Perils of the People with Lame Duck Doyal, Part 3: The TX-249 Tollroad Scam

Perils of the People with Lame Duck Doyal, Part 3: The TX-249 Tollroad Scam

Image: A screen shot from “Save the Cowboy Hat! The Ballad of Foghorn Doyal and the Tollroad Trouble,” which the Freedom & Liberty Conservatives PAC released during the Republican Primary Election to support Proposition 2, which passed overwhelmingly statewide, in which voters decided that “no government entity should construct or fund the construction of tollroads without voter approval.” The cost estimate shown refers to the TX 249 Tollway, also known as the Decimation of Hope Highway.

Conroe, March 14 – On March 6, 2018, statewide, 1,372,554 Texans voted for Proposition 2 – against tollroads – in the Republican Primary Election, while only 154,077 voted against it. That represents an 89.90% in favor to 10.09% against margin. Montgomery County voters, however, provided an even larger margin of victory for Proposition 2 in the March 6 Election. Those results are particularly interesting. Countywide, Proposition 2 passed by a huge margin of 43,915 voter in favor to 4,187 votes against, or 91.30% for with 8.70% against.

PROPOSITION 2: NO GOVERNMENTAL ENTITY SHOULD EVER CONSTRUCT OR FUND CONSTRUCTION OF TOLL ROADS WITHOUT VOTER APPROVAL.

The Golden Hammer examined Magnolia-area voting precincts, because County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley have argued that the Magnolia area supports the TX 249 Tollway – specifically as a tollroad – even if there is no voter approval. Doyal and Riley were wrong. Voting Precinct 29, where the Precinct Chair is none other than Linda Stuckey (Riley’s former campaign manager), in the heart of Riley’s and Doyal’s area of greatest support, the voters voted in favor of Proposition 2 – and against tollroads unless they receive voter approval first – by 89.85% for and 10.15% against.

Despite losing in the Republican Primary Election for Montgomery County Judge to State Representative Mark Keough, Doyal will continue to be the County Judge until December 31, 2018. That places citizens in the perilous position that, while they have overwhelming rejected tollroads without voter approval and while they turned Doyal himself away at the ballot box, Doyal could still try to proceed with the construction of the ever unpopular TX 249 Tollway. Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (a Montgomery County resident), and most the Republican leadership in the Texas Legislature have made clear they don’t support construction of new tollroads in Texas either.

Doyal and his cohort, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, seem as though they are the only two individuals who want to proceed with the construction of the TX 249, 3.6 mile Tollway, also known as the Decimation of Hope Highway. It’s unclear how much the highway boondoggle will cost which is the equivalent of placing those many tens of millions of dollars into the pockets of Doyal’s and Riley’s closest political supporters, the out-of-county engineers, contractors, and developers who have loaded up Doyal’s and Riley’s criminal legal defense fund with cash.

The TX 249 Tollway project is not a done deal at all. The County government has not advertised yet to invite the construction bids, has not set a budget – somewhere between $73 million and $105 million – and has not hired a general contractor for the construction work. In fact, under the County’s contract with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), Montgomery County’s government could stop the job, turn the completed engineering work over to TxDOT, and seek reimbursement of some or all of the funds the County has already spent. That would be a gigantic win for all of the citizens – other than Doyal and Riley – because TxDOT would likely build the road as a free road that is an expansion of TX 249 rather than as a tollroad, according to Texas Transportation Commissioner Victor Vandergriff who provided those facts at the December 19, 2018, Commissioners Court meeting.

If Doyal hasn’t gotten the clear message that the citizens of Montgomery County don’t want that tollroad, the citizens will need to take action to stop the project.

The TX 249 Tollway project stands as a symbol of the Riley-Doyal 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 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.

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. Unfortunately, TxDOT has left the Aggie Parkway as the one remaining tollroad on its project list.

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.

The worst disaster for the Doyal-Riley propaganda machine came when Doyal invited TxDOT Commissioner Victor Vandergriff of Fort Worth to come to put the scare into Montgomery County about the TX 249 Tollway at the December 19, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting. 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 3.6 miles sandwiched between the 15 mile TxDOT 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.”
Texas Transportation Commissioner Victor Vandergriff is resigning due to scandal and the TTC’s attempt to build tollroads across Texas contrary to the policies of Governor Greg Abbott and other Texas leaders. Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal brought Vandergriff to speak in favor of the TX 249 Tollway on December 19, 2017. Vandergriff didn’t follow Doyal’s script very well.
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.” In other words, TxDOT would build the TX49 Extension as a free road!
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 3.6 mile Decimation of Hope Highway section, even if Montgomery County didn’t proceed to build it as a tollroad.

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.

In reality, Proposition 2 on March 6 was that referendum where the voters of Montgomery County, including those in the Magnolia area, overwhelmingly rejected any tollroad, including TX 249, unless it received voter approval first.

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. (What about what just happened statewide, Mr. Riley?)

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.

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!

Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal.

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.

 

 

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