Image: While citizens speak – in this instance the Sage Bill O’Sullivan – Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark (left) and Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack (second from left) look on, while Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal (center), Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley (bald, red-faced, second from right), and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador look away from the speaker or the citizens.
Conroe, May 9 – Charlie Riley, the Precinct 2 County Commissioner struggling to gain re-election in the May 22 Republican Runoff Election, and two of his cohorts showed opposition to removing the State Highway 242 flyover tolls under all circumstances by the manner in which the discussion and vote occurred on Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark’s motion to remove the unpopular tolls from the two flyovers. Riley, lame duck County Judge Craig Doyal, and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador voted against Clark’s resolution.
The action item, which Clark placed on the agenda, read, “CONSIDER, DISCUSS AND TAKE ACTION ON 242 FLYOVERS RELATING TO THE REMOVAL OF TOLLS AND TXDOT ASSUMING RESPONSIBILITY OF ONE AND/OR BOTH FLYOVERS.” As a result of his work with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) on a number of issues, Clark has developed a strong relationship with Adam Galand, TxDOT’s Area Engineer, and other representations of the state agency who are bringing road projects to Precinct 4, which Clark represents on the Commissioners Court.
During candidate forums for the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election, Precinct 4 Montgomery County Commissioner Jim Clark, Precinct 2 County Commissioner candidate Gregory Parker, and likely next Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough urged the Montgomery County government to remove the tolls from the SH 242 flyovers. The County paid off all of the bond debt on those flyovers on January 18, 2018, from pass-thru toll funds paid to the County from the State of Texas.
Since there is no debt, there seems to be no reason to charge tolls on the flyovers. By removing the tolls from the flyovers, they would finally actually relieve significant congestion on the Interstate 45 northbound frontage road and on SH 242 westbound.
During and after the electoral campaign, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley and lame duck County Judge Craig Doyal have had two excuses for keeping the tolls on the SH 242 flyovers. First, Riley and Doyal claimed they need the tolls to maintain the flyovers. Second, Riley and Doyal claim there is a contractual “commitment” to build a third flyover. There is no contractual commitment at all, because, once the tolls go away, so does any commitment by this County to pay for a third flyover, under the written agreement between Montgomery County and the Texas Department of Transportation.
The maintenance excuse was particularly troubling at this juncture, however, because Riley and Doyal have abjectly failed to maintain the SH 242 flyovers. The SH 242 flyovers are filthy and appear to be falling apart. By turning the flyovers over to TxDOT, the state would be responsible for the road maintenance on them.
Riley, Doyal, and Meador show true colors: they love to collect tolls as source of revenue
The discussion of Clark’s proposed resolution on May 8 became heated among the members of the Commissioners Court at several points in the discussion. First, Doyal and Riley attempted to argue that Montgomery County’s government had made a “commitment” to build a third flyover using the tolls from the first two flyovers. That argument quickly dissipated after Assistant County Attorney B.D. Griffin confirmed that any obligation to pay to build a third flyover would go away under the express terms of the agreement, if the tolls were removed from the first two flyovers. Also, there is absolutely nothing in any of the County’s agreement with TxDOT that requires the County government to continue to maintain tolls on the SH 242 flyovers.
Riley and Doyal then desperately tried to argue that the County government needs the revenue from the first two flyovers to pay for construction of the third flyover at the intersection of SH 242 and Interstate 45. After Clark and Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack pointed out that approximately $56 million in funds are in an escrow fund at TxDOT to reimburse Montgomery County for “pass-thru tolls,” it became clear that there are sufficient funds already available to build the third flyover.
Finally, Riley interjected, “We have $56 million in an escrow account at TxDOT. We’re also waiting for another $18 million. How do we know that we won’t lose that money if we don’t follow our commitment to build the third flyover?!”
That argument didn’t make any sense either, although, since it emanated from Riley who has repeated revealed his ignorance of how TxDOT operates, it’s not entirely surprising that Riley would make it.
In actuality the “pass-thru tolls” are reimbursements by TxDOT to Montgomery County on other road and bridge projects that the County’s taxpayers had funded through bonds passed in 2005 for improvements to F.M. 1485, F.M. 1314, F.M. 1486, and other state roads in this community. As TxDOT counted traffic on those improved roads, the state became liable to Montgomery County for reimbursement of the funds the County loaned the state for those road projects. There was no obligation whatsoever for Montgomery County to place tolls on the SH 242 flyovers as a condition to the County government receiving the “pass-thru toll” funds.
In an attempt to try to convince Riley to vote to remove the tolls, however, Clark and Noack agreed to amend Clark’s motion to state that the tolls would only be removed from the flyovers “if TxDOT confirms that it won’t affect the County’s receipt of ‘pass-thru tolls.'” As a result of that amendment, there was no reason whatsoever for Riley to vote against remove of the SH 242 flyover tolls.
Riley still voted against removing the SH 242 flyover tolls anyway, along with Doyal and Meador, and ultimately revealed that Riley supports collection of tolls as a permanent source of revenue.