August 2, 2007
As you may have seen, the Texas Department of Transportation has proposed new highway projects for Central Texas. But I think the proposal is most notable for what it does not include: TXDOT no longer proposes tolling sections of highways that have been built and opened without tolls. In other words, the proposed toll road conversions that were a fundamental part of the Phase II Toll Plan are no longer on the table, and the Phase II Toll Plan is truly dead.What’s left are highway improvements that are important to this region, including work on:– State Highway 71 past Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to SH 130;– The heavily congested merge of SH 71 and U.S. 290 in Southwest Travis County;– The completion of U.S. 183 from 290 to 71.You can find more information on these projects at http://www.campotexas.org/.The estimated cost of these projects is approximately $2.24 billion. However, due to the financing problems that we all know too well, we are at least $500 million short of building them.The Board of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization will spend the next two months collecting public input and studying options for constructing these projects, serving our region, and filling the half-billion dollar hole we’re facing. One option, for example, might be to put in High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes on some of the road segments and continue them onto some of the already-constructed portions. Another might be to use some sort of fee mechanism to make sure that essential road capacity isn’t wasted as it has been in other areas. Again, these are options for the public and the CAMPO board to consider. But as I’ve said repeatedly, I think at least one option should be taken off the table: the conversion of existing and open highways into full toll roads. I believe the process will be far more transparent and accountable than it has been in the past, due in no small part to the policy framework — the “Decision Tree” we have created — that will guide our work. The Decision Tree was the product of work by CAMPO’s Mobility Financing Task Force and input from a number of you. These roads belong to us, and I think the Decision Tree will help us ensure that they remain effective — and public — assets. But just as the public must continue to control its infrastructure, we cannot shrink from our responsibility to ensure that it truly serves the region, meeting the needs we have now and those that are coming. Thank you for your interest and your assistance in this vital mission. Our region and our future are better because of it.