29 Oct 2009, 2:43pm
Toll roads:

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Final thoughts from the MPO meeting

After a couple of days of rest and deliberation after the marathon MPO meeting Monday night, I wanted to put down a few closing impressions.

The crowd
Although I wasn’t surprised, I was still appalled at how some people behaved at the meeting.  Yes, I understand there’s a lot of anger out there (much of it misplaced I might add), but people still need to conduct themselves with decorum, something that even Tommy Adkisson had to remind the crowd on several occasions.  To hear supposed adults shout things like “you’re an idiot Wentworth!” at the top of their lungs during a public meeting shows a serious lack of maturity and class.  I always have wanted to ask these people why they’re surprised when they act this way and then they’re not taken seriously by the people they just denigrated.  The old expression “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” comes to mind.

Then there was the pissed-off twenty-something sitting next to me who literally said she could kick my you-know-what (oh yes, she used the three letter word) after I barked at the people around me to show some courtesy while the representative from Selma was speaking (I couldn’t even hear him over the jeers.)  Talk about a girl who still has so much to learn about life.  I so very much wanted to impart the wisdom on her that there are so many other tribulations in the world more important than a stupid toll road over which to get worked-up to the point of violence, but she was so full of vitriol that I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.  So I took my own advice and let her rail for a few moments before her father (I think) finally reined her in.  Happily, she didn’t say another word to me the rest of the time I sat there.

A psychology student could have written a whole thesis on crowd dynamics just by watching the people at this meeting.

The speakers
The parade of citizens-to-be-heard was long, irate, and markedly redundant.  I even tweeted during the rage-fest that I hoped someone would say something “fresh” soon.  The one thing I noticed about most of those who spoke against tolling was that they all made comments that showed faulty assumptions, misunderstandings, or plain-old cynicism.  A few of them were corrected in-line by the board, such as the guy who said he didn’t want a Spanish company owning our roads.  But most of the demagoguery was left unchallenged.  The constant stream of fallacies and rhetoric reminded me of a quote I heard recently about some other issue: “People ignore what they don’t want to believe and panic over what they do want to believe.”  How productive is that?

Wait a second, that looks familiar…
As I milled around the room prior to the start of the meeting, I noticed someone had a flier that had a headline on it that matched one of my earlier blog entries.  When I went investigating, I found representatives of the San Antonio Mobility Coalition (SAMCo) handing-out printed copies my “TURF’s propaganda machine is in a tizzy” blog post from last week.  A dichotomous feeling came over me: flattery and a little pride that they considered it to be worthy of distribution to the masses in lieu of something they could have produced, but a little anxiety about getting death threats because of it—or that there might have been a typo in it.

Meeting the queen
During the meeting, I met Terri Hall for the first time.  I was sitting next to fellow OnTheMoveBlog.com blogger Patrick when she approached.  He stopped her as she passed and introduced her to me.  It was like meeting a rock star.  She was quite polite, and I hear that outside of toll road meetings an über-docile alter ego emerges in her stead.  However, I don’t think she was particularly thrilled to meet me—during her short conversation with us, she spoke directly to Patrick and referred to me in the third-person.  Still, when she walked away, I said “nice to have met you”, and I swear I heard her say “you, too”.

Twittering away the meeting
Several of us at the meeting tweeted periodic progress reports on Twitter.  Besides providing some entertainment during the orator-a-thon, it was neat to be able to go back afterward and see the progress of the meeting and how our tweets were followed and disseminated by others.  It was my first substantial use of the technology in a real-time manner and really demonstrated the power and intent of it.

Why Tommy lost
Those who analyze what happened will tell you conclusively that the reason Tommy lost was simple: he presented a plan that had no objective vetting.  Instead of rushing this plan through to a vote, a couple more months getting an engineering report may have resulted in a different outcome, assuming that such a report would have been favorable.  I’m sure he could have found someone to do it gratis.  For some reason I can’t explain, though, he wanted to bring this to a head quickly, and like most things that are rushed, many of the i’s were not dotted and t’s weren’t crossed.  In the end, I think the board didn’t want to take a chance on a plan that was full of that many unanswered questions.

What happens next
Toll opponents should take solace in this fact: all this vote did was leave tolls on the table for discussion.  While a representative from Hollywood Park made a good point in that what’s in the MPO’s plan biases and drives future decisions, both the MPO and ARMA have demonstrated that they are willing to convert planned toll facilities to toll-free projects if money becomes available to do so.  Witness the first four connectors of the 281/1604 interchange: originally planned as tolled connectors, ARMA and the MPO went after the stimulus funds when they became available so they could build the project without tolls.  So while both the 281 and 1604 projects are still projected to be toll roads, the funding situation could change between now and 2012 or so when the enviro studies are complete that could allow them to be built toll-free.  Only time will tell on that one.  In the meantime, if funding can be found, an apples-to-apples study of Tommy’s plan with the toll plan may be done, and we might get to do this all over again.

As for Tommy, carrying the water for Terri Hall has left him pretty beat down, and I don’t blame him for feeling that way.  From the moment he presented his plan, he was barraged with questions he couldn’t answer.  Even columnists in the Express-News were questioning his credibility.  In post-vote interviews, he has said he’s done with toll roads for now and wants to move on to other topics close to his heart, such as mass transit.  I hope he’s a man of his word, because that’s a topic that’s ripe for discussion.  The toll issue can sit on the back burner for a while because no decision can or needs to be made on it for a few years.  In the meantime, maybe we can make some progress on some other important issues.

And frankly, I need some rest.


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