Image: Left to right, Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough and his Chief of Staff Jason Millsaps.
Conroe, April 8 – Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough has, for the first time during his tenure as County Judge, placed an agenda item on the April 9, 2019, Commissioners Court Agenda to remove the tolls from the State Highway 242 flyovers. The agenda item reads: “Consider, discuss and take action on removing the tolls on both flyovers at Highway 242.”
Keough had previously sought to include his proposal to remove the tolls on the State Highway 242 flyovers on previous Commissioners Court agendas. Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner Charlie Riley, who advocates tollroads even when the roads are unnecessary and even if they are necessary but the debt on them has been paid, had raised some objections to the legality of removing the tolls from the two State Highway 242 flyovers.
The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, has confirmed that individuals within the Montgomery County Attorney’s Office and also within the Legal Division of the Texas Department of Transportation have indicated there are no legal reasons the SH 242 flyover tolls must continue. In fact, a source inside of TxDOT, who has requested anonymity, told this newspaper that TxDOT representatives have been telling Riley for several months that continuation of the tolling on the SH 242 flyovers will not even impact whether the State agrees to finance the construction of a third flyover on the northbound side of Interstate 45 heading east onto SH 242 and East Montgomery County.
On January 25, 2018, all of the debt associated with the SH 242 flyover project was paid off. As a result of the bond debt defeasances Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack had proposed from funds from the Pass-Through Toll Revenue received from the state, the County government paid $6.370 million from the debt service fund and completely defeased the Series 2009, Series 2010, and Series 2012 Bonds that financed the SH 242 flyovers.
During calendar year 2017, the flyover tolls totaled $1,233,736.20, or an average of $102,811.35 per month. In 2015, when the County government had projected the revenue for the tollroad during that time period, the projections were approximately $194,028 per month for calendar year 2017. Therefore, the actual toll revenue was approximately $92,000 per month less than the engineering projections. The tolls are $0.50 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and $0.25 from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The flyover tolls collected continue to remain lower than economic projections.
Riley and disgraced former County Judge Craig Doyal, however, have viewed tolls as a source of “revenue,” a euphemism for taxes. Riley and Doyal lobbied TxDOT to build the TX 249 extension from Harris County to the Grimes County line as a tollroad rather than as a freeway.
Doyal and Riley wanted to build the TX 249 Tollway as a tollroad, so that they could funnel large amounts of funds to their favored political contributors and criminal legal defense fund contributors, including Halff Associates engineers, Jones & Carter engineers, and others.
One of the arguments Doyal and Riley attempted to make, however, is that by Montgomery County building the TX 249 Tollway, the County government could control when to remove the tolls from that road after the debt is paid, if ever. Therefore, Doyal’s and Riley’s refusal to remove tolls from the SH 242 flyovers suggests that they don’t really ever intend to remove tolls from TX 249 either.
Riley tried to argue against removal of the SH 242 flyover tolls by threatening that the County government would lose approximately $56 million in escrow funds to which the County government is entitled under the “pass-through tolls” program. This newspaper has confirmed with officials inside of TxDOT as well as in the Montgomery County Attorney’s Office that argument is untrue.
Riley also tried to argue against removal of the SH 242 flyover tolls by claiming that the County government would have no funds with which to maintain those flyovers if the toll funds discontinued. That argument is also untrue, because TxDOT will assume responsibility for the SH 242 flyovers’ maintenance once the County government removes the tolls.
Former Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark said while he was on the Commissioners Court: “Our county government should prove that they’ll actually remove tolls when projects are paid. There’s no reason to continue taxing the public with these SH 242 toll facilities, since we’ve paid off the debt.”
Riley, an anti-citizen, Big Government advocate, clearly wants tolls and taxes as high as possible, so that he can use “other people’s money” for the pet projects of his and his political contributors.