, May 05, 2005

Public hearing for a tollway in San Antonio.

Concerns aired on toll lanes

May 5, 2005

Patrick Driscoll Staff Writer
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

Talk of toll roads in other parts of Texas has led to rallies and drives to oust elected officials, but on Wednesday just 10 people spoke at the state's first public hearing for a tollway in San Antonio.

Opinions varied, though most voiced concerns, on adding toll lanes to U.S. 281 from Loop 1604 to Marshall Road and on building toll ramps to directly connect U.S. 281 and Loop 1604.

When Ray Knox complained that it's discriminatory to toll the new lanes and then use the revenues to build roads in other parts of the city, there was applause.

When Walter Mika said toll roads will help move traffic and thanked the Texas Department of Transportation for its efforts, there was applause.

Plans call for six toll lanes on U.S. 281, with construction starting next year and finishing in 2008, said David Casteel, the transportation department's head engineer in San Antonio. Work on the interchange ramps would also start next year but open in 2010.

Gas taxes and other public money would fund the $228 million project. The toll revenues would be used to back bonds to build other toll lanes, most of them in a connected network across the North Side.

Officials expect that it could cost 15 cents a mile to drive on toll lanes and 50 cents to use a ramp.

For Ernestine Owings, tolls would be another expense, along with increased sales taxes and rising gas prices, to shrink her fixed income.

''My income keeps getting eaten away,'' she said at the hearing. ''My main concern is that this is just a historical trend.''

Vic Boyer, director of the San Antonio Mobility Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group, took the microphone next to say there aren't better alternatives to tolls.

''This is a way to provide additional lanes in time to address congestion,'' he said.

Other speakers listed concerns such as impacts to other roads because of drivers avoiding toll lanes, the perpetuity of toll fees and the addition of another layer of government to operate the toll system.

''We already pay enough for government,'' Andy Cobb said.

More than 280 people attended the hearing at Reagan High School.

The transportation department has intended to build the U.S. 281 toll lanes and four other toll lanes on Loop 1604 between Interstate 10 and I-35, then hand them over to the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority as a financial engine to develop other tollways.

But those plans were thrown into doubt last week when Spain-based Cintra and locally owned Zachry American Infrastructure submitted a proposal to the state to build toll lanes on Loop 1604 and on U.S. 281.

If state officials consider the offer, they'll have to call for other bids. Meanwhile, they'll push forward with current plans.

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News: