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City caves, agrees to take over state roads

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro brokered the deal for the city to take over state roads
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro brokered the deal for the city to take over state roads
File photo: Photographer, Jaclyn Hall

It’s unbelievable what politicians consider a good deal. The San Antonio City Council formally approved an inter-local agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to takeover maintenance on 21.8 miles on segments of nine state highways within the city: Broadway, Culebra, Eckert, Fredericksburg Road, Lone Star Pass, San Pedro, UTSA Blvd., and Hausman. In exchange, the city gets more space inside TxDOT’s Transguide building, property to complete its convention center expansion, $250,000 to fix roads at Lackland, a $150,000 Wurzbach Pkwy traffic study, and re-configuring Broadway into a ‘complete street’ with bike lanes and pedestrian walkways.

Those are seriously the priorities of the San Antonio City Council, not expanding north side freeways that are among the most congested corridors in the state. So the city takes on $2.5 million a year obligation in new road maintenance costs for state highways, for which there’s no money for in the existing budget, and what do we get in return? Basically, a one-time, short-term measly $350,000 and bike lanes and sidewalks on Broadway. San Antonio, we have a problem!

Let’s not forget TxDOT initially asked the city to takeover 129 miles of state highways to which the city correctly said ‘No.’ But in secret backroom negotiations with County Judge Nelson Wolff and other officials like Via Board Chairman Henry Munoz, an $850 million toll road deal was brokered to add toll lanes to 281 and I-10 (outside Loop 1604) and in return, TxDOT dropped $70 million to extend the free lanes expansion of Loop 1604 West from Potranco to Hwy 90. As part of the deal, the city and county would take over portions of state highways from TxDOT.

What happened to ‘We made a mistake’?
This turnback program all started when the Texas Legislature passed a bill that required TxDOT to find $100 million in savings from its bloated administration and operating budget. The top 4-5 executives at TxDOT make over $1 million a year in salaries. Former House Transportation Committee Chair Joe Pickett chastised TxDOT for trying to offload maintenance of the state highway system onto local cities and counties and said that’s what the legislature meant when it said to find savings. Pickett then urged TxDOT to apologize and admit, ‘we made a mistake.’ Instead, Bexar County and the City of San Antonio bought it hook, line, and sinker.

Who still thinks TxDOT doesn’t have any money for roads? TxDOT just came up with $70 million out of thin air to appease State Rep. Jose Menendez and get Loop 1604 expanded without tolls, while 281 and I-10 politicians like Donna Campbell, Lyle Larson, and Kevin Wolff agree to toll-tax drivers on 281 and I-10 claiming ‘there’s no money to fix them without tolls.’ If that $70 million had been allocated to 281, there’s enough existing tax money allocated to the corridor to get it fixed without tolls.

LOCAL taxpayers now burdened with maintaining STATE roads
Local taxpayers already shoulder the burden to pay for local city and county roads from local taxes (primarily property tax and a portion of sales tax), now they’ll be paying to maintain state roads out of their local road taxes, too. Even worse, local taxpayers also pay a state gas and a state vehicle registration fee among other taxes to build and maintain state roads. San Antonio taxpayers pay far more in road taxes than they get back from the state.

Alamo city taxpayers should be getting 11% or more of TxDOT’s total new construction budget annually, which averages $4 billion, but it receives a paltry $200 million a year back from the state (or 6% of the total in 2013). By contrast, Ft. Worth, roughly the same size as San Antonio, raked in 16% of the pie in 2013. Some years, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley received more for road expansion than San Antonio, a city of 1.8 million people.

We’re being starved. Why? To force us into capitulating to toll roads in order to get more of our money back from TxDOT. With the city’s approval to takeover state roads, the TxDOT strategy clearly worked. None of our city or county politicians are fighting to get our tax money back to the region.

Instead, they’re agreeing to increase taxes through tolls, doing TxDOT’s job for them, and getting a pittance in return, with no long-term remedy for TxDOT’s systematic snub. In addition to the above, Nelson Wolff asked for a got a new $10 vehicle registration fee hike passed in the legislature in 2013 - with the support of Republicans Campbell and Larson. How will he use that money? For toll roads, not free roads. No matter how you slice it, San Antonians are gonna pay more for roads. Lots more.

It’s time to give these feckless politicians the boot!

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