Thursday, October 06, 2005

"They have a plan for making free roads so slow, that people would be forced to take the toll lanes."

Lawsuit Seeks to Block SA Toll Roads


By Jim Forsyth

San Antonio
Copyright 2005

A group which is fighting plans to construct toll lanes on Loop 1604 and US Highway 281 has filed a lawsuit seeking to derail the toll plan, 1200 WOAI news reported today.

The Texas Toll Party, under it's registered political action committee name People for Efficient Transportation PAC, has filed suit against the Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization, claiming the plans to construct toll roads amount to unconstitutional double taxation, and violate the separation of powers.

"They are legislating when the Metropolitan Planning Organization was not empowered to legislate," People for Efficient Transportation spokeswoman Linda Curtis told 1200 WOAI news. "They weren't elected."

The lawsuit threatens to derail an aggressive effort on the part of the MPO to construct new lanes on Loop 1604 between Interstate 10 and Interstate 35 on the north side, and on Highway 281 from Loop 1604 to the Comal County line, and charge a toll for driving on those lanes. The MPO had hoped to begin construction on some aspects of the toll road system in 2006.

Supporters say toll lanes are the only way to construct new highway lanes quickly enough to avoid gridlock, but toll road opponents say the plan is a political steamroller designed to line the pockets of construction companies.

"This is a new tolling policy that was never voted on. People don't even realize that it's happening in some cases," Curtis said.

Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Steven Smith, who filed the lawsuit, is asking a judge in addition to blocking the toll road plan, to dismantle the MPO board and replace it with a seven member board all of whom would be elected for two year terms. Currently the MPO consists of members of San Antonio City Council, Bexar County Commissioners Court, and suburban city councils who were selected by those entities to serve, along with several members who are appointed only, including engineers, planning directors, and employees of the Texas Department of Transportation.

"The constitution clearly states that there must be a separation of powers between the executive and legislative branch," PET founder Sal Costello said. "It is clearly unconstitutional for members of the legislative branch, state representatives and senators, serving on these boards."

The lawsuit al,so claims that the plan to charge tolls on roads that are already constructed or which would be built on land purchased by tax money amounts to illegal double taxation.

"If you have a road that's been paid for already by gas tax dollars, and then you charge a toll on it, we call that double taxation," Curtis said.

She also doesn't buy into the MPO's claims that tolls would only be charged on express lanes, and other lanes would always be available for drivers.

"They have a plan for making the free frontage roads slow," Curtis said. "So slow that if people wanted to get anywhere, they would be forced to take the toll lanes."

The lawsuit was filed in State District Court in Austin.

San Antonio