Friday, September 09, 2005

"If this is a good idea then why don't we let the citizens decide?"

U.S. 281 toll idea draws fire, praise at hearing


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

Some people say they can't stand the idea of putting toll lanes on U.S. 281 while others say that can't stand the idea of not doing it.

Thirty people grabbed the microphone at a public hearing Thursday to give Texas Department of Transportation officials grief or encouragement, depending on who was speaking.

"I just can't begin to imagine that we need a toll road," said an incredulous Jim Shaw.

John Perez, worried about growing traffic congestion, saw it differently.

"I am absolutely scared to death of what will happen to U.S. 281 if we don't build something," he said.

Two-thirds of the speakers listed concerns such as the existing highway lanes being downgraded to frontage roads, double taxing those who use toll lanes and relegating low-income drivers to slow lanes.

"Don't take away a road already paid for," Paige Hidde said. "That's not fair."

One-third of the speakers said tolls are the only viable option to build new highway lanes quickly because gas taxes are spread too thin.

"The people who use it, pay for it," Maxine Bernreuter said. "What could be more fair?"

Some opponents called for a public vote.

"If this is a good idea then why don't we let the citizens decide?" Donna Mendez said.

About 280 people showed up at the hearing, which was held at Specht Elementary School to get input on a proposed five-mile section of toll lanes for U.S. 281 between Evans and Borgfeld roads.

TxDOT plans call for six toll lanes to be added to U.S. 281, eventually from North Loop 1604 to Comal County. Existing highway lanes would be replaced with free frontage roads.

Construction on some parts is expected to start next year. Studies estimate that toll fees would be 12 to 16 cents a mile.

The five-mile segment of tollway discussed Thursday would gobble up another 104 acres — displacing 19 businesses, impacting five acres of flood plain and 10 acres of farmland, and running across the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.

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