Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"This will not only cripple the economy, it'll tax people into bankruptcy."

Transportation plan worries board


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2006

Members of a local transportation planning board found it too difficult Monday to sign off on what essentially is an imaginary check for all the money needed for the next 25 years.

Some Metropolitan Planning Organization board members voiced concerns about community opposition to planned toll roads, and another complained about public transit getting just a brief mention in the 2030 needs-based plan.

The board, comprising 19 elected officials and staff members from area cities, agencies and the county, voted 9-2 to postpone the already-late Texas Metropolitan Mobility Plan another month. It was due at the state Aug. 1.

"We have a number of things that need to be sorted out," said board member Sidney Ordway, who represents VIA Metropolitan Transit.

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson wanted references to the Trans-Texas Corridor — a statewide network of toll lanes, railways and utility lines — taken out of the plan.

"It's a poison pill," he said. "As an elected official, I can tell you we're on the firing line."

City Councilwoman Elena Guajardo said she was bothered that the document didn't mention an ongoing public debate over nearly 75 miles of proposed toll roads.

"I find that a little disheartening," she said.

VIA board member Melissa Castro-Killen said she wasn't happy that the 38-page plan only had half a page for transit.

"I was highly, highly offended," she said.

Alamo Area Council of Governments Director Al Notzon questioned why light rail and streetcars aren't in the plan.

Other board members, even some who agreed to table the matter, said the plan doesn't lock the organization into anything, but rather lists possibilities and what the needs are.

"We need to be open and prepare to look at all options," said City Councilman Richard Perez, the board's chairman.

The plan doesn't list projects but instead estimates traffic congestion, the costs to eliminate it and how much of those costs are unmet. The purpose is to find out how big a pot of money would be needed to address the needs.

A draft plan says there's a shortfall of $19 billion through 2030, up from $16.9 billion two years ago because costs were added for rail relocation, bridges, bicycle amenities and sidewalks.

Officials approve specific projects in a different plan — called the Metropolitan Transportation Plan. The 2004 version forecasts $8.2 billion in funds through 2030 — with 25 percent spent on toll roads, 16 percent on new non-toll lanes and 35 percent on transit.

Toll critics say the $19 billion funding gap is a delusion based on an estimate that ignores where road congestion occurs, travel by other modes, high gas prices and different impacts of land development, such as whether patterns are sprawling or compact.

"They need $40,000 from the average family in San Antonio in the next 25 years," said Terri Hall of San Antonio Toll Party. "This will not only cripple the economy, it'll tax people into bankruptcy."


© 2006 San Antonio Express-News: www.mysanantonio.com