Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Highway 281 expansion violates rules against 'conversion' because the 'non tolled' lanes will essentially be the access roads with stoplights

Thornton: Toll Opponents to Blame for 281 Toll Road

tells legislative committee that 'litigation' filed by anti tll groups drove up the project's costs

July 22, 2008

By Jim Forsyth
Copyright 2008

Former Mayor Bill Thornton, who now heads the toll road planning Regional Mobility Authority, today blamed toll road opponents themselves for the fact that the 281 expansion project is being built as a toll road, 1200 WOAI news reports.

"While allegations have been made that previously planned improvements could have been fully funded without tolling, delays in the project, caused in part by litigation over environmental issues, initiated by TURF (Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, an anti toll group) and others, corresponding cost escalations due to inflation and highway construction costs, has eliminated the possibility of paying through the improvements through the traditional gas tax," Thornton said.

Thornton made his surprising comments to the Joint Legislative Committee on Toll Projects meeting at UTSA.

Anti toll groups have long claimed that building overpasses for through traffic at the major intersections on U.S. 281 would have cost roughly $140 million, far less than the estimated $1.3 billion cost of the 281 North Tollway, which was approved in December.

Thornton said the success of the 281 project will open the door to public support of more non traditional transportation projects in Bexar County.

"Our first toll project, to have a publicly financed and owned project, is paramount to demonstrate the positive benefits to our community," Thornton said. "We are able to build today the foundation for an economic engine for future projects in transportation and multi modal far beyond what is imagined today."

Thornton also blasted toll road opponents, who told the Sunset Commission hearing on the Texas Department of Transportation last week that the 281 project violates the legislature's rules against 'conversion' which is when existing lanes are tolled. The state has stated that no existing highways will be tolled, and tolls will only be collected on newly constructed highways and lanes. TURF and other groups claim the 281 project violates those rules because the 'non tolled' lanes will essentially be the access roads, with the through lanes being tolled.

"The law says the public must have access to the same number of non toll lanes that it had prior to the addition of the toll capacity. The 281 project meets that requirement. Currently there are two or three lanes of non toll capacity, and once the lanes are reconstructed and additional toll capacity is added, there will be at least the same amount of non toll capacity available to the public," Thornton said.

© 2008, WOAI: www.radio.woai.com

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