Sunday, March 22, 2009

Injustice on 290 E--CTRMA to use stimulus funds to HURT, not HELP the disadvantaged

On March 19, a Select Committee of the Texas House of Representatives heard testimony on whether certain transportation projects are suitable to receive Federal stimulus funds.

Thanks to Mary Anderson and Bruce Burton of Texans Against Tolls; Roger Baker, transportation analyst; Vince May, Elgin resident who has been active on this issue; and Mel Borel of TURF for testifying AGAINST using the stimulus funds to begin turning 290 East into a toll road.

Whatever your thoughts on whether there should be the stimulus fund program or not, I think that most of us can agree that if funds are going to be spent anyway, they should not be spent to force us to pay more money to drive to work on 290 E. Especially galling is that one of the priorities of the stimulus funds is to help economically disadvantaged areas. Using the funds to begin tolling the residents east of Austin will hurt an economically disadvantaged area.

You can email comments to the Select Committee Clerk at
Representative Jim Dunnam is the Chairman of the Select Committee, and you can email comments to his Chief of Staff at

The Federal government has a website where you can leave comments if you think the stimulus funds are being misused—
The comment form is here:

The site says: “The job of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board is to make sure that fulfills its mandate—to help citizens track the spending of funds allocated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Board consists of Inspectors General from about ten major cabinet agencies—including the Departments of Justice, Treasury, and Commerce—and one of its duties will be to review the comments and questions submitted to the site. Though the Board has not yet met, please feel free to submit your comments and questions below, and they will be gathered to present to the Board upon its first meeting.”

Here is the letter that I have emailed to the above offices:

"I watched the March 19 committee hearing online and would like to submit some comments to the Committee. I’m especially concerned about using stimulus funds that are supposed to help the economically disadvantaged to begin a toll project that will punish the surrounding economically disadvantaged residents.

"I am referring to the 290 E/183 flyovers. As reported, the CTRMA will get $90 million of stimulus money for this project. These flyovers are the west end of what they are calling the “Manor Expressway,” which will be tolled. Eventually, the tollway will run from these flyovers on the west to past the SH 130 toll road on the east—five or six miles. Then, in future years, tolling possibly will continue toward the east through Manor and on out 290 E toward or to Elgin.

"The Eastern Travis County/Manor area is a lower income area with many residents who have no disposable income to PAY EXTRA just to commute to work. ­­I think that using stimulus funds to begin this toll project is just the OPPOSITE of what is intended. The federal government has asked to use the funds to HELP the economically disadvantaged. Using stimulus funds to begin the 290 E tollway will HURT the economically disadvantaged.

"Turning the FREE lanes on 290 E into TOLL lanes is NOT NEEDED either for increasing traffic demand or for safety. You heard from Roger Baker, who has done much research over the years into transportation projects. I hope he provided you with written information, but to quote him briefly, 'Recent improvements to US 183 and also SH 130 have both REDUCED TRAVEL DEMAND on SH 290 E. The official TxDOT traffic counts thus indicate a DECRASING need to build this $623 million toll road in order to solve identifiable congestion problems.'

"Regarding traffic safety, Roger reported about the data he received from TxDOT for the sections where they would build the 290 E toll road, 'This knocks the props out from under the CTRMA/CAMPO theory that justifies rebuilding 290 E as a $623 million toll road in order to resolve worsening safety problems. You have to go back to 2003 to find a year as safe as 2008. As the traffic counts have gone down and travel has diverted to SH 130 and 183, the need for a 290 E toll road has DECREASED—in terms of both volumes and safety.'

2003—57 total crashes

"I hope that your Committee will do whatever is in its power to try to stop this injustice that is about to be perpetrated on the people who happen to live on the east side of Austin through a program that is supposed to be helping them. Indeed, I believe that using these Federal funds for an economically unjust purpose would violate Title VI that is supposed to prohibit such

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