Fraudulent 'scientific study' stating giant 281 tollway would not damage the Edwards Aquifer derails 'fast tracked' plans
Plans for network of toll roads across the county may be crushed
By Jim Forsyth
WOAI (San Antonio, TX)
Anti toll road activists are vowing to pursue criminal indictments against local and state transportation planners, and ambitious dreams of a wide network of toll roads across Bexar County are in shambles, following Wednesday's stunning decision by the Texas Department of Transportation to pull its approval for new toll lanes on U.S. 281, 1200 WOAI news reports.
E-mails obtained by 1200 WOAI news indicate the approval for the $1.3 billion project was yanked after 'TxDOT uncovered possible irregularities in the procurement of a scientific services contract that was utilized in the preparation of the environmental assessment.'
That means the scientific study which led officials to determine that the project would not damage the environment, or the Edwards Aquifer, was flawed, and the result could be that no toll lanes will ever be allowed in that area.
"Our reaction is that we are absolutely pleased," said Terri Hall of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. "The grass roots have been waiting for this for a long time."
Henry Munoz III of the Regional Mobility Authority says officials have no choice but to put a halt to the project.
"The project is dead for now, and as appointed officials our job has been and continues to be to safeguard the interests of the citizens of Bexar County. Today that means we have to place a project on hold that we still believe is incredibly important to the future of our community."
Hall says anti toll groups will now push officials to move forward with a long-shelved proposal to build overpasses on US 281 at Encino Rio, Evans Road, and Stone Oak Parkway, a project which she says would cost far less and would have the same effect, to eliminate the rush hour congestion on 281 which they say is caused by the poorly calibrated traffic lights at the three intersections.
"The citizens from day one have been asking them to put in the freeway overpasses which have been funded and paid for with our gas taxes since 2003," Hall said.
At one point, RMA leaders had bold plans for a network of toll roads which would radiate out from 281 to include new toll lanes on Loop 1604, and Interstates 10 and 35 across the length and width of Bexar County. The 281 project, in fact, had been labeled as the 'starter project' by ambitious RMA engineers, who spoke of a time line in which toll roads would be in place across the county as soon as 2020. Today, those dreams have been derailed, and may not materialize in the coming generation, if at all.
"Even if this thing can move forward, it clearly is not a process which will be able to proceed any time soon," Munoz said.
He says the losers in the stunning decision are the motorists of north Bexar county.
"Congestion remains a serious problem, this decision does not eliminate any of that congestion, and the congestion will continue to grow," Munoz said.
Hall says her effort will continue past lobbying for the construction of overpasses on 281. She wants to see the RMA abolished.
"We don't think we need a tolling authority," she said. "We have never thought that toll roads were the best thing for San Antonio. And they have never given the citizens any kind of vote or even a say in this process."
Hall has long claimed that the drive to build toll roads in Bexar County has been 'fast tracked' by the RMA, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, and other unelected groups, which have ignored the comments of the citizens and have been determined from the beginning to 'shove toll roads down the throats of the people.
And Hall says she will also call on the Texas Attorney General and other prosecutors to investigate the officials who pushed forward with the toll plans.
"This was not a technicality," she said. "They got caught breaking the law. And that word they used, 'irregularity,' is a spin for having submitted a fraudulent study to the federal highway department."
She says she has documentation detailing the extent of the fraud, and will be presenting that documentation to prosecutors.
© 2008 WOAI:www.woai.com
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