First Phase II Toll Road, 290E From 2004, Limps Forward

Freeway Tolling Authority Targets
Low Income Families
With First Freeway Toll: 290 East

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) released a tentative schedule this week for its plan to toll a portion of 290E from east of US 183 to east of FM 734 (Parmer Lane). The release for the 290E toll road is the first movement seen of any Phase II toll, since the original problematic vote took place in the Summer of 2004.

The CTRMA schedule for 290E was released on January 16th, and includes the following dates:
Fall 2008 - Environmental Clearance
Winter 2008 - Construction Begins
A source employed within one of the CTRMA/CAMPO agencies tells me the toll authority saw 290E as the easiest Phase II toll to move forward for quite some time, due to the poorest community participation for the early community meetings.

I believe those early East Side meetings were contracted out to Rep. Dawnna Dukes sister, Stacey Rhone Dukes. Low income families were easily marginalized since advertising for the Phase II toll meetings was virtually nonexistent. Many East side families are pressed for time, some working two jobs, and have limited access to transportation, to attend public meetings in mass numbers. One of the public toll hearings I attended on the East side, in 2004, had less than 10 people show up, while West side hearings were often flooded - with hundreds.

The East Side of Austin, known for low income families, currently has many times the double tax toll lane miles planned. When you also add 130 toll road, the disproportion is even more skewed, as East side residents would be "caged in" by toll roads. Federal law, Title VI (Environmental Justice) says must avoid disproportionately high economic effects on low-income populations. Title VI also states that we must “prevent the denial of, reduction in, or significant delay in the receipt of benefits by minority populations and low-income populations.”

See this Chronicle article:
East Austin activists Protest "Economic Racism".

A TxDOT Preliminary Revenue Analysis for 290E shows the toll authority plans to suck $625 Million from East side families in the next 40 years.

AFTER the special interests profit off the operations and maintenance, where the majority of the toll tax gets gobbled up, the toll Authority will take
$156 Million! All that toll tax on our families, and the theft of our public right of way, just to feed the rich.

The TxDOT Analysis also states that the tolled version of 290E needs about 8 more acres of land/right of way than a less expensive nontolled expansion option.

A Statesman article from 2007 says this about Phase II tolls:
"Either way, the plan was huge and conceived wholly behind closed doors, introduced in April 2004 as an all-or-nothing program, rammed through the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board three months later — and enduringly unpopular.

Almost immediately, it began to molt. Contrary to supporters' early claims, well, changes to the list were in fact permissible, and Austin could still get state funds associated with the plan."
The Phase II tolls have been plagued with problems since they were originally voted on in 2004, then with some roads pulled from the plan in 2005 - and again with more freeway toll segments pulled for the 2007 freeway toll vote, which diverts $910 million tax dollars, spearheaded by Sen. Kirk Watson.

Sources behind the scenes say the process for the freeway toll roads is moving slower than expected. And - that the schedule release for 290E is an effort to give the impression that everything is moving along as planned, but new major problems are slowing the freeway toll plan down.

The problems are many, and include a TxDOT bait and switch of pulling $1.4 Billion tax dollars promised, which would to help shift portions of Austin's freeways to toll ways (71E, 71W, 290E, 290W, 183 and 45SW). See the Sen. Kirk Watson vs. TxDOT article.

Texas Comptroller did an investigative report on the CTRMA in 2005 and found “Double Taxation Without Accountability” and “Favoritism And Self-Enrichment”. The Comptrollers report also found the CTRMA gave out NO BID contracts (Millions of dollars worth) to themselves and their friends. See the NO BID contract list here.

May I suggest we all start writing letters to the editor, suggesting 290E toll road be named, "Kirk Watson Tollway".

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