Saturday, December 08, 2007

"We are being asked to pay far more than 'our fair share.' "


'Those people' victims of poor highway planning


Jay Forrest
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

Jaime Castillo makes a number of good points in his column "McNeil just doesn't get the toll-related frustration of 'those people'" (Monday, Metro).

I would add that as one of "those people," the narrow targeting of toll roads on U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 makes me a victim of extremely shortsighted planning and management, leading me to project an aura of incompetence upon the three primary perpetrators:

  • The Texas Legislature, which has distorted the "fair" funding option by reallocating "surplus" highway funds and refusing to release them back to the highway department as needed and by refusing to consider raising gasoline taxes as an inferior alternative.
  • The Texas Department of Transportation, which built highways all over San Antonio with no consideration of the fact they eventually would need to be connected, leading to exorbitant later costs that TxDOT later decided it could not afford.
  • The city of San Antonio and its past mayors and City Council members, who took the easy route by approving plans for high-density development without regard for the impact on traffic (and, more significantly, water) or pursing projects to ensure adequate transportation.

The tolling of the U.S. 281- Loop 1604 intersection provides a good example of why many of "those people" feel discriminated against. The "intersections" of U.S. 281 and Loop 410, Interstate 10 and Loop 410, U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 and more were built by TxDOT with no consideration of the fact they would need to be connected.

I am not aware of any other major highways or major arteries in Texas that were built without direct ramp connections (i.e., avoiding the traffic-jamming use of surface access roads with traffic lights).

For TxDOT to build and endorse such intersections is beyond incompetent. They should have been built properly, with plans for reasonable connection for the cost of the half-mile extended flying ramps that will correct this oversight and contribute significantly to the cost crunch that leads TX DOT to say the U.S. 281-Loop 1604 intersection requires tolls.

The proposed tolls for the ramps at U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 are discriminatory because, if nothing else, the remedial ramps being built between Loop 410 and U.S. 281 and Loop 410 and Interstate 10 are free. The installation of proper ramps at U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 are similar in that they correct mistakes by TxDOT planners.

There is a further issue that TxDOT views these tolls as a revenue generator. So those of us affected are being singled out to pay not only for the tolled lanes but also to build roads we don't use. Other drivers get to use ramps for free; why should "those people" pay for ramps and roads that are not tolled? This is a highly arbitrary, discriminatory and inappropriate tax.

I would not be against tolling existing roads so long as everyone in the state paid the same rates for the same vehicles — say, 2 cents a mile for all Texas highways instead of free for some and $2.50 or more a day for others.

Unfortunately, the cost of building facilities to toll all roads would be exorbitant and create a whole new bureaucracy. The same is true for Loop 1604 and the ramps for U.S. 281 and Loop 1604.

The $100,000 a mile spent to toll express lanes on Loop 1604 would be better spent on adding lanes. We already have a means of collecting taxes based on highway use; it is called a gasoline tax.

The real, fair and responsible funding answer lies in a higher gasoline tax in combination with the Legislature returning existing funds to TxDOT; finding other, more appropriate sources of funding for the causes currently using our gasoline taxes; and increasing the fees on the large trucks that destroy interstates and lead TxDOT into perpetual maintenance and highway upgrades.

Proponents of toll roads want me to feel tolling is fair. I think not. We are being asked to pay far more than "our fair share."

There is a reason we feel discriminated against.

Jay Forrest of San Antonio is a doctoral candidate in foresight and a consultant in long-range strategy, problem solving and opportunities.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE