Image: In foreground, State Representative Mark Keough who is running for Montgomery County Judge in the 2018 Republican Primary Election, and Governor Greg Abbott. In back, left to right, Keough Chief of Staff Jason Millsaps, Ruth Mesta, and Kurt Jones.
Conroe, June 18 – Genuine citizens appeared before the Montgomery County Commissioners Court to explain their opposition to the Decimation of Hope Highway, the estimated $73 million, 3.6 mile, Tx-249 tollway, which County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley desperately seek to build in order to funnel money to their top outside-of-county political and legal fund contributors.
By far, the best citizen comment is the one at the end from Representative Mark Keough’s Chief of Staff Jason Millsaps. Everyone should read Millsaps’ important points.
No one paid the seven citizens to appear. They didn’t have financial interests in the highway boondoggle. They weren’t part of some government organization hoping to reap a financial benefit from the squandered tax dollars. They were there merely to speak some good sense.
John Wertz. As soon as John Wertz began to speak against Montgomery County squandering its government resources on the project which the Texas Department of Transportation has made clear it has already funded and stands ready to build at no cost to the County, Doyal and Riley turned away to show their lack of interest. Wertz is a volunteer. He doesn’t get paid to do the political activism work which he does, because he cares about his community. Wertz is a retired businessman. He’s also the Precinct 69 GOP Precinct Chairman in The Woodlands. Since Doyal and Riley feel threatened from the Republican Party Platform, they’re uncomfortable with Wertz. Wertz is also an officer of the Montgomery County Tea Party, an organization that’s actually “conservative” or contrary to every action and belief of Doyal and Riley.
Wertz made clear he has no issue with the need for the Tx-249 extension as a road, but he expressed considerable opposition to the $73 million cost for the 3.6 mile road, more than $20 million per mile and one of the most expensive road projects in American history. Wertz noted that rural road projects, such as this one, usually cost less than a third of that amount per mile. He also explained that Tx-DOT already has complete funding for the project from state and federal highway taxes that they’ve already collected from us.
Wertz also noted that Doyal wants to fund the Decimation of Hope Highway locally so that the County can feed money to Halff Associates, Inc., the engineering firm of Bobby Adams, Doyal’s best friend and business partner.
Wertz concluded with the explanation that he agrees with Rich Muller, the attorney and County vendor who made clear that a referendum on Montgomery County funding for the highway boondoggle would fail at the ballot box.
Bill O’Sullivan. Bill O’Sullivan is Treasurer of the Texas Tea Party Patriots PAC, a political activist, a volunteer on several fronts most recently animal issues, and generally acknowledged as a “Great Sage.”
O’Sullivan made the following comment:
“Calling tolls a ”User Fee’ is Spin’ and just baloney, no matter how you slice it. It’s a Tax. Especially when you continue tolls after the road is paid off. Why is this so difficult to understand? We pay gas taxes which go to Austin and cost the driver $.20 per gallon. Those taxes pay for the building and maintaining of State Roads. As you drive, your gas is consumed. Therefore, as you use your vehicle, you are paying for the building and maintenance of State Roads. Additionally, you also pay $.18 per gallon Federal Gas Tax and $.24 per gallon Federal Diesel Tax. The State of Texas receives a portion of Federal money not only for Interstates but also a lot of State Roads. In fact, 25% of all roads in the US are eligible for Federal Funds not including Interstates. As you drive and USE roads, you are paying on a per gallon basis.
“An additional ‘Fairy Tale’ on this road is its importance. About two months ago, Commissioner Riley, you were in Court telling us the most important road in this County is 1488. State Highway 105 and the Grand Parkway are two of the critical east-west roads in the County. 1488 is the third. The road not mentioned as being crucial by anyone in 2015 despite 77 Projects was State Highway 249. In fact, this Court voted to recognize getting State money moved a new project above any of those 77 Projects.
“Finally, the impression being pushed is that because of tolling, this is a bargain. No. It’s a political pork project. You will not only have to pay for building the road, wait for it to be completed, then taxpayers already taxed will pay all the interest and principal.
“The dirty little secret is Revenue Bonds will not be sufficient to cover the full cost. Because of the revenue uncertainty, you cannot fully finance a project through Revenue Bonds. Our Bond Rating has no impact. This would leave the last $20 Million to $30 Million financed by a Certificate of Obligation carrying the highest interest rate of all. This would all total out to spending well over $100 Million before you started to recoup tolls which would take another twenty to thirty years doubling that cost.
“No, having the State of Texas pay entirely for the road is the correct decision. Also being taxed twice through tolls and gas taxes for the same road is a rip off. You can cancel this now or the people will cancel this next March through the Primary. It will be proven that you can stop stupid!
“One more thing. It’s being argued that we will build it faster than the State. However, this section is meaningless until the next twenty five miles to Navasota are scheduled in the near future and why it needs to be on the State’s plate and not another ‘White Elephant’ like the 242 Flyover.
Jean R. Mann. Mann is a community volunteer, political activist, and telecommunications expert. She works full-time, so it’s difficult for her to appear before the Commissioners Court. She speaks sense and gets to it quickly.
Mann asked the Commissioners Court how they could possibly justify the more than $13 million the County has already spent on a 3.6 mile road project. Riley turned and looked away. Mann asked the Commissioners Court whether they thought more than $20 million per mile was worth it for a road project at the far southwest edge of the county. Doyal and Riley licked their lips as they pondered all of the money flowing to the firms which donate to their political campaigns and their legal defense funds.
Mann concluded her remarks by telling the Commissioners Court that the Decimation of Hope Highway project “sounds like highway robbery to me.”
Mark Keough. Mark Keough is a retired businessman, a pastor, the reform candidate for County Judge, and currently serving as State Representative of District 15, which includes The Woodlands and portions of the Magnolia area.
Keough explained that he shares “the passion that the 249 extension should be built.” He noted, however, “the real question is how it should be paid for. It’s 15 miles through Montgomery County…What we’re really discussing is only 3.6 miles of that 15 mile road, because Tx-DOT is building and paying for the rest.” Keough commented that the 3.6 mile section is from Spring Creek to Pinehurst and has nothing to do with the Magnolia portion of the Tx-249 extension.
Keough expressed his opposition to Montgomery County building the 3.6 mile portion of the road, because “it’s money that someone else, the state, could and will pay for, if we don’t.” Keough explained that he had lengthy meetings with Tx-DOT representatives last week at the Regional Office of the state agency. Tx-DOT assured Keough that it would build and pay for the entire road, if Montgomery County chose not to do so. Furthermore Tx-DOT would reimburse most, if not all, of the $13 million in funds Montgomery County has already paid for the road.
Keough pleaded for the Commissioners Court not to proceed with this fiscal folly.
Paul Crowson. Paul Crowson is a registered nurse who works at a local hospital providing emergency room care. He’s also become a great community leader particularly for East Montgomery County issues. Crowson is also a member of the Citizens Budget Committee.
Crowson speaks common sense whenever he opens his mouth. He urged the Commissioners Court to bring representatives of the Texas Department of Transportation to the Commissioners Court so that they could engage in a meaningful discussion with the Court members and the interested public. Doyal wouldn’t dare do that. Doyal can barely control what the engineers at Halff Associates say at the Commissioners Court meeting. Halff engineer James Baker put his foot in Doyal’s mouth a few months ago when he openly disagreed with Doyal’s assertion that Halff didn’t fund Doyal’s criminal legal defense.
The last thing in the world that Doyal or Riley would do would be to open Tx-DOT representatives up to serious questions from citizens within Montgomery County, because then the truth would come out: Tx-DOT is ready to pay for the entire 15 miles of Tx-249 road in Montgomery County without any necessity whatsoever for Doyal and Riley to control that project (and funnel money to their political contributors and legal defense fund contributors).
Reagan William Reed, GOP Precinct 50 Chairman, is a rising political star in Montgomery County. For now, he’s a citizen activist, while he finishes college. Reed has worked on numerous campaigns and on a score of issues.
Reed told the Commissioners Court, “This project exemplifies everything that’s wrong with this county and government in general.” He explained that the 249 tollroad violates the Republican Party of Texas Platform. Reed reminded the Commissioners Court members, “you all run in the Republican Primary. This toll project is in direct violation of Plank 212 ‘we oppose the use of taxpayer money to subsidize…any toll projects.'”
Reed noted, “the Party Platform is what separates the true Republicans from the democrats who decide to run as Republicans.” He complained about the $20 million per mile cost of the road, which Reed argued should be more in the range of $4 to $11 million per mile.
Reed asked the Commissioners Court to put the Tx-249 tollway on the ballot as a referendum to let the voters decide, a concept which sent a cold chill up the spine of Doyal and Riley.
Saving the best for last: Jason Millsaps.
Millsaps is a lifelong resident of Montgomery County, Keough’s Chief of Staff, and positively brilliant.
Millsaps made two points that were quite different from anything else the other citizens had discussed.
Millsap Point #1: the road dead-ends! Millsaps noted that the Montgomery County portion of the Tx-249 extension does not connect to Highway 6 and dead-ends at State Highway 105 just west of Plantersville, more than 10 miles from Highway 6. As a result, Tx-DOT is not sure the highway will even bring enough traffic to support the tolls which Doyal and Riley have discussed.
Millsap Point #2: if Tx-DOT builds the road, it most likely will NOT be a tollroad!
Millsaps noted that the Doyal-Riley plan would place tolls on the Tx-249 extension no matter what. If Tx-DOT were to build the road, instead, they don’t have authority to toll the project, especially after reforms the Texas Legislature enacted during the 84th and 85th Legislative Sessions in Austin. Before tolling the road, Tx-DOT would have to hold a public hearing just like the high speed rail proposal, which Montgomery County citizens vigorously opposed and forced them to move outside of the County.
Millsaps also assured the Commissioners Court that Keough will fit to keep the Tx-249 extension from becoming a toll road, if Tx-DOT were to fund it.