Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Sooner or later, every one of CAMPO's promises turns out to be calculated lies."

CAMPO considers spending 290 toll road funds 'outside' corridor



Tony Tucci
The Oak Hill Gazette
Copyright 2009

OAK HILL - When the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) board voted to toll U.S. 290 West through Oak Hill (when the expansion project through the 'Y' is completed), it was with the addition of several amendments by Travis County Precinct 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt. One of those amendments — that revenue beyond the cost of construction, maintenance, operation and debt service should be spent in the "transportation corridor" — was changed at that meeting from 400 yards from the midline of the tolled facility to 1 mile.

Now CAMPO is considering throwing out that amendment entirely in order to fund State Highway 45 Southwest (SH 45 SW). The CAMPO State Highway 45 Southwest Committee, headed by Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, recommended: "Change or delete Toll Road Policy #4 (October 8, 2007) to eliminate the provision that excess revenue generated in one toll road corridor be kept and used within that same corridor. This would allow the creation of a system of toll roads which in turn would allow more favorable financing conditions if SH 45 SW were developed as a tolled facility."

Vincent May of Fix290 said in a list serve post: "CAMPO is discussing dropping the Eckhardt and Wynn amendments so that Oak Hill money can be spent outside of the 'Y' corridor." May told the Gazette, "CAMPO is a creation of the Legislature and inherits similar powers. It can make or change its own rules. Citizens have no democratic franchise within CAMPO."

Eckhardt appears to be taking a wait and see attitude. She told the Gazette, "I am not a member of the subcommittee exploring funding options for 45 SW. I understand that a "tolled only" option has been discussed by the subcommittee. I do not know whether the committee will recommend such an option to the CAMPO Policy Board. If it is the recommendation of the subcommittee, such an option may implicate the Wynn and Eckhardt amendments."

But Jeff Mills, Mayor of Sunset Valley, is decidedly unhappy with the possible change. He told the Gazette, "I have heard that sometime in the future CAMPO may be reconsidering the Eckhardt 'System' amendment. I do not know any further details on timing, but am not in favor of reconsidering it."

Mills added: "One of the main problems with building SH 45 SW without free lanes is that the board has been given information from CTRMA [Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority] that projects that approximately 50% of the vehicles that would travel on SH 45 SW if it is built with free lanes would still travel on it if there are no free lanes. I have serious doubts concerning the accuracy of these projections. I know of no toll road in the U.S. where 50% of the cars go on a toll road when there is a free alternative like Brodie Lane — or Manchaca Road for that matter — so close. Typically, it is 15%-20% tops. I am presently trying to track down the factual information/ assumptions behind these estimates."

Mills said while there is currently no development along the SH 45 SW planned roadway, development will soon follow — a fear of environmentalists fighting the planned road. While Brodie Lane residents want SH 45 SW to relieve growing congestion along their road, Mills believes a 'toll road only' option – with no free lanes – could be problematic. He said, "If 80-85% of the new traffic chooses the free alternative — Brodie — over the toll road, we may actually see an increase in Brodie Lane traffic congestion when SH 45 SW is actually being sold as a way to decrease congestion on Brodie. I want to make sure that we have the most accurate possible information on this because it would be a travesty to build something as a means of congestion relief only to have it cause an increase in congestion."

In order to toll SH 45 SW, CAMPO would have to break another agreement it made, this one in July of 2004. The recommendation is to "change or delete CAMPO Resolution #8 (July 12, 2004) to eliminate the provision requiring non-tolled capacity within the SH 45 SW Corridor..."

Said May, "Sooner or later, every one of CAMPO's promises turns out to be calculated lies."

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