Thursday, February 08, 2007

"Any wonder why TxDOT has lost all credibility with the people?"

Toll foes show up in force at hearing


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

Toll critics weren't allowed to set up a table to greet crowds coming into a public hearing Tuesday for a proposed U.S. 281 tollway, but once inside they made their point.

When Joe Krier, president of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, got up to explain how tolls could fund twice as many miles of express lanes in half the time, letting motorists pay if they want to avoid worsening traffic congestion, boos laced the applause that followed.

When toll critic Terri Hall, leader of the San Antonio Toll Party, addressed the hearing to say that gas tax money can pay for what's needed on U.S. 281 and warned how foreign companies would suck million of dollars in profits from motorists, many in the crowd stood to cheer.

And there were a lot of people to make noise.

The Texas Department of Transportation, which held the hearing in the main ballroom of the Alzafar Shrine Temple to get input on its draft environmental assessment for the project, counted 652 people, far more than in attendance at most other local public hearings.

Almost one in 10 who showed signed up to speak.

Dave Ramos said it's amazing that TxDOT's environmental study of the 7.5-mile project, ranging from 10 to 20 lanes from Loop 1604 to Borgfeld Road, indicates there would be no significant impacts to people or the environment.

"Any wonder why TxDOT has lost all credibility with the people?" he said.

Steve Grau, speaking for the Greater Chamber of Commerce, said toll lanes also will take traffic off free access roads that would replace existing highway lanes, helping relieve gridlock and make travel safer for everyone.

"Most of all, toll lanes do not require state or local tax increases," he said.

Louis Raiborn said toll lanes are for well-off drivers.

"The thing is, you can't be a poor person and expect to get on a toll road," he said. "We don't need toll roads here. We don't need them anywhere in Texas."

The environmental study, which now heads to federal officials for a yea or nay later this year, suggests building six to eight toll lanes plus frontage roads and other lanes, taking land from the west side of the highway to make it 400 feet wide — 500 feet at interchanges.

By tolling the express lanes, the project can be finished more than 20 years sooner than it would by just relying on gas taxes, it states. In the short term, traffic on the access roads could flow better than rush-hour traffic does now on the existing highway lanes that would be replaced.

The study estimates traffic would double by 2035 on the wider highway, going from 55,400 cars a day last year to 134,800 between Stone Oak Boulevard and Marshall Road. If nothing is done, the number of vehicles would go up to 73,000.

The study also says impacts to the amount and quality of water going into the Edwards Aquifer are expected to be minor. And while air pollution would get worse, it's expected to stay within acceptable limits. Noise would increase in places.

Officials would need another 82 acres of land for the tollway, including 53 acres of woodland, and would remove 19 businesses and a home. No direct impacts to wildlife are expected.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

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