Static: Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Toll-Track Mindset

Terri Hall, founder and director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, just keeps on working to stop toll roads. The issue she’s hot about this week is specific to the San Antonio area, but it may hold a lesson for the rest of us. Hall is up in arms over the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, which she says is stalling improvements on U.S. Highway 281 in hopes that the resulting congestion will convince the public to opt for making it into a toll road.
“The Alamo RMA and TxDOT are trying to convince the public that nothing can be done on U.S. Highway 281 for seven to nine years,” she said. But there are “provisions in the law that would allow the scaled-down, non-toll … expansion to move forward in months, not years.”
Hall said the RMA’s chairman promised that Hwy. 281 would remain a freeway if federal stimulus money became available. “But the RMA never submitted 281 as a non-toll project and never intended to do a non-toll fix,” she said. The highway, with its succession of stoplights, has long been a trouble spot in San Antonio. Overpasses — a traditional method of improving a highway — would eliminate the need for lights, reducing congestion and ending the push for new toll lanes or new tolls on existing lanes, said Hall. The RMA has had the money in place for the overpasses since 2003, she said.
“This highway robbery is being modeled all over the state,” Hall said. “We’ve got to show the rest of the state” that such agencies can be stopped “if they won’t listen to the will of the people.”

Pork on Parade
Citizens Against Government Waste released their annual “Pig Book” this week, an analysis of how well members of Congress do in getting their hammy hands on money for pork barrel projects. According to the nonprofit group, pork spending in 2009 will pay for more than 10,000 projects worth $19.6 billion, a 14 percent increase in just a year.
How did our local porkers fare? U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, whose district runs from College Station up to Johnson County, came through with 57 projects worth $86 million. His U.S. House colleague Kay Granger rounded up 30 projects for $67 million, and Michael Burgess produced a relatively paltry 15 projects worth $20 million.
Included in Granger’s total, of course, was some big money for the Trinity River Vision project, run by her son, J.D. More than $8 million was earmarked for property acquisition, new bridges, and engineering studies to build that grand town lake surrounded by condos and fancy restaurants, all in the name of flood control (wink, wink).
So much for all the lamenting over the size of President Obama’s economic stimulus package. Members of Congress have always understood stimulus, as long as it oinks and has a curly tail.

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