Conroe, September 21 – Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador are desperate to move forward with the Tx-249 Tollway project, which they’re estimating will cost $73 million for a 3.6 mile road at the far southwest edge of Montgomery County. It’s all about money. They’ve already spent $13.4 million of general revenue out of Montgomery County taxpayer coffers for their construction project, which voters have never approved and the citizens have, by an overwhelming majority, opposed.
Doyal and Riley are fighting for the political lives for re-election. They’re both under indictment for violating the Texas Open Meetings Act. They both face dozens of ethical questions about their conduct in office since January 1, 2015, when Doyal became County Judge and Riley became a Commissioner. Before that Riley worked for Doyal as Doyal’s Operations Manager in the Commissioner Precinct 2 office.
But don’t think for a moment that the Tx-249 project isn’t about funneling big money towards Doyal’s and Riley’s biggest political contributors and most important supporters. At Doyal’s urging, on January 26, 2015, Montgomery County entered into a $1.987 million contract with the engineering firm of his best friend and business partner Bobby Jack Adams. The firm is Halff Associates, Inc., which also has close ties to the San Jacinto River Authority. The County government has now paid Halff Associates well over $2 million on the Tx-249 project out of general revenue tax dollars. The other vendors on the project are also major political contributors to Doyal and Riley. Of course, there’s one other Doyal-Riley major political supporter who wants the Tx-249 project to move forward, San Antonio real estate developer Rick Sheldon.
Don’t think for a moment that Doyal or Riley work for this community. They work for the monied interests, mostly from outside of Montgomery County, who prop them up.
In order to try to quell citizen concerns about Montgomery County’s involvement in the highly questionable project, Doyal and Riley and many of the vendors involved in the project have propagated three major lies:
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 (Tx-DOT) 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.
Tx-DOT 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 Tx-DOT reserve for the construction of the Tx-249 Extension.
Tx-DOT 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 Tx-DOT 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.
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 Tx-DOT 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.
- The State Republican Executive Committee could hold a statewide referendum on the proposed referendum that issued from the Montgomery County Republican Executive Committee on August 15. If that referendum were to pass, then the Commissioners Court should hold off on tollroad construction until they can petition the Texas Legislature to amend the Texas Election Code to codify a provision which authorizes the holding of referendums on proposed toll road projects before begin development or construction.
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.
Tx-DOT 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 Tx-DOT 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 Tx-DOT 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 Tx-DOT’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.
Doyal and Riley betrayed the citizens of Montgomery County, plain and simple.