Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wolff in sheep's clothing

Wolff: Toll Opponents "Crazy," "Dangerous"

Judge rips into toll critics in 'State of the County' speech

October 25, 2007

By Jim Forsyth
WOAI 1200 News Radio
Copyright 2007

Bexar County Judge Nelson W. Wolff used his State of the County address today to tear into opponents of toll roads in Bexar County, saying they are 'crazy' and 'dangerous' and suggesting once that if he 'named the other members of Commissioner's Court who support toll roads it might endanger their lives.'

Wolff said toll roads are 'the right way,' and he urged the Chamber of Commerce audience to cheer Metropolitan Planning Organization Chair Sheila McNeil, who was sued along with the MPO this week by toll road opponents who claim that the organization is illegally pushing for toll roads.

"We have some people who have had to take a lot of heat," Wolff said. "One of them is Sheila McNeil who is the head of the MPO. Sheila, stand up. We owe you a round of applause for taking the heat from these crazy people who are jamming it down your throat every day!"

Wolff has been a long time supporter of toll roads, and he has mentioned the importance of building toll roads in his previous two State of the County speeches. But the vehemence of his denunciation of toll road opponents surprised some in his generally pro toll audience. Wolff didn't mention by name which toll road opponents he thinks are 'crazy' or 'dangerous' but he did cite an incident following a meeting to discuss toll roads.

"We had an incident not too long ago, where the anti toll road people were here and sort of jumped (Regional Mobility Authority Chairman) Bill Thornton and I in the parking lot. I tried to get away from him and he kept following me. I finally turned around and asked him to get away from me, and he said 'give me your best shot.' I called the deputy across the street, and he came over and kept him away from me. Let me tell you, they are dangerous people."

"We're barely holding on with a three two vote on Commissioners Court supporting this project," Wolff said. "I won't tell you who the other two commissioners are, I don't want to endanger their lives."

Lyle Larson and Tommy Adkisson are toll road opponents on Bexar County Commissioner's Court.

Then, Wolff suggested that Bexar County residents should be grateful that toll roads are being built.

"The roads on the side will be free, the toll lanes will be in the middle, you don't have to get onto the toll lane, you should be happy we're building it, because there will be less traffic on the free lanes."

Wolff said he opposes any concessions agreement which would allow "a company from Spain" to build the toll roads, a reference to the Cintra-Zachry partnership which has the contract to build 40 miles of the State Highway 130 toll road.

"TxDOT wants to give it (the US 281 toll lane construction contract) to a company from Spain," Wolff said. "We prefer that the public be involved. We need to stick with the public sector, we need to keep the tolls as low as possible, and allow that money to stay right here and not go someplace else, whether it be Spain or someplace else in Texas."

Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, the leading anti toll group, agrees there is a lot that is crazy about toll roads, but toll road opponents aren't among them.

"What's crazy is charging us over and over again for what's already paid for," Hall said. "What's crazy is claiming that they're not tolling existing roads, when that's exactly what they're doing. And what's dangerous is TxDOT failing to construct overpasses on 281 where deaths have occurred, so they can build 'cash cow' toll roads."

Hall says she's 'amazed' that a Chamber of Commerce audience cheered Wolff's pro toll remarks, when toll roads will hurt local businesses and harm the county's tax base.

"People are not going to go to the store, or buy that pair of shoes, when they have to pay all that money on tolls. That is going to hurt the tax base of Bexar County, and that's the bottom line."

Elsewhere in his State of the County speech, Wolff said he anticipates suggestions on an estimated $300 million dollar venue tax renewal proposal to be submitted to Commissioners Court by December, and a vote could be called on the issue next spring. He says officials are considering four potential uses for the venue tax money. Sports complexes, including facilities at UTSA, a Performing Arts Center, which could be built inside the existing Municipal Auditorium, expansion of the Riverwalk south and north, and improvements to the AT&T Center.

© 2007 WOAI

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