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Stimulus Bait & Switch: Interchange is an RMA bailout, excuse not to fix 281 north


San Antonio, TX – Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas (AGUA) and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) set the record straight about the status of 281, the litigation over the project, the interchange, the use of stimulus funds, and the Alamo RMA’s REFUSAL to work with the community on a smaller scale, non-toll solution to 281 north in a press conference today.

It took a lawsuit to STOP the 281 toll road. With the toll road off the table, TURF and thousands of concerned citizens believe it’s well past time to get on with building a smaller scale, non-toll solution on 281. The Alamo RMA and TxDOT are waging a propaganda campaign to convince the public NOTHING can be done on 281 for 7-9 years (3-5 years for a new environmental study and 3.8 years to build it). TURF says the law plainly shows this mantra is patently false. The clearance got pulled for the toll project only. There are provisions in the law that would allow the scaled down, non-toll original overpass expansion plan to move forward in months not years.

“The ONLY thing that’s delaying the fix to this freeway now is the Alamo RMA’s REFUSAL to work with the community on a smaller scale, non-toll solution to 281 north. This isn’t about a lack of funding or lack of clearance, it’s about a lack of political will by corrupt politicians and government agencies who want to tap the vein of congestion weary commuters to make money off this freeway,” said Terri Hall, Texas TURF’s Founder and Director who didn’t mince words.

The “slice & dice” interchange – an RMA bailout!

Here’s the rub over the stimulus money. WOAI news radio reported January 14: “For the first time ever, officials are floating a proposal to build the long planned new main lanes of US 281 outside of Loop 1604, without making them toll lanes.” Yet in the project list submitted to the Transportation Commission for stimulus funds, it clearly lists 281 as a toll road! Alamo RMA Chairman Bill Thornton promised it would remain a freeway if they got stimulus money for it (read it here): “If the project is paid for through federal funds, you don’t need that option of tolling.” But they never submitted 281 as a non-toll project and never intended to do a non-toll fix as these documents show. Then in yet another twist, the RMA abandoned the freeway fix completely to pursue the interchange.

“It’s a bait and switch and the public is SICK and TIRED of the misleading information, broken promises, and outright lies,”

Hall fumed.

“Clearly, neither TxDOT nor the Alamo RMA is an honest broker and both REFUSE to negotiate or work with the community on a smaller scale, more affordable, non-toll solution for these freeways.

“What we’ve been asking for and insisting on since day one is a non-toll solution for 281, 1604 and the interchange. They’ve promised for years if a new pot of money came out of nowhere, they’d keep them freeways. Now they’ve got it (stimulus money), and they’re still going to end-up tolling our freeways. This is taxation without representation and a TRIPLE TAX rip-off.”

This Express-News article states only the southbound connectors would be built using the stimulus money. The RMA says the reasons they sliced and diced the interchange is because that’s all they have money for. Just last year, the entire interchange cost was listed at $150 million. Now they say $143 million will only build half if it.

“We say that’s HOGWASH!” Hall related.

The interchange is a red herring to use up the stimulus money on something other than fixing the BIGGER problem, which is getting overpasses built to remove the stoplights from our freeway and get traffic moving again. This interchange is an “RMA bailout”!

TURF said the RMA is on life support, and has spent over $10 million taxpayer money and have not one project on the ground to show for it.

“Short of the environmental work for 281, they’ll be twittling their thumbs for the next 5 years. They’re grasping at straws to find anything they can call “shovel ready” to keep their doors open,” Hall pointed out.

TURF thinks the reason they don’t want to build the northbound connections is because they plan to toll them (as shown in MPO documents dated February 23, 2009, that stated “connections to managed lanes optional” — managed lanes are toll lanes). When angry taxpayers made such a stink about using stimulus money on toll projects (which is a TRIPLE TAX), the RMA subsequently backed away from building the whole interchange knowing they’d get blowback if they came in later and tolled those ramps that were paid for already.

“So instead of building the entire interchange, they scrapped the northbound connections and will let all of 281 north wither on the vine for 7-9 years until they get their toll road built,” Hall concluded.

“This slice and dice interchange project is an RMA bailout, plain and simple. The RMA has spent ”

AGUA and TURF encouraged folks to turnout to the Public Hearing on Stimulus Funds at City Hall at 10 AM tomorrow to weigh-in on this issue. They contend the wrong projects are being built with these funds (70% of them are being used to build toll roads) and that a toll tax adds economic distress, not relieve it.

RMA trying to have it both ways

TxDOT and the Alamo RMA are using a “categorical exclusion” (or CE) exemption as a way to claim it has the “clearance” to get away with building a 5 STORY interchange. This category is used for minor changes to intersections and meant for changes that have literally NO IMPACT. How can they say a 5 level interchange has NO IMPACT? Yet they used this same exemption to build an overpass for the Dominion (off I-10), and now try to say it can’t be used to build overpasses on 281 with stimulus or other funds.

“They can’t have it both ways,” says Hall.

Next, how can they build an interchange without knowing what it will connect to (a toll road, 6 lanes, 8 lanes, some tolled, some not what)?

“By locking-in the configuration of the interchange, they lock in the long-term plan for both those freeways,” notes Andrew Hawkins, AGUA/TURF attorney.

Another lawsuit?

“Our attorneys simply sent a letter to the feds questioning the exemption being used to build a 5 level interchange, and Thornton, came unhinged and spread rumors of another lawsuit. Our 281 lawsuit is still pending with the court, and NO decision has been made about whether AGUA and TURF will sue, either in a new lawsuit or by re-opening the current lawsuit,” Hall emphasized.

Hawkins stated the groups’ concerns this way: “If the interchange they propose to build nails down the configuration for both 281 and 1604, then the analysis of alternatives — which is the most important part of the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act, the federal law that guides road projects) process — becomes entirely meaningless.

“Since the financing and design of 281&1604 all tie together, then the only honest way to look at alternatives is to look at comprehensive alternatives for the whole system — which basically means looking at alternatives to serve transportation needs for the aquifer region. Segmenting, or piecemealing, the project as they now propose would severely prejudice the outcomes.”

RMA “411 on 281″ ad campaign abuse of taxpayer money

Instead of working the community, the Alamo RMA is engaging in an aggressive, slick propaganda campaign (www.411on281.com) USING TAXPAYER MONEY to spread misleading and even false statements, including blaming concerned citizens for the stalemate when it’s really the RMA causing the delays now.

One of the outright falsehoods on the web site states that the original overpass plan for 281 didn’t include frontage roads when it did. TxDOT’s own documents show that plan included 6 main lanes and 4 frontage lanes. It’s linked from www.281OverpassesNow.com. The RMA claims on the site that there is no funding for 281, when MPO documents show $100 million in gas taxes, $325 million in Texas Mobility Funds, and now there’s $143 million in stimulus funds in the mix. Their web site also states it’s illegal to give these contracts to foreign companies when the legislature just had a hearing on a bill to extend the use of such contracts, and 2 of these deals just got signed in North Texas only months ago.

So who’s lying to whom? It’s certainly not the taxpayers, these groups contend.

The groups’ said the credibility of these agencies is shot, and that their slick ad campaigns (which their own documents expose) demonstrate time and again that the public cannot trust one word that comes out of the mouths of these agencies.

“They will say and do anything, even break the law, to get access to our wallets and build a $1.4 billion boondoggle of a toll road that their own documents show isn’t toll viable or sustainable,” noted Hall.

The groups’ message: we can get this project underway in months, not years, if these agencies would work with the community on a solution today.

Operation: Meltdown the Phones

The EARLIEST the MEGA toll road option could be built (20 lanes wide, $1.4 billion price tag) is 7-9 years from now (3-5 years for a new study, 3.8 years to build per RMA documents). TURF says the toll road is clearly NO longer an option and that residents, commuters, and businesses cannot and WILL NOT wait nearly a decade to get relief when all that’s needed is the smaller overpass & expansion plan that’s one-tenth the cost, and would take less than half the time to build.

To get politicians to fix this mess, TURF launched a new campaign today found at Fix Gridlock.com called Operation: Meltdown the Phones. Every day when folks are stuck at these stoplights, they’re asking angry commuters to call-up their politicians and demand the fix now. TURF suggested motorists program their cell phones with the phone numbers of their State Representative, Frank Corte, and State Senator Jeff Wentworth, and call them EVERY morning and EVERY evening to INSIST on the non-toll overpass plan on 281.

“Unless we meltdown their phone lines EVERY DAY, we’ll be stuck in limbo indefinitely,” concluded Hall.

For more info go to: www.281OverpassesNow.com and www.FixGridlock.com.

Contacts:

Elyzabeth Earnley, AGUA, (210) 320-6298

Terri Hall, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), (210) 275-0640

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