Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"Throw the bums out."

Hundreds protest tolls at CAMPO meeting

Board discussing whether to delay decision

January 23, 2007

By Kate Miller Morton
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

Anti-toll road passions ran high at Monday night's meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, where board members ultimately postponed a vote on a proposed second wave of toll roads until summer at the earliest.

"We need to quit letting the tail wag the dog and having the (proposed) toll roads hold up other good projects," said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, the newly elected ch the newly elected chairman of the CAMPO board.

The board voted to remove the proposed toll roads from a larger package that included proposals for nontolled roads, public transit projects and bike and pedestrian paths. The board is scheduled to vote on those proposals next month.

The so-called Phase 2 toll roads aren't expected to come back to the board until the summer after a new task force reconsiders the issues and makes recommendations.

The second wave was approved by the CAMPO board in 2004, but after bitter dispute, support for the plan has plunged. Other task forces have since considered alternatives to toll roads, with mixed results.

The Phase 2 toll roads are sections of U.S. 183, Texas 71, U.S. 290 (in both East and Southwest Austin), and the proposed Texas 45 Southwest. There are already 41 miles of toll roads in the Austin area, including the Loop 1 extension, Texas 45 North and Texas 130, which opened recently. More are under construction.

Hundreds of people showed up at Monday's meeting, which was delayed by an hour because of traffic congestion. The often-hostile crowd booed Watson, and some held signs such as "Throw the bums out."

Conspiracy theories were suggested, and calls of fascism were heard.

Before voting on the toll plan, the board adopted recommendations by a Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce task force, led by Watson, that last month suggested trimming the number of board members from 23 to 18, including three legislators instead of 10.

The proposal also called for two new members representing small cities.

The report said streamlining the board would reduce distrust among members and could help dealings between urban and suburban members.

Changing the board would require the governments in the three-county CAMPO area to amend their agreement.

Under federal law, federal transportation funds cannot be used on a project unless it is in CAMPO's long-range transportation plan.

Funding for the Phase 2 projects has expired since the 2004 decision.

It would take the creation of a local gasoline tax of about 17 cents a gallon to replace the money that would be brought in by the second round of toll roads, the Texas Department of Transportation said.

kmorton@statesman.com; 445-3641

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman: www. statesman.com