Latinos For Texas Blog


Rep. Eddie Rodriguez: A heavy toll; Almost all of the planned pay-as-you-go roads are in East Austin

Filed under: — LaGirlFriday @ 8:26 am

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Austin American Statesman



Tuesday, June 27, 2006

I was reminded recently why I voted against the Phase II toll road plan for Austin. At the June meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the board (on which I serve) viewed a slide that mapped the toll roads planned for Austin. Most of those in Travis County were east of Interstate 35, and every single mile of toll lane in the City of Austin was on the East side.

Texas requires us to develop a plan in order to receive state transportation money. Our critical need for new highways can’t be met by existing levels of state and federal funding. So, the state extended special borrowing authority to local area in our case, the three-county area of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which covers Travis, Williamson and Hays counties. Such loans transportation revenue bonds — must be used to develop a system of toll roads, and they must be repaid by quarters and dollar bills collected at toll booths.

As each metropolitan planning organization complies, by designating transportation corridors under a toll road plan, that area qualifies for the balance of state transportation money.

But designating those corridors creates immense opposition from affected neighborhoods and those with political clout have been most effective in resisting toll roads in their area.

Residents in the eastern part of the city have tended to have lower incomes and be less involved in the political process. That helps to explain why CAMPO’s Phase II has scheduled almost all of the mandatory toll roads in East Austin’s back yard.

For generations, those residents have disproportionately endured power plants, landfills, tank farms, wastewater treatment plants and excessive industrial zoning. Now, we see plans for East Austin to bear most of the burden of funding toll roads so the rest of the city can qualify for other state transportation money.

In the plan, only 37 toll lane miles lie west of I-35; a whopping 136 miles of toll lanes are planned east of I-35. With just a little math, you can see that the east side will fund about four times as many toll miles as the west side. The statistics within the city are even worse. Phase II directs the state to establish all toll lanes in East Austin.

In July 2004, the CAMPO board adopted eight resolutions detailing its intent for the implementation of toll roads. One resolution addressed fair and equitable treatment of all citizens in bearing the burden of the toll roads.

That intent was apparently abandoned. In fact, 46 miles of Texas Loop 360 had been planned as a future toll road in the first phase of this project. After a huge protest from residents in that area, CAMPO decided not to fund it leaving East Austin to pay the tab.

I have a problem with that.

When CAMPO votes on Phase II in the next month or two, we could be in serious jeopardy concerning our own resolution to see that this toll plan is fair. The lack of social equity in the plan is a concern that will weigh heavily on my voting decision.

We Austinites care deeply about our city and the people who live on both sides of the I-35 divide. I’m tired of the East versus West debate. I want to see both sides treated fairly and equally. But I have an obligation to my district, and to all like-minded Austinites, to raise this issue of disparity in this toll road plan.

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