Conspiracy Theories Abound in 1604 Toll Meeting


The San Antonio Toll Party was stationed outside the Alzafar Shrine Temple last night getting those both coming and going to sign their petition against tolling.  Many people made the circuit through the TxDOT Open House, gathering brochures and literature, inspecting the schematics and environmental assessment, and watching the conceptual video between 6 and 7.  About 400 people stayed for the public meeting at 7.  Citizen comments ranged from “I just want a choice” to Michael Wikman channeling Howard Beale from Network paraphrasing the famous line, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore.”  Most of the speakers were opposed to the project.  

The reason for the meeting was to present the analysis of potential impacts of its environmental study.  TxDOT is recommending a Finding of No Significant Impact.  The presentation was made by Frank Holzmann, Area Engineer for the San Antonio District of TxDOT and lasted about 30 minutes.  Holzmann cited grim crash statistics.  In 1981, there were 162 crashes on the proposed toll area increasing over 1000% to 1,863 in 2005.  For the five-year period between 1996 and 2001, there were 247 fatalities, 2,826 injuries and 4,014 vehicles damaged on this same stretch of Loop 1604.  The primary objectives are increased safety, congestion relief and expedited delivery (tolling is estimated to take 20 years off the project.)  The meeting was recessed at 7:30 for people to examine the exhibits.   

During the recess, we spoke with Sudie Sartor, Treasurer of the San Antonio Toll Party.  She said, “The fact that they’ve now decided to locally control toll roads doesn’t make the situation better.  It’s still double taxation.”  She suggested that there are other alternatives like contra-flow lanes, hard shoulders (similar to hurricane evacuation routes) and HOV lanes.  “We don’t mind toll-road building, but we don’t want tolls on roads we’ve already paid for”, she said.

The meeting resumed about 7:50 with public testimony.  The fifty people who asked to speak were allowed 3 minutes each.  Vic Boyer, Executive Director of the San Antonio Mobility Coalition (SAMCo) was the first speaker.  He said that even if MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) cancelled all of its other projects it couldn’t pay for the Loop 1604 improvements.  In a move to unite the gathering, he blamed the state legislature for 20 years of gas tax aversion and asked, “Can’t we all work together?”  He ended his three minute speech quoting Martin Luther King’s, “I have a dream…”

The next speaker started, “I also have a dream, but it’s become a nightmare and it’s called the 1604 Toll Road Project”.  He pointed out some of the more obvious contradictions of the environmental study – he questioned whether a 100% increase in lanes would result in no noise increase and why hurricane evacuations would impact an east-west highway.  His main point was the effect of the project on future property values as his realtor had suggested a 25% to 50% negative impact was possible. 

There was a concern about the increased construction over the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer and its impact on our water quality.  Another woman was worried about the noise barriers shown on the schematic, saying she didn’t want “those ugly cement walls”.  A TxDOT official assured me that the barriers are optional and that they hold public meetings to decide what type of noise barriers will be built.  Additional comments addressed the impact of a regressive tax on those with a fixed income and add-on costs for goods and services.

Although most of the feedback was negative, there were a few speakers who supported the project.  One woman cited the fact that there are 80,000 new homes platted between Bandera and Culebra.  Her quality of life is already suffering because of the amount of time she spends in traffic.  She also asked, “Do you want your kids driving on 1604?”  The majority of the supporters cited freedom of choice and safety issues.  

Late in the meeting, a teacher from Bulverde received a round of applause when he said that he can no longer teach kids about bureaucracy and it’s effectiveness in good conscience. 

Some of the other gems of the evening included suggestions to recall Governor Rick Perry, that the hearing was “a sham designed to fool people into still believing they lived in a democracy”, outright accusations of TxDOT “cooking the books” (“we should take them to court”) and that the entire 1604 gridlock situation was planned to generate revenue.  There was a mass exit about 9 pm leaving about 50 people to listen to the remaining speakers.

We’ll be posting another story, “LOOP 1604 PROJECT FROM SH 151 TO IH 10 E – A PRIMER” with details from the handouts, critical facts and links to websites where you can get a more detailed look at the project and other information.  Look for it soon!