Saturday, December 6, 2008

Report and analysis of CAMPO 290 East vote from Vince May

The following post is a report by Vince May of CAMPO's action on 290 East tolling. These are excerpts:

"I [Vince speaking] was at the CAMPO meeting on Dec 1. This message will, hopefully, help explain what happened. First I will talk about one scene that encapsulates the evening.
CTRMA executive director, Mike Heiligenstein, was called to answer some CAMPO board members' questions. A member wanted to know about the new tax that will be charged on flyovers. Mike hemmed a bit but said that he would charge somewhere between 20 and 25 cents per use, despite the fact that he had asked for authority to charge up to 50 cents, (and that's what CAMPO gave him.) Now, go to CAMPO's web site and look at the background document for agenda item #8. It was written by Phil Eschelman, of URS, the company that has been paid $2 million to create the 290E Traffic & Revenue Study (which will remain a closely guarded secret until the bonds are sold.) Phil explains, on page 7, that the minimum toll charge on 290E was set at a threshold of 25 cents because CTRMA will be paying a private company close to 25 cents per transaction for toll collection. About ten years from now CTRMA will have at least 1,000,000 transactions per weekday. The company would earn ~$200,000 per day for debiting users' TexTag accounts. Or, $64 million per year, for a job that requires a couple of computers and a dozen workers.

The real highlight of the hearing was the dividing of the spoils. CTRMA had 3 options for pricing 290E. They could have charged 12 cents per mile, or less, with the intent of paying for the road and having no 'profit'. CTRMA chose to charge 25 to 27 cents per mile, plus annual increases exceeding CPI, and expects to earn large profits. 290E might only return 1.8 times coverage so backstopping the deal with 183A credit doesn't mean that it would lose money. It would simply earn less profit than desired.
One faction wanted the booty to be spent on building the Green Line, a CapMetro passenger rail line that would run from downtown Austin to Manor and Elgin. (Losers?) Another faction wanted the loot to subsidize developers' new subdivisions. (Partial winners?) Other thieves wanted to get the windfall for building the downtown trolley car line. (?) CTRMA and TxDOT wanted the booty for seeding more toll roads. (Partial winners.)

If people shun the toll lanes, unlikely, or Austin's economic and population growth slows, very likely, the profits could dwindle. Losses are even possible. JP Morgan would have to go begging for another bailout. The state of Texas would probably cover any shortage. One thing is certain; the people who use 290E got mugged. People who will use other Phase II roads will be mugged too. This has been CAMPO's plan ever since Gov Perry rammed HB 3588 through the legislative sausage machine. The American Statesman has known it too. Next year they will print the truth, after the T & R Study is released.

Austin area taxes will go through the roof. Can you pay an extra $2,000 per year? Three thousand? All new Travis County highways will be tolled. IH 35 and MoPac will be tolled or otherwise controlled with destination cordon fees. New passenger rail lines and trolley lines will probably create more congestion than they solve. Cities and counties in the CAMPO area will dole out a billion dollars in subsidies to office, retail and residential development. It's all part of the 2030 Master Plan.

It didn't have to be this way. Only about 100 people out of 800,000 made any real effort to stop the heist. Maybe 100 more sent an email or made some small effort.

BTW: It appears that CTRMA will build 3-lane frontage roads on 290E. It also looks like the traffic signal at Decker Lane will be taken off the road. We might end up with the same number of signal lights as currently exist, or fewer. We also managed to get a bridge built over Springdale. But these are the only victories we won on 290E.
The 290E project should be done around Jan 2013 but the second section of 290E, to just east of FM 973, was included in the vote and could be started before the first leg is complete. (I think this explains the $624 million price tag.) The second leg would be complete in 2015 but they won't begin this section if the economy is weak in 2012 or something else comes up. If it does open in 2015, 290E will cost >$2,000 per year for using it 6 days per week."

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