Sen. Kirk Watson Gets a Back Door Deal - YOU GET DOUBLE TAX TOLLS IN AUSTIN!

After six months of being shelved, these new Phase II freeway tolls are back on track (the new toll on MoPAC is not shown on the map above). Sen. Kirk Watson must have gotten a very sweet deal for himself, behind closed doors.

In October 2007, CAMPO chair Sen. Kirk Watson led an effort to divert nearly $1 Billion tax dollars to shift Austin freeways into tollways (scroll down to see the article and map from a few days ago below). The vote passed with months of Watson twisting arms. Then TxDOT tried to pull a fast one in December — they told Watson to use local tax dollars. Watson threw a fit and now after six months of back door deals Watson got them to use State tax dollars to shift our Austin freeways to tollways.

A deal has been made behind closed doors.

First, a little more history. The group I formed and myself have been fighting these freeway tolls since 2004. We've gotten a lot of them pulled from the plan since 2004. But Watson came on the scene in Jan 2007 to get this double tax done for his special interest pals on the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

From the Statesman TODAY (buried in a "compiled from staff report" - don't forget the Stateman endorsed this phase II toll plan in 2004) :


Work on six projects can go on

Engineering work on six toll road projects, which the Texas Department of Transportation's money crunches shelved for six months, can move forward after a 4-1 vote Thursday by the Texas Transportation Commission.

The commission's nod essentially puts the projects — adding managed lanes to MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1); expanding portions of U.S. 290 East, U.S. 183, Texas 71 and the "Y" at Oak Hill as toll roads; and building one new road, Texas 45 Southwest — in the hands of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.

That agency plans to borrow $65 million for engineering and right-of-way costs and needed the commission vote to move forward. Actual construction on the first of the projects, U.S. 290 East, remains at least a year away.


Anonymous said...

Okay. So what are the options here? A state legislative override?

Anonymous said...

Hi Sal,

Just wanted to say that there is an informal system of commuting in Houston called "slugging", where commuters wait in a "slug line" for drivers (they don't know) to pick them up and transport them into downtown Houston for work. If the driver can pick up enough "slugs" from the line, he can use the FREE HOV lane to get to work downtown faster. This alleviates up to three drivers from the freeway gridlock in the morning, and saves all passengers time. And this system works in the opposite direction to return home after the work day.

As a commuter in Oak Hill, if these so-called "managed lanes" on Mopac were actually built as a HOV lane, where traffic direction could be switched for commuting, "slugging it to work" in Austin would save me a great deal of time and money. The only catch is....the HOV lane has to be free for high occupancy vehicles or it really does not help relieve congestion.

I know the "managed lanes" on Mopac have really been on the down-low since I heard about them maybe a year ago. Officially, what is their status as far as getting built and how they are supposed to be operated?

Just wondering? Thanks for all your hard work!

Anonymous said...

The HOV lanes in Houston also help with the METRO(bus) park and ride system. Imagine this in Austin ...you can drive your car to a terminal (outside heavy traffic zones) park your car, get in a bus and have a non stop trip into downtown in the HOV lane. as of now, there is not advantage other than saving some gas in Austin's current system. Isnt this better and cheaper and easier to implement than light rail?

Anonymous said...

NO. Because rich people don't take the bus. There's a stigma that will never go away. Busses stop at stoplights and are not smooth. And furthermore, where does the bus go? Got a map? The route can change at any time. A monorail or elevated rail is different. It's smoother, faster, and there's no doubt where it goes- where the tracks go. And it's 100% reliable- no traffic jam can stop the train. A wreck in the HOV lane can stop the bus. And it can be made driverless, longer, better, bigger, with airplane-style comfortable seats and with wireless internet access. Busses just suck.

Anonymous said...

And as you've seen the government has unlimited money. They spend $9 million on advertising for toll roads. $1 million for a Bombardier-made train car isn't such a bad deal. Bombardier actually has an incentive to build faster trains due to expensive "waste" from our government. There will never be a fast bus but there could be a maglev train someday in the USA. China already did it and the Shinkasen (conventional bullet trains) have been running efficiently in Japan for years. Ditto for Europe. Busses really suck. The Northeast USA has great rail as well. Downtown Philly to New York City Center- Manhattan, in 4 hours. Possibly quicker and cheaper than flying or driving, schedule unaffected by storms too.

Anonymous said...

There's no government incentive for agencies to save money. In fact, it's just the opposite. Each government department is allocated a certain $$ amount per fiscal year. If the department spends all of the $$ they're allocated the same amount or more the following year. If the department does not spend all of the $$, the next year they are allocated LESS money to spend? Now what manager in his right mind would want less money to flow to his or her department? None. That's why the airport has $1000 cafeteria chairs. So, 1 million spent on a train car isn't such a waste. At least that money buys the citizens something AND it encourages Bombardier to make more trains and better trains for the entire world. It encourages Bombardier to hire more engineers and pay them more. More trains = fewer people need to drive = lower gas prices, less congestion, fewer wars. And on a lighter note, fewer missed meetings because the train is always on time. With toll roads the only "work" that gets done is hiring more engineers to invent big brother devices to tag, track, and tax us.

Anonymous said...

I would just like to know something. When did the ideas of road improvement for growth and improved traffic flow, go from expanding roads and building new ones go from building new roads to automatically just building tolls. Were free(tax funded) roads ever part of the equation? These improvements have been needed for as long as I can remember and nothing was done till now. They are all sold to the highest bidder, and we go on like cattle to slaughter... If our gas and property taxes arent paying for new construction, then what they hell are they being used for? I deserve a refund!