Major statewide lobbyist Terri Hall slams Tx-249 Tollway project as $646 million boondoggle that will never be paid off

TURF Executive Director Terri Hall spoke to the Montgomery County Eagle Forum on Thursday, September 7, 2017.

Conroe, September 8 – Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom (TURF) Executive Director Terri Hall sharply criticized the Tx-249 Tollway Extension when she spoke to a packed audience at the Montgomery County Eagle Forum in Conroe on Thursday, September 7, 2017. Her topic was “Tolls: The Hidden Threat to Our Freedom and Travel.”

Hall noted that toll roads nowadays are almost never paid off, because they are joined into “system financing” to continue tolling on the original toll roads as well as other toll roads.

The Tx-249 extension through Montgomery County is approximately 18 miles from Spring Creek to the south to Todd Mission to the north. The project will cost at least $646 million for the Montgomery County construction, according to Hall. Hall called Tx-249 a “Greenfield Project” where the government will profit from taking farm and ranch land by eminent domain.

Hall, who lives in the Austin area, observed that the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) voted to toll the Tx-249 project, at the urging of County Judge Craig Doyal after he lied to them and said there was a “unified voice” in Montgomery County in favor of the tollway. Hall complimented political activist Kelli Cook for her work in preparing a petition and gathering over 1,000 signatures to present to Governor Greg Abbott calling for him to keep his 2014 election promise that there would be no more toll roads if became the governor of Texas.

Hall was also very complimentary of Precinct 2 County Commissioner candidate Gregory Parker, who attended the June 27, 2017 hearing before the TTC. Hall gave accolades to Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack who sent a representative to the TTC hearing to make clear Noack’s opposition to the Tx-249 Tollway as well.

Hall presented the following arguments against the Tx-249 tollroad:

  • The price of tolls could be monstrous. Some people are having to pay $40 per day in tolls in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to commute to work.
  • Tolls are another form of taxation, especially where, like Montgomery County, the Commissioners Court intends to use the toll revenue for other government projects in addition to paying off the tollroad debt.
  • Texans must subsidize Mexican drivers and truckers, because there is no legal way to collect the tolls from them when they drive through tollroads without paying.
  • Toll tags are a method for the government to track the movement of innocent citizens.
  • A September 2014 study showed that Texans ranked tollroads as dead last as far as the type of transportation options they desired.

On August 15, 2017, the County Executive Committee of the Montgomery County Republican Party voted overwhelmingly – 34 to 1 – to call for placement on the ballot of a proposition that would urge that “no governmental entity should ever construct or fund the construction of toll roads, unless its voters have approved each road by referendum.” The County Party “establishment” fiercely resisted permitting the vote, but the conservative reformers on the Executive Committee overcame their opposition with brilliant parliamentary tactics.

Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador have voted to spend more than $13.4 million of general County tax revenue on the Tx-249 tollway extension so far. They’ve announced that they intend to issue revenue bonds of approximately $75 million to pay for the rest of the 3.6 miles of the tollway that Montgomery County’s government intends to construct.

The Texas Department of Transportation (Tx-DOT) is financing the remainder of the $646 million Tx-249 Tollway boondoggle.

While Doyal, Riley, and Meador claim to be Republicans, they have consistently opposed the planks, principles, and values of the Republican Party Platform.

Mark Keough, the Republican State Representative who is running for County Judge in the 2018 Republican Primary Election. Keough announced on Monday, June 12, that he will oppose the Commissioners Court’s “waste of local taxpayer money on the Highway 249 expansion project. The court has embarked on a path that will cost taxpayers $73 million to construct a project that the State of Texas has stated they will construct at no expense to the County.”

The estimated $73 million dollar project is only 3.6 miles long and would be one of the most expensive highways ever constructed on a per-mile basis in American history. It’s better known as the Decimation of Hope Highway.

Keough explained, “TxDOT has stated that they will pay for engineering, construction and operation of the 3.6-mile section of the road.” He added, “The Court has already authorized and spent $12 million on preconstruction engineering. TxDOT has agreed to refund a substantial portion of those costs.”

Keough made an important point, “Why does Commissioners Court want to spend local Montgomery County tax dollars to fund this project when the State will pay instead? Whether it is corruption, cronyism or malfeasance – it needs to stop.” Of course, the answer is that County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley have funneled more than $13 million to favored political contributors, engineers and contractors, almost all of whom are from outside of Montgomery County.

Halff Associates, Inc., the engineering firm of which Bobby Jack Adams is vice president, has received over $2 million for “project management” of a project that is only in its design phase. Adams is Doyal’s best friend and Doyal’s business partner in WS&G, a firm that contracts with other local government entities.

Halff’s James Baker, another engineer, has admitted that Tx-DOT would build the project, if Montgomery County chose not to do so.

Riley has pointed out that the most significant mobility project in all of Montgomery County is the widening of F.M. 1488 from Waller County to Mostyn Manor (going eastward). The general revenue funds which Doyal, Riley, and Meador diverted into the Tx-249 project could easily have paid for the widening of F.M. 1488 years ago. Keough noted, “There are other projects in the county that could benefit from these dollars.”

Remarkably, Rich Muller, a County vendor and attorney who works on the Decimation of Hope Highway project, admitted during the April 13, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting that voters in Montgomery County would likely vote down this project. For that reason, Muller has proposed the issuance of general revenue bonds that involve more risk and higher interest than general obligation bonds would.

Even more remarkably, Muller, Doyal, Riley, and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador voted to spend approximately $400,000 on a new study to try to justify the Tx-249 expansion project, which such study is to be complete by the end of the 2017 calendar year. The original study assumed that traffic from The Woodlands would justify construction of the Tx-249 tollway by bringing traffic to Tx-249 from The Woodlands Parkway Extension (“WPX”). Voters rejected construction of WPX during the May, 2015, bond referendum, so the entire economic basis of the Decimation of Hope Highway project dissipated.

Keogh said, “I’ve tried to go to the original sources and talked to a lot of people about this issue. I met directly with the Tx-DOT engineers. I asked them three questions. First, can we give the project back to Tx-DOT? Their answer was unequivocally ‘yes.’ Second, can we recoup the money the County has already spent? They told me ‘yes, as long as the amounts were reasonable.’ Third, what sort of delay would there be on the project if we give the project back? The engineers and Tx-DOT managers told me there would only be a 6-month delay.”

 

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