Wednesday, June 6, 2007

"I guess they can overrun us."

Planners bypass Frisco's toll-road objections
This article is being posted again in a prominent place because it highlight how the RTC, and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley ignores the will of the people.
GORDON DICKSON - Fort Worth Star-Telegram - Thursday, April 13, 2006

ARLINGTON- North Texas leaders often say they put the good of the region above local desires. On Thursday, that was put to the test.

The Regional Transportation Council, the area's official planning body, agreed to pursue a toll road on Texas 121 in Collin County -- and potentially many other future toll roads in Tarrant and other counties-- over the objection of elected leaders in Frisco.

The RTC also agreed to allow pricing on toll roads to vary by time of day, reaching up to 17 cents per mile during rush hour beginning in 2010. Today's Dallas-area toll rate is a flat 10 cents a mile.

The approval, on a voice vote --with at least three of the RTC's 40 members opposed--was a notable break with tradition. When development decisions are made in North Texas, it's not uncommon for politicians to grant veto power to a city or county directly affected by a project. Not this time.

"We left here with the reaction that the region is the No. 1 priority for the RTC," Tarrant County Commissioner Glen Whitley said.

Frisco Mayor Michael Simpson had a different take.

"I guess they can overrun us," he said after the meeting at the Arlington Convention Center. "I'm not happy about it."

Simpson said he calculated that if the 17-cent maximum was applied to Texas 121, a typical commuter using the road during peak morning or afternoon traffic would spend about $1,100 a year on tolls.
"We want a toll low enough that people are willing to pay," he said. "I hope it doesn't kick traffic onto the streets of McKinney, Allen and Frisco."

Last week, the Frisco City Council withdrew its support for the proposed toll road roughly from the Dallas North Tollway to McKinney.

Frisco originally supported the toll road, on the condition that tolls be kept as low as possible. But other North Texas leaders and the Texas Department of Transportation wanted to seek bids from private companies, to see whether the toll road could generate a large cash payment up front.

All Thursday's action really does is set up a competition for the Texas 121 Collin County toll road project between the tollway authority and any private bidders.

The state transportation department could select a winner by November.

Whether Frisco likes it or not.

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

RTC ignores people's will in establishing transportation policy
By Faith Chatham - June 6, 2007
On June 4th the NCTCOG staff was asked at the media briefing if they surveyed the public or asked the people whether they wanted to pay for other projects with surplus toll revenue before the RTC adopted the policy of expanding existing highways and building most new freeways as tolled roads with rates set high enough to generate surplus toll revenue to spend on other projects. Mike Morris and Lara Rodriguez stated that "We held 20 meeting last year between Feb. and April and they were well attended. We discussed CDAs, toll rates and surveyed attendees. They were held along the SH 183 corridor, the SH 121 corridor and the SH 161 corridor." THey said that about 161 people attended and they surveyed a few additional people.

Lara sent the survey to DFW Regional Concerned Citizens.
They surveyed 214 people. There are 6.5 million people in the NCTCOG Region.
Not all citizens in all counties were given opportunity to take the survey. Random samples were not taken from different parts of the metroplex attempting to get a sampling of various income groups, ethnic groups, and ages groups (young adult to senior citizen). Most of the questions pertain to SH 121.

No question on the survey asks if the citizen prefers having toll rates set higher than necessary to maintain the roads and retire the debt so that surplus toll revenue can be generated to fund other projects.

The RTC appears to have ignored the preferences of the majority of the respondents to the survey. The policies adopted.

QUESTION: If the CDA anticipates toll revenue greater than the anticipated cost, do we request revenue up front or over time. 97 said OVER TIME.l 17 UP FRONT; 27 LOCAL DECISION. The RTC adopted a policy requiring PRIVATE and PUBLIC toll companies to pay substantial up-front concession payments to acquire and operate toll projects in the region.

QUESTION: The RTC should take into account the number of toll roads in a specific area before setting toll rates? 171 yes; 26 no.
They did not ask any question about how many roads citizens thought should be tolled, about the ratio of non tolled to tolled major highway miles in a county or district. There is no question asking if the citizens think 675 miles of additional toll lanes to existing highways and new toll roads is appropriate for this region.

QUESTION: What should the 2010 toll rate be for SH 121? NO TOLL -28; .09 cents per mile - 17; .10 cents per mile - 17; to NTTA max .12 cents per mile - 121; .14 cents per mile - 1; .15 cents pr mile - 20; .25 cents per mile - 2.

QUESTION: How should the toll rate grow over time? 108 of the 188 respondents answered NO MORE THAN 1.5% per year- no growth increase in 5 year increments as operating and maintenance costs increase. The RTC adopted a plan which escalates every 2-3 years at rates substantially higher than the maximum 1.5% per year favored by the citizens surveyed. Also the rates will escalate upward based on Consumer price index and inflation and other factors.

QUESTION: Should there be a Comprehensive Development Agreement CDA in Collin County?
The majority (141) of the citizens said NO! Only 41 answered yes. The RTC and TXDOT initially selected Cintra and announced plans to sign a CDA with the Spanish-based firm. When the Texas Legislature stipulated that public toll authorities in a region were to be given right of first refusal members of the RTC objected. Judge Glen Whitley at the March 2007 RTC meeting exclaimed: "Why ever would we award the NTTA a contract? They'll have to meet the up-front concession payments offered by Cintra or I know I won't vote for it!"

QUESTION: Should we have a differential toll rate for peak and off peak conditions?
The majority (171) said NO. Only 41 said yes. Both the NTTA and Cintra bids are based on different toll rates for different times of day. The RTC ignored the preference of the people.

Ignoring the preference of the people is a pattern with the RTC and TxDOT.
They adopted policues which will require citizens to pay tolls for 50 years, at rates higher than necessary to construct and maintain the roads, without giving the 6.5 million citizens in the region opportunity to address the questions.
They ignored the peference of the 180-214 respondents to their survey.
They refused to evaluate their plan after hundreds of citizens showed up at EVERY TTC hearing held by TxDOT in the region during the summer following the RTCS series of meetings.

Citizens yelled and protested eminent domain for private developlment, toll roads instead of highways paid for by gas tax and bond money, 50 year contract and CDAs with Cintra, a Spanish company.

The will of the people was unmistakable.

The RTC and TXDOT and most local leaders chose to ignore the people and push through policy which will require the citizens in this region to depend upon toll roads for 50 years and to pay higher tolls than is necessary to build the roads and retire the debt and maintain the infastructure.

The RTC lobbied the State Legislature to exempt this region from the 2 year moratorium on toll roads. The rest of the rest of the state will benefit from a re-evaluation of CDAs before commitments are made on 50 year contracts in their region. It is possibe that the State Legislature will fix some of the problems with Transporatation financing (such as a need to index the gasoline tax to keep up with inflation) and enable Texans to again have roads built with tax money instead of toll money. This region may be left having to pay higher gasoline tax and having to pay high tolls to drive on Texas state highways in this region.

The RTC and local officials have failed to be responsive to the economic welfare of the residents of this region. They appear to place greater priority on moving freight and speak more about "economic growth" than they do on creating systems that efficiently move people at affordable rates.

Their plan contains too many miles of toll roads for one region. They have modeled much of the additional capacity after a toll road in Orange County, CA which has proven to be a dismal failure. Begun as a private public partnership, the rates and management of the road irritated (infuriated) citizens so much that the state bought back the toll road from the private partners at a very high cost to the taxpayers. During rush hour the toll lanes are nearly empty while the not tolled lanes are so congested that traffic hardly moves. They have dedicated valuable real estate to under utilized toll lanes. If all lanes were non-tolled, they could equalize traffic among the lanes and everyone would have a better opportunity to get to their destination in a reasonable time. Because of creative funding strategies, the citizens in that region are poorly served.

It is unfortunate that regional transportation planner have chosen to model much of this regions proposed transportation projects after a project with is neither a success nor an improvement.

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