Friday, September 28, 2007

"The turf battle over who should manage San Antonio toll roads is getting shriller by the day."

Local control best for S.A. toll projects


San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 007

As if the concept of toll roads isn't controversial enough on its own, the turf battle over who should manage them is getting shriller by the day.

The latest twist in the thorny struggle between state and local officials is a proposal by the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority to add toll lanes to a swath of Loop 1604 from Braun Road to FM 78.

There still would be separate free lanes and frontage lanes.

The RMA asserts it has the authority to take control of the project through Senate Bill 792, which grants local agencies greater control over transportation projects, including the tolling of highways.

Enter the Texas Department of Transportation, which claims that portion of Loop 1604 is exempt from a two-year moratorium on private concession contracts. TxDOT officials are evaluating whether to let a consortium develop and operate tolls, but they are not ruling out RMA control of the project.

There are arguments in favor of private consortiums, such as the Cintra-Zachry partnership, which can provide much-needed capital and complete projects quickly.

But there are also compelling reasons to allow the RMA to run the project. RMA officials have indicated they want to keep toll rates as low as possible, and money raised through tolls would be reinvested in other local projects rather than profit private firms.

Legislation in 2001 authorized the creation of regional mobility authorities for the express purpose of building, operating and maintaining toll roads and other transportation projects.

They should be allowed to fulfill their mission.

In the end, the Alamo RMA is better positioned to acknowledge and respond to community concerns about Bexar County projects. TxDOT ought to defer to that expertise and work with local officials, not against them.

"Why are they resisting us? I simply don't get it," RMA Chairman Bill Thornton recently told the Express-News.

That's a good question, and one that TxDOT officials should answer clearly and publicly.

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