Tommy Calvert says the numbers on the so called ’Super Toll’ proposals floated this week don’t add up, he worries that the proposed toll roads will default and saddle voters with a bail out, and he says that the plans are being made not to help motorists but to benefit ‘campaign contributors’ in the major construction companies.
Calvert is not a toll road opponent, and he is not a member of the populist ‘Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom,’ the anti toll organization.
In fact, Calvert is a board member of the Regional Mobility Authority, the county group which plans toll roads.
“I haven’t seen a traffic and revenue study that will show that these projects will pay for themselves,” Calvert told 1200 WOAI news.
Calvert says many of the expectations that go into the proposal are made by wealthy, elitist government officials who have no idea about the income levels of the people whose tolls will be needed to make the project viable.
“We saw that the majority of folks who would have to pay for this have an average household income around $48,000,” he said. “Some of my colleagues on the RMA said, 'you know, somebody making an average of around $48,000 can afford the toll.' I said that isn’t an individual income, that’s a household income. When you look at the fact that the individual in a two income family will make half of that, you have a situation where the majority of people in our local low wage economy cannot afford the toll.”
And he says building toll roads in areas where the majority of people can’t afford to pay the tolls is a recipe for financial disaster.
“For us to believe that a household income of around $48,000 is going to have the revenue to pay tolls every day is crazy, it’s ludicrous, they don’t understand market realities, they don’t understand economics, they have to go back to the drawing board and try to make this work.”
Calvert says even as a member of the RMA board, he has ‘never been briefed’ on the Super Tolls plan.
“We weren’t even invited to the meeting,” he said. “They might well just dissolve the board if they keep operating like this.”
Calvert also said he was ‘astonished’ that RMA Chairman John Clamp is downplaying the most highly respected scientific study on so called ‘managed lanes,’ which are the types of toll lanes which are proposed on Interstate 10 between La Cantera Parkway and Ralph Fair road, on Loop 1604 between Bandera and Redland, and on 281 between Stone Oak Parkway and the Comal County line. It is a University of California Berkeley study which concluded that managed lanes are a waste of money, and actually make highway congestion worse.
In a statement on Wednesday, Clamp said 'using a ten year old study published in another state to discredit the use of some form of amnaged lanes to reduce local congestion is suspect at best.'
“I am astonished at elected officials who put their head in their head in the sand and deny evidence,” Calvert said. “That isn’t what policy makers are supposed to do. That’s why I am asking for more details on the arithmetic.”
Clamp declined to respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
READ THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY THAT THE TOLLSTERS DON'T WANT YOU TO SEE!
Calvert says the RMA is also ignoring evidence of the failure of the toll road business model less than 20 miles away.
“We are certainly looking at SH 130, where all the policy deniers said it would work,” Calvert said. “It is turning into a junk bond, and now the taxpayers are going to be footing the bill. We have to be smarter in San Antonio.”
Calvert says he has not seen a single ‘traffic and revenue study’ which will show that Super Tolls would actually work. He said the idea was ‘tenuous’ at the outset, but when the political decision was made to remove 1604 between Bandera Road to Highway 151 and to make them free lanes ‘destroyed the viability of the entire project.’
“It seems now that this whole thing is all about construction contracts, and who will get the construction contracts,” he said. “Is this for the biggest campaign contributors?”
He said the stimulus-funded 281/1604 interchange ended up freezing out small and minority owned businesses, he said only 11% of the contracts on that project went to small and minority owned businesses, and he said most of the contractors were from Houston, not San Antonio.
“Especially since all citizens will be paying for this through their higher vehicle registration fees, we need to use this to lift all boats.”
Calvert says moving forward, it would help if the people who float billion dollar proposal like this would just ‘do the math.’
“These are pie in the sky visions,” he said. “My job as an RMA board member is to try to protect the taxpayer, and make sure we don’t end up with failed boondoggle toll roads which will be a drain on our local economy.”