Poorly Publicized Hearings on Toll Roads Stack the Deck

RECEIVED Thu., Sept. 20, 2007

Dear Editor,
    Don’t look now. You’re about to be tolled, and you’re not being told about it.
    The regional transportation agency, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, proposes to toll four existing roads in the Austin region – U.S. 290 East toward Manor, State Highway 71 East and U.S. 183 South at the airport, and U.S. 290/State Highway 71 West in Oak Hill. They also propose to build State Highway 45 Southwest as a toll road through environmental preserve land, even though it's long been planned as nontolled.
    CAMPO’s poorly publicized final public hearing on toll roads Sept. 10 was conducted in a blatantly unfair manner. Chairman Kirk Watson stated that sign-up for speakers was cut off shortly after 6pm. Since registration began at 5pm, only people who could afford to get off work early and/or worked Downtown could speak.
    This was a smaller room than the one CAMPO would normally use at UT. This auditorium quickly filled up with the "white hats" of Take on Traffic, a Chamber of Commerce-funded pro-toll lobbying effort. The rest of the large crowd was directed to two "overflow rooms," where they became helpless spectators watching on TV.
    This arrangement meant that CAMPO members literally could not hear nor see two-thirds of the people who came. Of course, most people drifted away, disappointed and frustrated with our elected officials.
    The excluded were predominantly anti-toll, by my best observation. But we cannot know for sure because of the way this hearing was conducted. The Austin American-Statesman claimed the majority was pro-toll but did not supply a tally of all who spoke and/or gave written comments at the hearing.
    Citizens should visit www.campotexas.org to let CAMPO members know what they really think.
    Unfortunately, CAMPO's official deadline for written comments on the proposed Transportation Improvement Program is Sept. 26.
    However, the actual vote on the toll roads is Oct. 8. There is still time to contact CAMPO and its individual board members, who are all elected officials (except reps from Capital Metro and the Texas Department of Transportation). It may not be "counted" in the official TIP testimony, but it will still count politically. Elected officials need to know how we feel, and they pay attention to voters.
    If you feel this is important, you can also show up for the CAMPO vote, and they will see that the people are watching them. Don't let them get away with hiding what they are doing.
Stephen Beers
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