Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Previously funded freeway lanes now morph into tolled express lanes in San Antonio

Toll foes want a review of plans


Patrick Driscoll Staff Writer
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

A growing number of motorists critical of proposed toll roads in San Antonio asked Monday for an independent review of plans for the roads at a meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

It was the second consecutive month that members of a new chapter of TexasTollParty.com had converged on the monthly meeting. But this time there were six to seven times more people, about 40, and half addressed the board.

"We have every indication that a horrible fraud, including abuse of power and gross malfeasance at every level of government, is taking place through the toll road system now being implemented in Bexar County," said Spring Branch resident Terri Hall.

The planning organization, which approves local transportation projects that use federal money, last year put about 60 miles of toll roads into its 25-year plan. The first 47 miles are eyed for the northern half of Loop 1604 and for North U.S. 281 from 1604 to Comal County.

Officials with the Texas Department of Transportation, which has two seats on the 19-member board, asked that toll roads be permitted. In-house traffic and financial projections showed highway lanes could be built years sooner with tolls, and they promised that existing free lanes would remain free.

But TexasTollParty.com members aren't buying it.

They said current U.S. 281 lanes would become frontage roads for express toll lanes, which isn't the same. Plans call for posted speeds of 65 mph to be lowered to 45 mph. And opponents expect that more traffic signals and stop signs would be added and there would be more cross traffic.

"You have to be a moron to sit there and say you still have your (free) road," said Brad Holt of Spring Branch.

Toll opponents also said state documents from a public meeting in 2001 show that proposed freeway lanes on 281 from 1604 to Stone Oak Parkway had already been funded with gas taxes and that construction was supposed to have started by this year.

And as plans for those freeway lanes morphed into tolled express lanes, the cost ballooned from $48.1 million to $78.6 million, they pointed out.

"Who dreamed this up to begin with?" Mike Wikam, a resident of the Woods of Shavano, asked the planning board. "I've had it. I want my public servant to do what I want them to do, not what he wants to do."

In December 2003, the Texas Transportation Commission ordered that tolls be considered for all new state highway lanes. Last summer, the Metropolitan Planning Organization added toll roads to its long-range plan, with then-Chairman Lyle Larson, a county commissioner, casting the only dissenting vote.

New planning board Chairman Richard Perez, a city councilman, said Monday that he doesn't know whether he's for or against toll roads.

"There's no rubber stamp going on here," he assured toll road opponents. "The issue's being discussed."

TexasTollParty.com members said they'll try to get their request for an independent review placed on the planning board's agenda next month.

"Let's work together," area resident Ed Taylor told the board. "Let's have an honest public debate."


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