Sunday, January 22, 2006

"The state has the funds and plans for roads without tolls."

Comment: Ample funds, plans make tolls unnecessary


Robert McKechnie
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2006

I hope the stoppage of work on the planned toll roads on U.S. 281 isn't giving us a false sense of security in the "stop the tolling of San Antonio roads" effort.

Let's examine the problem: We have congestion and not enough road funds.

First, we need to ask: Why don't we have enough road funds? The state has the money, more than $5 billion per year, but the San Antonio area is getting only about $100 million per year.

This disparity is caused by the state funding formula, which needs adjusting, but the attitude of those on the Texas Transportation Commission is that if San Antonio gets more, then some one else gets less — not "let's fix the formula."

This is where local elected state officials (senators and representatives) must take action, and you need to tell them such.

Second, we need to look at the alternatives for fixing the congestion. The appointed officials on the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority seem to have only one idea — toll roads! However, this is not the only alternative, and all the alternatives need a comprehensive review and presentation to the public.

The governor claims the RMA has such a charge, but the chairman, Bill Thornton, doesn't seem to think so (he is spending more than $6 million on toll road studies). The leader of the Bexar County commissioners, County Judge Nelson Wolff, could direct the Alamo RMA to study all alternatives, but he has chosen not to do such.

Another part of the equation is the San Antonio Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is made up of 19 voting members (including four city councilmen, three Bexar County commissioners, one state senator and two Texas Department of Transportation employees). They could have forced an audit of the U.S. 281 project back in 2005 but voted it down with only two of the Bexar County commissioners voting for it (Commissioners Lyle Larson and Tommy Adkisson).

On the U.S. 281 issue, the Texas Department of Transportation had a funded, approved plan to put in the overpasses that would have solved the problem but decided to go with the toll road approach. However, to get around the state law that forbids putting tolls on existing lanes, it had to design an extra wide road with 16 lanes at a cost of more than twice the original approved design. No matter what you might have read, they were going to put tolls on U.S. 281 as soon as the first part of the toll road (from Loop 1604 to Stone Oak) was finished.

The bottom line is that the state has the funds and plans for roads without tolls. We don't need toll roads in San Antonio to relieve the congestion. If you think you live in a part of San Antonio that is exempt from tolling plans, you better read the newspapers. For starters, the whole North Side is in the sights of the tollers.

The RMA, MPO and Texas Department of Transportation want you to believe that building toll roads is the only fix for the problems, which is not true. To make it even worse, the Texas Department of Transportation is planning to turn over the road building and tolling to foreign consortiums. (So why do we need the Alamo RMA?). Unfortunately, some have been led to believe this would not use any tax funds. But just remember you don't get something for nothing and if it sounds to good to be true, it is.

Robert McKechnie, a consulting engineer for MTC Technologies, has more than 46 years of government and industrial experience.

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News: