Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"I’m not available for possession by anybody.”

Drive time


San Antonio Current
Copyright 2009

All roads seem to lead to toll roads these days for the Metropolitan Planning Organization. How else to explain the contentiousness we’re seeing at the local agency, which controls the purse strings to more than $200 million in federal and state transportation funding?

Two years ago, the 19-member MPO passed over outspoken toll-road nemesis (and County Commissioner) Tommy Adkisson for chair, despite his clear seniority, in favor of let-’em-eat-tolls Councilwoman (and MPO newcomer) Sheila McNeil.

This year, the MPO couldn’t help but give the nod to Adkisson, given the fact that the chair position generally alternates between City and County reps, and with McNeil’s surprise selection in 2007, the City had controlled the seat for two consecutive cycles. Adkisson also credits new Mayor Julián Castro for getting behind his bid for the chairmanship.

While MPO’s toll-road boosters couldn’t keep Adkisson out of the chairman’s seat, they seem determined to limit the power that he’ll be able to wield. County Commissioner Kevin Wolff, one of the MPO’s most vocal toll-road boosters, pushed this week to change the agency’s bylaws to limit the chairman’s power to set the MPO’s agenda. At the July 27 meeting, Adkisson maintained his agenda-setting authority, but agreed to appoint a committee that will explore the suggested bylaws change.

Adkisson says he has an “excellent” relationship with Wolff, but he’s convinced that the drive to limit the chairman’s power is directly connected to the toll-road issue. And it’s true that MPO’s toll-road advocates never challenged McNeil’s agenda-setting ability, but suddenly expressed concern when Adkisson assumed leadership.

“We’ve never had an agenda-setting problem, except once, and that was under Councilwoman McNeil,” Adkisson says. “Other than that, we collaborate, we coordinate, we communicate, we cooperate. Why would I force somebody to go through all kinds of artificial contortions to have some measure brought forth? I think we ought to be a free forum for open minds and ideas that address the best interests of our transportation policy.

“I think this is coming from the highway lobby, many of whom are my friends,” Adkisson adds. “But they want to possess you. I’m not available for possession by anybody.”

Adkisson sees light rail as a viable transportation option for San Antonio to pursue, and says he wants to make MPO’s decision-making process more transparent. Or as he puts it, “I would like to put the jelly on the lower shelf.”

We hope he means grape.

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