Tuesday, November 03, 2009

"Taxpayers are still left with the struggle to get elected MPO representation undiluted by appointees who don't answer directly to the voters."

Non-toll plan still makes the most sense


By Tommy Adkisson - Guest Commentary
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2009

The recent Oct. 26 meeting of the San Antonio Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) was lobby politics over sound public policy.

The MPO policy board specifically asked its Technical Advisory Committee to do a side-by-side comparison of TxDOT's 2001, $100 million non-toll freeway plan to fix 281 with the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority's $475 million (or $1.3 billion with interest) toll road plan.

It failed to do so, I submit, largely because of a lack of cooperation by TxDOT and the push for toll roads by the special interests in the road building industry.

When duly elected representatives that are tasked with allocating state and federal transportation dollars, and making transportation decisions for our region, cannot get open public records, straight answers, or cooperation from our state highway department, we have a problem.

I've made no secret about my position against tolling our existing freeways. Our highway department, in my opinion, is not the final word in the question for or against tolling.

It is failing to cooperate with those on the policy board who want to see non-toll options implemented to keep our freeways toll-free.

The MPO, set-up by federal law, is an equal player in transportation decisions and so is the Federal Highway Administration that administers the National Environmental Policy Act.

When the current Texas governor's re-election (and hence TxDOT's continued pro-toll policy) is anything but reassured, the Sunset process awaits TxDOT in the next Legislative Session.

John Carona (the Chairman of the state Senate's Transportation Committee) also says we can do without tolls by proper reliance and stewardship of our gas tax, then one has to wonder about the dogmatic pro-toll direction of TxDOT.

An obvious obstacle in moving forward is the composition of the MPO policy board itself. Its un-elected 9 appointees from various agencies nearly equal its 10 elected officials.

Last Monday's vote was a close 6-5 vote in favor of tolls if you isolate elected officials, versus a distant 13-5, when you add-in the non-elected appointees.

One non-elected member abstained. Despite attempts to remedy this in the courts and in the Legislature, the taxpayers are still left with the struggle to get elected MPO representation undiluted by appointees who don't answer directly to the voters.

The National Environmental and Policy Act which requires consideration of social, economic and environmental effects of roadways, requires an environmental impact study that is underway but is estimated to take three years.

I submit that non-toll is less intrusive (10 versus as many as 20 lanes into our Hill Country), less expensive ($200 million ballpark versus $475 million), least threatening to the nation's most vulnerable aquifer and our nearly sole source of drinking water.

And because of its scale, a non-toll plan is more likely to be able to be built quickly. A comparative study, as we had requested before, would likely reveal the same conclusion.

Tommy Adkisson, Bexar County Commissioner for Precinct 4, can be reached at 100 Dolores, suite 1.2, San Antonio 78205, by e-mail at tadkisson@bexar.org or by calling 335-2614.

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