Our readers talk back.

The Trouble With Tolls


Fire Madison, since he ignores the facts. Maybe the soap operas can hire him, and you can hire a reporter that investigates and reports and is in touch with 93% of the public!

CAMPO asked for public feedback ["Austin@Large," News, July 23]. Ninety-three percent said no, find a better plan ( CAMPO ignored the 93%.

What is wrong with the toll plan CAMPO passed?

1) The toll road plan forces toll roads on almost every major arterial route throughout the city. That has never been done before in this country; we should not be the experiment.

2) It seizes a number of roads that we have already paid for with our taxes and converts them to toll roads (William Cannon overpass, I-45 South, 71 from 35 to the airport).

3) And, when you compare toll road miles per million: Dallas has 12.7, Houston has 16.9, Austin will have more than 113. That is absolutely unacceptable.

It's not a toll plan, it's a revenue plan, and we will stop it.

First there was the Boston Tea Party ... on Thursday 29, we begin to take back our city with

Sal Costello

[Mike Clark-Madison replies: If I ignore the facts, that puts me in the good company of Mr. Costello. Right now, of course, Austin has zero miles of toll roads, compared to the Dallas and Houston figures he cites. Both of those cities have likewise proposed huge expansions of their toll road networks – much larger and more expensive than what Austin has entertained – so his argument utterly fails. Likewise, it is thoroughly false (no matter how many times it gets repeated) that the specific roads he cites are already fully funded and are being "seized." Even if this were so, local citizens already pay user fees or tolls or taxes or whatever you want to call them, on other tax-supported parts of the transportation network (Capital Metro's fares, the city's street-maintenance fee on the utility bill). And I don't think anyone is silly enough to believe that the organized e-mail campaign waged by Mr. Costello and his allies is an accurate index of regional opinion; if toll roads were put to a three-county vote today, they may not pass, but they certainly would get more than 7% of the vote.]

Clark-Madison Connects the Dots

Dear Mr. Black:

Mike Clark-Madison's journalistic leadership on regionalism is not new but has become more and more courageous as parochialism resists the emerging urban-suburban coalition seeking to establish a bold vision for our future. Mike started his coverage on regionalism after attending the 1997 Rail-Volution Conference in St. Louis and the 1998 Regional Issues-Local Solutions Conference in San Marcos, where over 800 leaders from the Austin-San Antonio Region convened to call for regional master planning and a comprehensive rail-transit system. Back then, Mike began to write about the important integration of land use and transportation. Locally and nationally, the land-use transportation connection has become the mantra of the day.

Mike's recent insight on toll roads and rail transit ["Austin@Large," News, July 23] has provided the community the connect-the-dots understanding of how the proper meshing of roads, rail transit, urban villages, local land-use reform, and a complementary comprehensive system of green space can shape our future growth into a world-class place to live – yes, de facto, we are talking about Envision Central Texas.

He should simply ignore those who criticize his perennial bold focus on regionalism. The progressive voices of both the suburbs and the central cities in our region have finally found a common opportunity to be heard; and Mike has shown courage in that regard, especially by pointing out that the dominant no-growth politics of our community finally and appropriately may be fading into oblivion. For that, we owe him our thanks.

Scott Polikov

Bring Back the 'Dope'!

Dear Chronicle,

I've really enjoyed "The Straight Dope," and I'm sorry that the Chronicle won't be carrying it anymore. It's an entertaining and informative column, and Slug Signorino's illustrations are great. Any chance it'll return?

John King Meadows

The Wages of Privatization

Dear Editor,

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is on the verge of extinction ["No Money at the Big House," News, July 23]. This law enforcement agency, under the Department of Justice, is being forced there by the current political administration in Washington, D.C., led by President George W. Bush. Extinction is being accomplished by significantly reducing current and future BOP budgets.

The BOP currently houses approximately 179,000 inmates in its 104 facilities. It is staffed at only 89%; additional cuts could lower that. Would the average citizen accept dangerous staffing shortages in their local law enforcement agency?

Bush has proposed a cut of $350 million for 2005; seems Bush favors privatization of the BOP. By reducing BOP staffing through budget cuts, he'll ensure BOP facilities cannot perform adequately and privatization will be the only option; a setup for failure.

What does cutting the budget mean to the public? The security of federal prisons will be far less dependable. What if you live near a prison and hear reports that inmates had just escaped and are in your area? If you know someone who works in a federal prison (Bastrop is the closest one), now is a good time to show concern for their safety.

Help by calling or writing your senators and congressmen. Tell them to support the BOP. Tell them to vote against initiatives depriving the BOP of its funding. Tell them to speak out against privatizing prisons. Ask them why federal prisons aren't being funded commensurately with other law enforcement agencies involved in the fight against terrorism.

Privately owned prisons operate for profit. These are businesses, and like any business their intent is to make money. Is the confinement of dangerous inmates an area where you'd risk cutting corners to save a dollar? If your answer is no, get involved.

Jeff Ormsby

Local union president at FCI Bastrop

White-Collar Prisoners Suffer, Too

Dear Editor,

I was quite bothered by Lucius Lomax's egregious comment in his article on prison medical care ["The Least That Money Can Buy," News, July 16] that "these inmates are ... blue-collar criminals ... not the white-collar hustlers who rip off shareholders ... those people don't do hard time."

When those people are imprisoned – and they often aren't, as is also true of those who do "blue-collar" crimes – they too suffer and are not treated well. Has Lomax forgotten that Jim McDougal, Susan McDougal's husband, who provided Ken Starr with testimony against Clinton, died in solitary confinement of his heart problems without medical care in a Texas (federal) prison, despite his protests of illness and poor medical history? The elderly (white-collar) man was put in solitary for days after being unable to provide a urine specimen on demand.

Inhumane treatment is not justified for any prisoner, but is common. Lomax, and we, should be concerned to improve prison conditions for everyone and not perpetrate myths about luxurious prison conditions that simply do not exist for white-collar criminals or anyone else.

Anne Peticolas

Corporate Web Sites Still Suck

Dear Editor,

Thanks for writing this article ["The Emmis Shoe Falls at KLBJ," News, July 16]. As the former webmaster of all six now Emmis-owned radio stations, it was good to hear what was going on there. It's sad to see things going corporate. Hopefully some of the management there can keep the Austin feel of the radio stations, even though their Web sites are all going corporate! Throws hands up.

Thanks again for the article!

Jay Paulson

Keep Inmates out of Neighborhood

Dear Editor,

On July 29, the City Council will decide whether to approve or deny a conditional-use permit application to allow a minimum security correctional facility at 5117 N. Lamar ["Naked City," News, July 23]. The building in question is located in a predominantly residential neighborhood, and the immediate neighbors and business owners are soundly opposed to the establishment of a 52-bed facility for housing inmates from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

This is a public appeal for the City Council to step forward to support the neighbors and deny the issuance of a conditional-use permit for the building located at 5117 N. Lamar.

Gerald J. Patrick

Give Transgressors a Chance

Dear Editor,

Not unlike a Lester Bangs junior critic contest submission, Darcie Stevens' review of the Transgressors debut recording is a disjointed mass of strained witticisms and shaky musical knowledge that comes up short and is filled with a negative slant bordering on a personal attack ["Texas Platters," Music, July 16]. The record I listened to is not wrecked by a shoddy production; I heard hints of Lee Hazelwood and the Gun Club, strengthened by J.R. Keyton's guitar playing (I think he is hands-down one of the best guitarists in Austin) and the strong lyrics and vocal style of Chad Nichols. I hope others will give this great record a chance despite Ms. Stevens' attempted musical assassination.

Ray Colgan

Opinion and Truth in 'Fahrenheit 9/11'

Dear Editor,

How sad these days are that we have such a hard time with the word "truth," Mr. Black ["Page Two," July 16]. Perhaps that's because the truth the Bush administration used to get us into a war was anything but. Or, maybe it's because the media is not interested in anything resembling truth, but rather a shiny, happy version of events that led us into Bush's war. And now, judging by the debate raging over Michael Moore's latest movie, with so many incapable of even considering the questions posed, I guess we'll just have to say that there is no such thing as truth.

Not surprisingly, the "liberal" media have, by and large, discredited Fahrenheit 9/11 and its rebuttal of the bill of goods we were sold. And this has seeped into the general public's consciousness, leaving us with the status quo. One of the many devices used was the lack of distinction made between the parts of the movie that are alternative explanations for our foreign policy and the parts that are hard-to-refute facts.

The opinions are easy to spot (for instance, look for times when Moore literally puts words in W.'s mouth). They're based on what is known and presented as a counter argument to the lies that the Bush administration told. For, if we didn't go because of WMD, or ties to al Qaeda, then why? Moore has ideas about why, and thank God he's still allowed to speak his mind. If you're one of those unwilling to consider Moore's version, then what are you left with? Not the truth, that's for sure. And if you're still concerned about the veracity of the facts in the movie, go to , where you'll find them backed up and cross-referenced in excruciating detail.

Ty Hurless

More Reasons to Like Lance

Dear Editor,

Lance's victory in the Tour de France again is incredibly important for American cycling and cancer research/survivorship. I wish that everyone would show their enthusiastic support for all American riders and that businesses would follow that lead. In addition, Lance can inspire our community to ride more for personal health reasons and air-quality reasons.


Scott Johnson

All Systems Go Plan Won't Work

Dear Editor,

A new report from the city of Austin's staff to the city manager and City Council confirms my suspicion that those who thought they could make Capital Metro's All Systems Go plan slightly more efficient by pushing for an immediate extension to Congress Avenue and Seaholm were wishful thinkers.

According to the report, substantial obstacles exist to extending this commuter rail line toward Seaholm at all, much less in the initial segment.

More importantly, the city feels (as I do, after observing results from South Florida's commuter rail line) that requiring passengers to transfer to shuttle buses (or "circulators" as Capital Metro calls them) is going to be the kiss of death for the choice commuter. In other words, as soon as you make your rail passenger transfer to a bus at the work-end of their journey, most of those who had the choice to drive will go back to driving.

Capital Metro has picked this route not because it saves money or is more efficient, but because they believe it will score points with their nemeses at the state Legislature. While I sympathize with their difficulties, their responsibility is to the residents of the city of Austin who provide their tax base.

I supported light rail in 2000, and I urge everyone who seriously wants public transportation to expand beyond its current market of those who can't drive or have expensive parking to join with me in opposing Capital Metro's All Systems Go Plan in 2004.

Mike Dahmus

Steel Pole Blight

Dear Editor,

Huge 50-foot transmission poles are springing up within hours along Guadalupe Street, from 38th through 51st Street. There doesn't seem to have been any warning that these were coming. Within a few hours they appear as if by magic.

These red rust poles are a horrendous blight, cutting into the view of the sky over the trees and creating an ominous overcast in what were low-key neighborhoods. I came home one day to find one of these new poles installed directly in front of my apartment complex. I was astounded to learn that the property owner was not consulted in advance of this. It makes me wonder if the other businesses and residents down Guadalupe have also learned about these poles only after they're staring straight up at them.

Apparently this program began 10 years ago. An online June 2003 article from the trade journal Transmission & Distribution World says, "Austin Energy has found that the aesthetics of steel poles have been a major plus with customers in locations where residences and commercial business parks are concerned with curb appeal. Weathering steel poles work well as replacement poles in established neighborhoods because the poles blend in with the existing line."

I don't agree. The effect is more of utility clutter not fitting with our local cultural feel. Aside from visions of inquisitions and hanging cages for the treacherous that these poles inspire, there does seem to be a creeping trend to turn our pretty neighborhoods into industrial backwash.

I would ask Austin Energy how much investigation was done into underground alternatives? Other cities have been able to engineer this, why can't we? Can we still get rid of these towering monstrosities and invest in an underground utilities future? It would preserve the appeal of our still-pleasant Austin cityscapes.

Patrick McCook

High-Mileage Drivers Should Pay More for Use

Mr. Mayor,

Congratulations on a tough decision regarding the tolling of Austin's highways ["Road Foes: Down, but Not Out?" News, July 23]. I believe it is a smart and necessary change that will fairly impact those that use the highways most ... those who choose to live in far-flung suburbs and create traffic congestion in the first place.

Soon, the people who use the highways the most will be the ones who pay for them.

Erik D. Phillips

Will Toll Plazas Be Poorly Managed, Too?

Dear Mr. Piper,

If traffic stays the same or gets worse, there's another explanation possible other than the new capacity being consumed by sprawl ["Postmarks," July 16]. That would be mismanagement, which is practically guaranteed. After all, the traffic signal was invented in 1914, and the Austin traffic department still doesn't know how to use them properly.

They build wide roads such as Manchaca (seven lanes wide) between Cannon and Slaughter and then paint out two of the lanes. They require numerous illogical lane mergers all over the city. It's foolish to even begin a list of such things in the space available here.

Will the toll plazas be any different (regardless of how they are in Yankeeland, Mr. Black) ["Page Two," July 16]? You guess.

Duane Keith

A Loyal Listener's Disgust

Dear Editor,

I moved to Austin about a year ago and have been a loyal listener to KLBJ since. Imagine my surprise (and disgust) when I read about Powermouth and Peg getting the boot ["The Emmis Shoe Falls at KLBJ," News, July 16], not to mention Johnny Walker going part-time and having to prerecord his evening show (the time I usually listen the most). To top it off, KLBJ plans to air more commercials. I realize that radio ads are a vital source of income for stations, but when you hear more commercials than music, it's time to move on. I watch TV no more than a few hours a month for the same reason (that, and the fact there's not a whole lot worth watching).

I'll have to agree with Peg when she said (in your article) that it's not fun anymore. Looks like I'll be burning a lot more CDs.

David Shaffer

Another Take on Cleaves Incident

Dear Editors,

I'd like to give another take to Slaid Cleaves' fiasco when he played Johnny D's in Somerville, Mass. ["Meet the New Boss," Music, July 16]. I was in Boston, actually, when Mr. Cleaves was playing Johnny D's. And it's a joint I'm very familiar with for many years.

My husband has run sound there for top-name acts. He's played that stage, as well, as a sideman. Those televisions are on all the time. Period. No matter who you are. Mrs. Johnny D runs the bar, and her daughter runs the restaurant side where the music plays. No one to this date has complained from the stage (which Slaid did), and no act has left the stage, gone behind the bar, and turned off the TV. C'mon Slaid, what part of no don't you get? There's a clear separation between the bar and the venue side! You've played this venue many, many times previously.

There's no need to badmouth a venue that works hard to keep live music going in an area of the country where it's not cheap to do. There are no tip jars in Boston, and the opportunities to play live are diminishing greatly. Carla (Johnny D's daughter) has worked very hard to raise Johnny D's from a local bar with local acts to having folks like the Dixie Chicks, Ben Harper, Susan Tedeschi, Marty Sexton, Alison Krauss, Maceo Parker, Rufus Wainwright, Phish, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Widespread Panic, Emmylou Harris, and Steve Earle.

How many music venues in Austin has this musician played with a TV on somewhere in the joint? I am a fairly recent transplant to Austin; maybe I'm missing something. To the music community: Johnny D's is a great place to play in the Boston area. Dale Watson packed the place; I was there. I heard Hot Club of Cowtown had a good night as well.

It seems Slaid Cleaves would be better off just saying he had a bad day. One day too long on the road, 'cause that was what it was, a prima donna meltdown. Now he's bad-mouthing folks, insult to injury.

Thank you, dear editors, for my opportunity to speak out and respond.

Ann-Marie Madden

Blatant Bad Government


The recently approved toll road plan will be a best-example case study for students of government for years to come when they need to look up "blatant bad government" ["Road Foes: Down, but Not Out?," News, July 23]. The piecemeal approach to this collection of widely scattered road projects will do little or nothing toward completing any real needed road system for getting people around and through the city in an efficient, pollution-reducing manner. What it will accomplish is to set up a source of financing for a toll authority – another taxing authority that will strive for eternity to glean ever-increasing amounts of money from taxpayers' wallets simply to perpetuate its own existence. With our tolls we do not get guarantees of new and improved road systems that make sense and put an end to the "Austin roads-to-nowhere syndrome." On the contrary, we are assured of spending an extra $50 to $100 each and every month just for the privilege of driving on a patchwork of roadways that add even more hassle to the effort of getting to work or the grocery store. Professors of government affairs are sharpening their pencils on this sorry case study even now.

Cathy Cabrera

Musicians Deserve Full Attention

Dear Editor,

Sorry, Ms. Ann-Marie Madden, but I could not disagree with you more ["Postmarks Online," July 22, and above]. When a musician takes the stage, I believe they deserve the audience's complete attention. It is hard work to communicate in words and music, playing whatever instrument. If you want to watch TV or have a conversation, you can do that elsewhere. I applaud the efforts of anyone who elevates a venue, getting top-notch musicians to come and play. Why do it if the audience is watching TV? It is very disrespectful of the talented folks on stage not to listen, in Austin, Boston, or Peoria.

Pamela McAlpin

Love for Los Lonely Boys

Dear Editor,

My daughter and I had the privilege of catching Los Lonely Boys in Atlanta opening for Keb Mo. I assure you, Austin, they won't be opening for him long! "Onda" was surreal, the tres hombres reaching such dizzying crescendos that Keb, upon taking the stage, remarked, "I thought y'all were going to have an orgasm. And I'm backstage, thinking, 'Damn! How am I going to follow that?'"

Follow indeed! Keep it up, LLB. Give God the glory and he will grant the desires of your heart. I think he already has.

Julie Tate

Vote Against Hate

Dear Editor,

There is no place in the U.S. Constitution for hate of any kind [regarding gay marriage]. Our Constitution is about freedom of choice and the pursuit of happiness. When the president of the United States does not understand that, I think it is high time we give someone else the job.


Ozaray Roberts

Texan for Life

Toll Decision Needs Public Vote

Dear Editor,

How did the people lose control of Austin? We are turning road extensions that are paid for into toll roads that the citizens are overwhelmingly against ["Road Foes: Down, but Not Out," News, July 23]. A public vote is critical for a decision as important as this when it impacts roads that we have already paid with our tax dollars. I am in favor of tolls for new bypasses that otherwise would not be built, but this is insane. We need to rise up and remove the Austin leadership that approved this plan.

Ferenc Koplyay

Road Plan Half-Baked

Dear Editor,

Double tax? New source of revenue? How many more toll miles than Houston and Dallas?

Also, why, when they have proof that people object to the toll roads, do they have the right to pass the half-baked idea ["Road Foes: Down, but Not Out?," News, July 23]?

Becky Cudak

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