Tuesday, December 2, 2008

CAMPO makes bad decision to toll 290 East

Last night, in spite of many public comments against it and without allowing representatives of several groups to speak, the CAMPO board voted to toll 290 East, backing it up with tolls from 183 A since revenue projections on 290 East fall short of what is needed to get 290 East financing. Here is the link to Ben Wear’s article in the Statesman.

Excerpts from Ben Wear [boldface added]:
“The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board voted 15-3 to create a tollway system made up of the existing, and profitable, 183-A toll road in Cedar Park and U.S. 290 East, which based on projections will not have sufficient revenue to persuade investors to lend more than a half billion dollars to build it.

“Some CAMPO members objected to the financial partnership Monday, saying it violates the intent of policies adopted in October 2007, when the board approved the U.S. 290 East project and four other potential toll roads. At that time, the board agreed that excess toll revenue from the five roads would be spent first in the general area of each road rather than being used for improvements far afield.

“The authority says that preliminary traffic and revenue studies [which were withheld from the public] show that U.S. 290 East will be able to meet its debt payments and operating costs without any transfer of money from 183-A.

“Voting against the plan were Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt, Sunset Valley Mayor Jeff Mills and state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez.”

This article does not discuss several points that citizens have pointed out: tolls increased and free lanes decreased since information was presented to the public, studies withheld from the public, extra hardship on lower income commuters coming to Austin from the Manor area, increasingly risky financial environment, and more.

Some of these problems have already been presented to the Federal Highway Administration. There may be other avenues to continue fighting tolling 290 East. However, right now, the CAMPO board has made a bad decision for commuters from eastern Travis and Williamson counties and a bad financing decision for decades to come. The CAMPO board has decided to support those who have interests in sprawl along 290 East and to try to build up SH 130 toll traffic, which is behind projections.

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