MPO approves long-range plan; Tommy starts to get it

As reported here last week, the San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) policy board was scheduled to vote on the¬†“Mobility 2035” long-range regional¬†plan yesterday.¬† Toll opponents were angry because the plan included numerous projects in three corridors (I-35 North, Loop 1604, and I-10 West) pigeon-holed as toll-concession projects, also known as¬†Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA) projects.¬† As I explained previously, because current projections show little to no gas-tax funds being available during the time span of the plan, those projects had to have creative funding¬†“placeholders” assigned to them in order to continue¬†planning work on them, those placeholders¬†being CDAs.

Fortunately, the policy board understood this, but still showed concern over the possibility that this meant that those future projects, should they actually be tolled, could be franchised-out to private companies, particularly the omni-evil foreign corporations.¬† As such, State Representative David Liebowitz moved that CDAs be removed entirely, but the board wisely voted 12-3 against his motion and instead voted by the same margin¬†to support an alternate¬†motion to remove just the concession part of the CDAs, essentially meaning that should those projects eventually be developed as toll projects, they would have to be owned by either the state or a local governmental agency such as the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (ARMA).¬† As such, they will probably now go forward in the planning process envisioned as “design-build” projects.¬† (As a¬†footnote, the statutory¬†authority for such projects will need to be renewed by the Legislature in 2011.¬† The Legislature did not renew concession CDA authority during its last regular and subsequent special session.)

The final motion to approve the long-range plan with the amendment to remove concessions was approved with only one person (Liebowitz) voting against it.¬† Much to my surprise, chairman¬†Tommy Adkisson¬†offered-up an¬†“aye” vote¬†on it.¬† He also stated his support for raising the gas tax and indexing it to inflation as his preferred alternative to tolling, a position I had never heard him take before.¬† Perhaps he finally is starting to “get it“.

In other business, the board also directed MPO staff to find a way to fund a side-by-side analysis of proposed tolled and non-tolled expansion plans for US 281.  My instinct is that when all is said and done on that, three results will emerge:

  • The two plans are essentially identical with similar costs; only the tolling equipment and any related signage will be the delta.¬† (Alternatively, it may be found that the toll-free plan is too old now to do a valid “apples-to-apples” comparison.)
  • The results of the study will have to somehow¬†be rolled into the ongoing US 281¬†environmental impact statement (EIS) study.
  • There is no easy way to fund the project without tolls unless all the area’s gas tax and tax-backed bond funding for a number of years¬†is used exclusively for this project.

The last item of general public¬†interest was a report from ARMA that the 281 “super street” project is expected to break ground in February and that the 281/1604 interchange should get underway next summer.

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