20 Oct 2009, 5:15pm
Toll roads


TURF’s propaganda machine is in a tizzy

Well, I’ve been holding off on a toll road related post for a while, but TURF’s latest round of propaganda has forced me to respond.

Next week, the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) will meet to determine whether to remove the tolling component of plans to upgrade US 281 and Loop 1604.  Terri Hall and her myriad of special-interest groups—primarily TURF— have once again seized upon this as an opportunity to disseminate their persistent and prolific exaggerations, hyperboles, half-truths, and just plain fallacies about toll roads.  Below are just some of their false assertions and the actual facts; each TURF claim is linked back to where it is published.

The EARLIEST the MEGA toll road option could be built is 7-9 years from now (3-5 years for new environmental study, 3.8 years to build it). So the toll road is clearly NOT an option! (link)
It would take this long to have any significant improvements built.  In their misguided and desperate quest to stop the 281 toll road, TURF et al. sued not once, but twice, to have all the environmental studies related to 281 voided.  Their shortsightedness managed to get the proverbial baby thrown-out with the bath water and, as a result, absolutely NO major upgrades—tolled or toll-free—can be made to 281 until the new environmental studies are done, period.  The Federal Highway Administration has even written a letter to ARMA stating so where they specifically say “the Federal Highway Administration will require that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be prepared for any future federal transportation project in the US 281 Corridor” (emphasis is mine.)

The proposed improvements for 281 under both the original toll-free plan and the subsequent toll plans have been the same: a six-lane expressway with overpasses and frontage roads.  Therefore, the construction time for both options is the same.

Given that an EIS is required for any major project (toll or not) and that both the toll and non-toll plans are essentially the same, the earliest ANY major project could therefore be built is 7-9 years from now.  A toll-free project likely will take longer due to scarce and unpredictable funding.

The toll road would be 20 lanes wide (link)
As mentioned above, the toll expressway option would be the same footprint as the toll-free expressway.  Both would be about 20 lanes wide at their absolute widest point just north of 1604.  What TURF doesn’t explain (or maybe they just don’t understand) is that this count includes main expressway lanes, frontage road lanes, and lanes on the connector ramps to 1604.  The typical cross section of both the toll plan and toll-free plan would be 10-12 lanes (six expressway mainlanes and four to six frontage road lanes).  (I’ll discuss this in more detail along with supporting docs in an upcoming post.)

There is an already FUNDED, less expensive, less invasive overpass plan. (link)
Again, the two plans are nearly identical as far as the footprints and cross-sections, so they’re both equally “invasive”.  There is no “overpass plan” per se; both the toll and non-toll plans propose to build an expressway with overpasses. 

There is currently no funding for any plan—toll-free or tolled.  Yes, the MPO budgeted money for the 281 project back in the early part of this decade, but due to rampant construction inflation over the past seven years (about 70%), that funding is no longer sufficient to do much of anything on 281.  In fact, the construction bids already came in well in excess of that budgeted amount back in 2005.

Drivers on toll roads would pay $12/day or $3,000/year in new toll-taxes! (link)
This is a prime example of TURF’s fear-mongering approach.  The approved toll rates for the 281 project are 17 cents per mile.  To spend $12 a day, you’d have to drive 70 miles on local toll roads.  Given that there are only 40 miles of toll roads planned for the immediate future (281 and 1604), that means motorists would have to drive pretty nearly all of those toll roads twice to spend $12 a day!

The reality, of course, is that most commuters who opt to use the toll roads will travel just a few miles on them.  For instance, those who get on 281 at Stone Oak Pkwy. and continue south on 281 past 1604 would travel about 2.5 miles and spend about 42 cents each way, or just 85 cents per day.  Those going from Stone Oak Pkwy. to I-10 West via 281 and 1604 would pay about $1.85 each way, or $3.70 a day, and that assumes they use the express toll lanes on 1604; they could very well just switch over and use the toll-free expressway lanes that will remain.

Toll roads  guarantee congestion by prohibiting expansion of free routes! (link)
While this is true on many toll projects, this would not be true in Bexar County.  ARMA has no legal authority to block other government agencies from improving their roads.  Furthermore, the Texas Transportation Commission voted last year to remove these clauses from their toll road contracts.

Toll road deals hand our public roads to foreign corporations for 50 years! (link)
Again, in Bexar County, this is not the case.  All local toll roads would be owned and operated by the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, a local government agency.

I’ll discuss a few of the points above in more detail over the coming days, including why it doesn’t even matter if Terri Hall and MPO chairman Tommy Adkisson manage to get the toll option removed from the 281 and 1604 projects next week and why I believe that TURF feels the compulsion to spew their misinformation.


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