The betrayal taxpayers feel kicked into high gear when the AAMPO voted to add yet more toll roads to the plan instead of turning toll lanes on existing major corridors back into free lanes as promised. Voters do not get to select which elected officials are appointed to the AAMPO, so there’s no direct accountability.
By Terri Hall | January 6, 2015
Last month, the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (or AAMPO) voted to adopt its long-range plan, Mobility 2040, that’s packed with Agenda 21, anti-car initiatives including doubling the number of toll projects in San Antonio. The board also voted to obligate ten years of future Proposition One money. Prop 1 passed with 81% of the vote on November 4, and voters overwhelmingly approved the measure precisely because the funds could NOT be used for toll projects. Now taxpayers are facing still more toll roads in the Alamo city. Officials have repeatedly promised taxpayers that tolls are just a ‘placeholder’ and when new funds become available, those funds can be used to make previously marked toll lanes, free. The betrayal taxpayers feel kicked into high gear when the AAMPO voted to add yet more toll roads to the plan instead of turning toll lanes on existing major corridors back into free lanes as promised. Voters do not get to select which elected officials are appointed to the AAMPO, so there’s no direct accountability.
Politics, not planning
Now Prop 1 will immediately infuse $1.7 billion into the State Highway Fund from the oil and gas severance tax (that capitalizes the Texas’ emergency fund known as the Rainy Day Fund), and more will follow annually. Yet, the planning board continues to defy even elected officials. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and State Senator Donna Campbell specifically asked that Prop 1 go to turn toll lanes back to free lanes on US 281. This is in addition to the letter Campbell and State Rep. Lyle Larson sent to the Commission asking for the $92 million in road money, originally swapped to fund the now defunct downtown streetcar, to be reprogrammed to US 281 to prevent tolls. Neither request has been granted.
War on cars
This plan also includes bike lanes or ‘complete streets.’ The AAMPO intends to spend $48 million on bike lanes using road money, in just the next 4 years. Mobility 2040 is chock-full of anti-car gimmicks where it admits the goal is to get as many people out of their cars and into other modes – bikes, walking, or busses. Shrinking free road capacity (known as a road diet), tolls roads, granting special access for bikes, busses and HOV users, as well as stiff parking fines are all part of the master plan to punish those who choose to drive alone in their personal vehicle. All told, the plan adds $993 million in road projects as well as many transit projects, including transit stations in the rural Texas Hill Country cities of Boerne, New Braunfels, and Seguin. Bike lanes and transit centers where there is no demand for them is an unacceptable waste of money, and it demonstrates the chronic misallocation of funds at these local planning boards.
Neither San Antonians nor most residents in the Hill Country can afford this new tax to get to work. Tolls will be an additional tax of thousands of dollars more per driver, and even more per household, annually. Those who can’t afford them will be second class citizens on congested alternatives.
Sloppy rush to consume all the new money
The AAMPO made this decision hastily and sloppily BEFORE the Texas Transportation Commission has even announced how much Prop 1 money the area will receive and ignoring the legislature’s intent on how these funds are to be spent. House Select Committee on Transportation Funding Chairman Rep. Joe Pickett insists Prop 1 be spent on major corridors and high priority projects, not on new projects that just came on the scene, which is what the Alamo board did.
With new anti-toll leadership coming at the state level and promises to address both the funding shortfalls and reforming TxDOT and the decision-making process for toll projects, the taxpayers will undoubtedly demand positive changes and greater accountability for MPOs, too. The current process is hopelessly broken.
Terri Hall is the founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), which defends against eminent domain abuse and promotes non-toll transportation solutions. She’s a home school mother of nine turned citizen activist. Ms. Hall is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.