Image: Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark spoke the common sense about the Tx-249 Tollway during the December 20, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting, after County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley sought to manipulate the discussion in a pro-tollroad direction.
Conroe, December 21 – During discussion of the $95 million, 4.5-mile, Tx-249 Tollway, also known as the Decimation of Hope Highway, during the December 19, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting, Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley tried to manipulate the discussion to sound as though citizens supported tollroads and taxes. Their efforts backfired and, not surprisingly, Doyal, Riley, their supporters, who were mostly Riley’s closest political followers including members of the “Charlie Riley Band,” and Texas Transportation Commission member Victor Vandergriff whom Doyal invited to speak at the meeting, all looked like a group of money-grubbing fools.
Recent weeks have been quite tough for Doyal and Riley. They want the Decimation of Hope Highway project to be a tollroad, so that they have a mechanism to funnel the $82.8 million of currently estimated construction costs for the 4.5 mile road to their closest political campaign contributors and criminal legal defense fund contributors. The 4.5 mile road from Spring Creek to Pinehurst is sandwiched between the Harris County Toll Road Authority’s extension of Tx-249, which HCTRA intends to toll, and the 15 mile Texas Department of Transportation (Tx-DOT) portion of the road which will go from Pinehurst, west of Magnolia, and then out through vacant pasturelands – owned by Doyal and Riley campaign contributors who are San Antonio real estate developer and land speculator Rick Sheldon and Minnesota-based Varde Partners – to end in Todd Mission in Grimes County.
Since the Grimes County Commissioners Court and their state legislators fought against tolling the Grimes County portion of the Tx-249 extension, TxDOT backed off of tolling that portion of the road. At the end of June, 2017, Doyal appeared before TxDOT’s policy commission and lied to them that “Montgomery County is unified in support” behind tolling the Tx-249 extension. Doyal wanted TxDOT to build the road as a tollroad so the County could finance the 4.5 mile portion, which Doyal wanted to use to funnel money to his vendor supporters, through the issuance of revenue bonds supported by tolls, which would not require a voter referendum.
Rich Muller, Doyal’s and Riley’s tollroad lawyer from Sugar Land, acknowledged during an April 13, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting that voters would never support a referendum for the Tx-249 extension. Doyal and Muller both stated during the December 19 meeting that Montgomery County voters would never vote in favor of Tx-249 as a tollroad.
Abbott, Patrick, and TxDOT
On Thursday, November 16, 2017, TxDOT announced that it intended to expand the construction of toll lanes in conjunction with highway rebuilds for roads that are presented untolled. Within a few hours, Lieutenant Governor Patrick issued a statement that “lawmakers are very unhappy with the Texas Transportation Commission [TxDOT’s governing board] whose members appear to be going in a direction that opposes the will of” Texas legislators and Texas drivers.
Two days later, on November 18, Governor Greg Abbott joined the chorus of opposition to more tollroads in Texas: “I think TxDOT is going a great job to build more roads and unclog our congestion. Obviously, we want them to do that in a way as I promised and that is without adding more toll roads, and I think they have the resources to be able to do that.”
Unlike Doyal and Riley who ignore Montgomery County citizen opinion, TxDOT acquiesced to the loud protests from the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, and several state legislators on November 19 when it announced that it was withdrawing the program for more tollroads it had announced only three days earlier.
Meanwhile, the Montgomery County Republican Executive Committee voted 34 to 1 on August 15, 2017, to call for a statewide referendum that “No governmental entity should ever construct or fund the construction of toll roads, unless its voters have approved each road by referendum.”
In response to Montgomery County Republicans’ call for a statewide referendum – and to the gathering of over 1,000 petition signatures stating opposition to the Tx-249 Tollway in Montgomery County during a 3-day period in August – the State Republican Executive Committee overwhelmingly voted to place Proposition 2 on the statewide ballot for the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election: “No governmental entity should ever construct or fund the construction of tollroads without voter approval.”
Republican Primary Election Statewide Proposition 2: “No governmental entity should ever construct or fund the construction of tollroads without voter approval.”
It’s becoming pretty clear that Doyal and Riley have a stark political choice: either they get their tollroad and lose their jobs as County Judge and Commissioner, or they can try to keep their jobs but disavow their core political supporters, who include Sheldon, Varde, Austin consultant Pete Peters, Bobby Adams of Halff Associates engineers, and Jones & Carter engineers.
Clearly, Doyal have chosen to remain loyal to their outside-of-county campaign contributors.
The staged event on December 19
Doyal invited TxDOT Commissioner Victor Vandergriff of Fort Worth to come to put the scare into Montgomery County about the Tx-249 Tollway. Vandergriff failed miserably. After several very open practice sessions between Doyal and Vandergriff during multiple breaks during the Commissioners Court meeting, Vandergriff, who hails from a political family in Fort Worth that used government to enrich themselves, at first said what Doyal wanted to hear: “If you don’t build the Tx-249 Tollroad now,” referring to the 4.5 miles sandwiched between the 15 mile Tx-DOT section and the HCTRA tollroad, then “we won’t see it built in our lifetimes.”
A few minutes later, Vandergriff amended his comment to say “we won’t see it built during our business careers.”
Riley brought to the Commissioners Court his regular group of supporters, including members of the infamous political “Charlie Riley Band” to “testify.” Riley also enlisted some law enforcement officers from the Magnolia area to beg for the tollroad to increase mobility. The law enforcement officers never quite explained how a tollroad that goes out through vacant pastureland and ends in Todd Mission, Texas, will increase mobility and assist law enforcement in the Magnolia area, which Riley has largely ignored during his 3 years as a County Commissioner. (How’s that widening of F.M. 1488 going?!)
In actuality, Riley’s little group of people did nothing other than disrupt the meeting several times and shout profanities at a conservative Republican Precinct Chair who had the audacity to follow the Republican Party Platform and oppose tollroads. At one point, representatives of the Precinct 1 Constable’s Office offered to come to the Republican Precinct Chair’s assistance, although she thanked them and declined.
The staged presentation fell apart when Noack and Clark pressed Vandergriff
After the Doyal-Riley show ended, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack asked Vandergriff, “I spoke with TxDOT Regional Director Quincy Allen who said the Tx-249 road would be built whether Montgomery County does it or not. Isn’t that true?”
Vandergriff undercut the entire staged presentation by answering Noack truthfully, “Yes, but it would be more like a farm-to-market road like what Grimes County will get than a tollroad.”
Clark’s wisdom shines through
Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark, in his down home common sensical manner, then delivered the death blow to the very poorly staged presentation of Doyal and Riley when he looked right at Doyal and said, “I can’t imagine that if TxDOT is overseeing the construction of A and they’re building C, then are you serious that they’re not going to build B right in middle of them?”
Of course, even Vandergriff nodded his head that the Tx-249 extension construction would occur in the 4.5 mile Decimation of Hope Highway section, even if Montgomery County didn’t proceed to build it as a tollroad.
The bottom line is clear: If Montgomery County stops this terrible folly of a tollroad so that Doyal and Riley can funnel dollars to their cronies, TxDOT will still build the 4.5 mile section between “A” and “C,” as Clark named them, as an improved farm-to-market road for which Montgomery County citizens will not have to pay tolls!