Toll-Road Piece 'Riddled With Nonsense'

RECEIVED Wed., May 26, 2004

Dear Editor:
   Mike Clark-Madison's toll-road piece was so riddled with nonsense it's hard to know where to begin ["Austin at Large," News, May 21]. He never bothers to mention the most critical facts: that Austin has been No. 2 in the entire nation in rate of road building for the last 20 years, adding lane miles at roughly twice the rate of population growth. Yet congestion has only gotten worse (because daily miles driven have increased even faster). The inescapable reality is that expanding suburban highways, tolled or untolled, will not reduce traffic as claimed.
   There is no mention that the toll-road board is completely isolated from voter accountability. And nary a word about who actually gets the $2.2 billion, who gets the long-term management contracts, and where the collected tolls go.
   Perhaps the suburban commuters who, Madison argues, are "squawking the loudest" but will "benefit the most" know something he doesn't know – namely that tolling existing high traffic roads like MoPac, Loop 360, and U.S. 290 will be used to finance the next round of sprawl highways, like the recently disclosed proposal to extend South MoPac down into Hays County. Unaware of this basic fact, Madison suggests the opposite, that tolling these existing roads is "responsible planning for a region that's trying to encourage density and redevelopment."
   Please! The proposed $2.2 billion debt-financed tolldoggle is all about super sprawl, highway contractors, Wall Street bond firms, and dodging voters. It is completely contrary to the Envision Central Texas goal of reducing sprawl (and preserving the Edwards Aquifer).
   Madison incorrectly claims that the toll system would "replace" the current highway "concrete nightmares." Wrong again. The collected tolls (and the debt financing) will only add another funding source so we can build sprawl highways even faster than the breakneck pace of the last two decades.
   The angry suburbanites also know they will pay the tolls everyday. This stark reality has, just possibly, motivated them to learn a bit more of the truth about the CTRMA plans than Mr. Madison.
   If CAMPO approves the $2.2 billion toll scam in just two months, then voters will lose their last real voice in the matter. This cram-it-down-their-throats-before-they-figure-it-out approach should alone set off alarm bells. Austin desperately needs the Chronicle to pay considerably closer attention to this extremely important issue.
Bill Bunch
Executive Director
Save Our Springs Alliance
   [Mike Clark-Madison replies: We'll be writing more about the toll-road plan, and about Capital Metro's commuter rail proposals, in next week's issue. I hope our continuing coverage of the issue will address Bill Bunch's concerns.]
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