Image: U.S. PIRG’S “Highway Boondoggles” Study, January, 2016, which identified the Texas State Highway 249 tollway project as one of the 12 most unnecessary road projects underway in the United States.
Magnolia, January 9 – Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal and County Commissioner Charlie Riley are leading the charge forward on a $73 million non-voter-approved road bond project that will cost Montgomery County taxpayers more than $73 million to construct a 3.6 mile tollroad extension of State Highway 249 at the far southwest edge of the County. U.S. PIRG, a nonpartisan public interest research group, as well as many citizen groups in Waller and Grimes counties have questioned projections for the engineering and construction project, where the County has already awarded $13 million of general fund tax dollars to major campaign contributors of Doyal, Riley, Commissioner Jim Clark, and Commissioner Mike Meador.
The TX 249 Tollway project stands as a symbol of the Doyal-Riley elitism and their willingness to lie even to their closest friends and constituents. U.S. PIRG has identified the TX 249 Tollway project as one of the 12 most unnecessary road projects underway in the United States.
Some people have begun to refer to Doyal’s and Riley’s $73 million 3.6 mile toll road as the “Decimation of Hope Highway” because it will destroy the ability of Montgomery County residents to afford to live in their homes if they have fixed or moderate incomes and because it will prevent the spending reductions necessary for County citizens to obtain any relief from high property taxes. Residents already face gigantic tax increases in the form of higher Appraisal District valuations from the Commissioners Court-controlled Appraisal District (Riley and Meador have served on its board along with former Commissioner Ed Chance, and their longtime close allies Bruce Tough and Tom Cox). Many residents are clamoring for substantial spending reductions in the County’s bloated $358 million budget, which has grown at a pace far greater than population growth since 2000. The burden of the Decimation of Hope Highway expenditures would make such reductions very difficult.
Doyal and Riley have caused the County to pay more than $2.1 million to Halff Associates, Inc., the engineering firm of which Bobby Jack Adams, Doyal’s business partner in other ventures, is Vice President and manager of Halff’s local sales and engineering office. Halff Associates State PAC and Adams are major campaign contributors to Doyal, Riley, Clark, and Meador.
There are a lot of myths about the TX 249 Tollway as a result of the Doyal-Riley propaganda. Here are the three biggest myths (lies) from Doyal and Riley.
TX 249 Lie #1. If Montgomery County doesn’t build the 3.6 miles of tollroad, it won’t get built.
To understand why Doyal’s, Riley’s, and their supporters’ statements to that effect are false, one must understand how Montgomery County got involved in this project in the first place.
The TX 249 Extension is part of an “Aggie Parkway” plan of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) which will build a highway connecting College Station, through Grimes County and Montgomery County, through the current location of Tx-249 into Harris County, and then ending at the intersection of TX 249 with Beltway 8.
TxDOT already has the funding in place to construct the road. Much of that funding came from federal highway grants that came from citizens’ tax dollars and have already come back into this state in a TxDOT reserve for the construction of the TX 249 Extension. Other money already set aside for the Aggie Parkway project has come from state gas taxes that citizens in this community already paid.
TxDOT has confirmed to State Representative Mark Keough, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack, and directly to The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, that TxDOT would build the 3.6 mile road, even if Montgomery County chooses not to do so.
That makes a lot of sense, because the 3.6 miles of the road is a middle section of three important parts of the Tx-249 Extension:
- Harris County portion from Beltway 8 to Spring Creek along current right-of-way of Tx 249, which the Harris County Toll Road Authority is financing and constructing;
- 3.6 miles from Spring Creek along the current right-of-way of Tx 249 to the intersection of FM 1774 and Spur 149 at Pinehurst. This tiny portion is the $73 million Decimation of Hope Highway that Doyal and Riley want to build and control.
- 15 miles from Pinehurst, bypassing the City of Magnolia, and then approximately along the current right-of-way of FM 1774 to Todd Mission in Grimes County. The road ends in the Todd Mission area, which is largely undeveloped pastureland.
Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and one of the conservative leaders in the Texas Senate also confirmed that TxDOT would build the 3.6 mile road as a free road, if Montgomery County did not proceed to build it as a tollroad.
Why is Montgomery County building the 3.6 mile road at this point? One of the first acts Doyal took as County Judge was to push through approval of a contract on January 26, 2015, in which Montgomery County took primacy for the 3.6 mile portion of the Aggie Parkway. The 2015 contract, called a “SH 249 Montgomery County Construction, Operation and Maintenance Agreement,” recites the fact that TxDOT already has the funding the build the road, but Montgomery County wants to build the 3.6 mile portion from Spring Creek to Pinehurst anyway.
Why is Montgomery County only building the 3.6 miles of the road rather than the entire 18.6 miles, approximately, of road traveling through Montgomery County? Because the “traffic and revenue” study completed in 2014 by CDM Smith, Inc., showed that there would not be sufficient revenue along the 15 miles from Pinehurst to Todd Mission to support bonds for a tollroad.
For Doyal and Riley, it’s all about money. Mobility has nothing to do with the TX 249 Extension. In fact, tollroads generally create traffic safety problems that otherwise don’t exist. Please see “Tx-249 Tollway Likely to Cause Traffic Congestion, Safety Issues, As Drivers Seek to Avoid It,” The Golden Hammer, September 11, 2017.
TX 249 Lie #2. Montgomery County can’t have a referendum on the project.
This falsehood is the one about which Doyal is most vehement and Riley is most befuddled.
Doyal doesn’t want any tollroad referendum, because as tollroad attorney Rich Muller of Sugar Land admitted in the April 11, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting, voters would likely vote the tollroad down in a referendum. Citizens have grown to detest tollroads, because they create area safety and congestion problems and they’re downright expensive. If you don’t buy the expensiveness argument, take a spin on the “Grand Parkway,” Tx-99, and see how much you spend in the trip.
Riley claims that he’d support a voter referendum but has attempted to blame the attorneys for advising him that the County can’t hold a referendum on whether to proceed with the TX 249 project.
There actually are some ways that Montgomery County or others could hold a referendum on the proposal to spend $73 million on the crazed 3.6 mile TX 249 Tollway.
- The Harris County Toll Road Authority actually came into existence on September 13, 1983 when Harris County voters approved the release of up to $900 million in bonds to create the Hardy Toll Road and the Sam Houston Tollway. Ten days later, the Harris County Commissioners Court designated all five court members as the governing board for the HCTRA. Admittedly, there are some reasons why Montgomery County may not want to utilize this method.
- The Commissioners Court acting in their individual capacities along with a private group of citizens could pay privately – i.e., not with government funds – for the County Election Administrator to hold a non-binding county-wide referendum on the issue whether the citizens want such a tollroad. Texas Attorney General Dan Morales’s Opinion 94-091 discusses that method. That is an excellent mechanism to hold such an election.
- After the lies and “bait-and-switch” schemes they’ve observed out of their corrupt Montgomery County Commissioners Court, citizens in Montgomery County have had enough. Therefore, on August 15, 2017, the Republican Precinct Chairs in the GOP County Executive Committee brought to a vote a resolution calling upon the State Republican Executive Committee to place a proposition on the ballot that no governmental entity should ever construct or fund construction of toll roads without voter approval.
The establishment-controlled County Republican Party Chairman tried to kill the tollroads referendum by adjourning the Executive Committee meeting. A brilliant young Precinct Chairman, Reagan Reed, outmaneuvered the Party Chairman’s illegal parliamentary tactics. When the matter finally came to a vote, the anti-tollroads referendum passed 34 votes in favor with 1 vote against, a 97% margin.
The “establishment” Courier blog and its puppet Catherine Dominguez wrote the next day that contained the following editorialization as a fact: “A vote by the Montgomery County Executive Committee of the Republican Party to get a nonbinding referendum on the ballot in March won’t go anywhere because the local group has no authority to take such action, according to the head of the Montgomery County Republican Party [Wally Wilkerson].” (Emphasis added.)
On December 1, 2017, a group of Montgomery County conservative activists, including Reed, Precinct Chair Paul Gebolys, Diane Gebolys, Tamara Yollick, and others went to Austin to lobby the State Republican Executive Committee to place the proposition on the statewide ballot. On December 2, 2017, under the brilliant parliamentary leadership of Terry Holcomb, the SREC Committeeman from Senatorial District 3, the hope of all citizens finally to bring an end to tollroads shoved down their throats by backroom crony politics renewed: the SREC overwhelmingly voted to place Proposition 2 on the ballot.
Proposition 2: “No governmental entity should ever construct or fund construction of toll roads without voter approval.“
Texas Republicans have the chance to shut down crony politics once and for all. Proposition 2 makes a strong statement for citizen vigilance and against Fidel Castro-style “economic planning.”
On March 6, 2018, voters statewide, including in Montgomery County, will have the opportunity to vote whether any governmental entity should ever construct or fund construction of tollroads without voter approval.
Harris County held a referendum on the tollroad plan for that community. There are at least three ways that voters could decide through a referendum.
If Riley is so committed to letting the voters decide, perhaps it’s worth holding off on Montgomery County’s involvement in the TX 249 project, as a tollroad, while we wait to petition the Texas Legislature to change the Texas Election Code to allow a straight up referendum on that specific project unfettered by the rules and regulations of existing election laws. That idea leads us squarely into the significance of TX 249 Lie #3.
TX 249 Lie #3. TX 249 will be a tollroad no matter what, so Montgomery County may as well build it in order to control the tolls.
TxDOT already has the funding to build the extension of TX 249 from Spring Creek to Todd Mission, i.e., the entire Montgomery County portion of the road.
Why will TX 249 be a tollroad at all? Because on June 27, 2017, none other than Craig Doyal and Charlie Riley appeared before the Texas Transportation Commission in Austin, where Doyal told the Commissioners who oversee TxDOT that Montgomery County was “unified in support” for the construction of TX 249 as a tollroad!
In fact, even in the Montgomery County Commissioners Court, TX 249 funding proposals had recently failed on 2 to 2 votes (Doyal and Riley voting “for” with Noack and Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark voting “against”). When Montgomery County citizens appear before the Commissioners Court to comment on the Tollway, they’re unanimous in their opposition, with the exception of a few close allies of Riley, such as the husband of his campaign manager, who have urged otherwise.
Meanwhile, little Grimes County to the west of Montgomery County lobbied vociferously against any tollroads cutting through Grimes County. The Grimes County Commissioners Court, their elected State Representative, and numerous citizens stopped the tolling of TX 249 in Grimes. In other words, their elected leaders represented the citizens rather than their own financial interests.
Clearly, if Doyal and Riley, along with the rest of the Commissioners Court stood against the tolling of TX 249 in Montgomery County, rather than lying to TxDOT otherwise, there’d be a very different scenario for the future of TX 249.
But, clearly, Doyal and Riley not only want TX 249’s construction but also they want it tolled, so they can use the tolling as a pretext to take control of the 3.6 mile stretch in the middle between the 15 miles of TxDOT’s project and the HCTRA portion of the project. By Montgomery County taking control over the project, Doyal and Riley can choose the contractors and control where the vendor dollars flow. That’s what Doyal and Riley want, because they’re paying back the largest contributors to their criminal legal defense funds and their campaign coffers.
Doyal and Riley betrayed the citizens of Montgomery County, plain and simple.