"Opponent groups united to ask the organization not to approve the toll roads."
By Mike Jeffers
The Daily Texan
Central Texas residents disagreed Monday night about whether or not tolling more highways will alleviate traffic congestion concerns and who should pay for the improvements.
About 120 residents flooded an auditorium in the basement of the Capitol to air their opinions on proposed tolls to five area highways at the Transportation Policy Board Meeting held by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. The five affected roads are U.S. 290 in Northeast Austin, Research Boulevard in East Austin, Texas 71 in Southeast Austin, U.S. 290 and Texas 71 in Oak Hill, and the proposed Texas 45 Southwest.
Opponent groups united to ask the organization not to approve the toll roads. These groups are combatting the proposal for different reasons: the environmental effects of building new roads and whether the local and state government already has sufficient funds to pocket the costs themselves.
Nancy Fly of Fix 290 is against the proposed toll road in Oak Hill because she is concerned about the effects a major highway would have in her town. The coalition wants a parkway as an alternative to the toll road.
"I'm not philosophically opposed to toll roads. I just think that Oak Hill is an inappropriate place for a toll road, but a toll at the Y is just silly. I think the environmental imprint on that area is too severe," Fly said, referring to the fork at highways 290 and 71 in Oak Hill.
The Save Our Springs Alliance is also opposed to the highway in the Barton Springs Watershed because regulations require toll roads to automatically be much bigger than other types of roads. The alliance proposes building a parkway through Oak Hill because it would spare Williamson Creek and be less detrimental to the watershed.
Members of Texas Toll Party believe that local, state and federal governments have the funding to build non-toll roads.
"I don't believe that TxDOT is telling the truth when the tell us they don't have money," Austin resident Don Young said. "I can't believe that TxDOT is spending tax dollars on an advertising campaign for toll roads."
The audience was also filled with members of Take On Traffic, a local organization that advocates building toll roads to solve traffic problems.
Gary Farmer, a small business owner and an Oak Hill resident, said roads are not free, whether they are taxed or tolled.
Members of Take on Traffic cited the growing population of Austin as another reason that the toll roads need to built soon and that they would be "user-funded."
Williamson County resident Randy Marshall interrupted mid-meeting and said the entire hearing was a sham, accusing the board of holding it in an undersized room. He alleged the board had already made up its mind.
Many members of the Texas Toll Party continually hoisted yellow "No Toll" signs at the meeting.
Citizens can still submit amendment comments to CAMPO through Sept. 26. More information on the CAMPO Mobility and Transportation plans can be found at www.campotexas.org.
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