The primary reason we are being tolled is the simple fact that there isn’t enough money to build both an adequate road network and a passenger rail network. Tolling was invented to generate revenue for building train projects. (But after train projects are built they need hundreds of millions of more funding for Operations and Maintenance. That means more property tax increases.)
CAMPO has released new information about Lone Star Rail (LSR). Of the $56 million that has been given to LSR, only half has been spent. This money is mostly federal pass-through funding. It is essentially grant money, but there are strings. The feds have warned LSR that since the project is unbuildable (because the UPRR MoPac Right Of Way is no longer available), if LSR continues spending the funding, local taxpayers will have to repay the funds to the federal government if the project is canceled after the federal funds are disbursed. But if LSR capitulates now, none of the already expended monies will have to be reimbursed. (The CAMPO report also states that 1 Austinite got 20 of the contracts already paid out by LSR. Charles Heimsath, former CTRMA Board member. Tolling is all about funding rail, not roads.)
The anti-LSR faction of the CAMPO board tried to kill the project in April but was rebuffed on a 10 to 9 vote (with 1 abstention.) Instead, LSR was given until June 6th to present a reason to continue spending money on an ostensibly dead project. However, the CAMPO meeting Agenda for Monday only has an informational item on LSR. No action will be taken and LSR will not have to defend its continued existence. I interpret this as an indication that since no visible public opposition to LSR has emerged, the anti-LSR faction on CAMPO has decided to let sleeping dogs lie. No opposition from political parties or watchdog groups means continued corruption on a grand scale.
All we need to do is a to turn a single vote on the CAMPO board!
The LSR iron is hot. It could be killed quickly and permanently for chump change if liberty minded and anti-corruption warriors decided to do it now. It is only being kept alive to continue milking the federal purse to enrich a cabal of political grifters. But local taxpayers will ultimately pay for it when the feds demand reimbursement. BTW: The $56 million of federal money is chicken feed. Local taxpayers have already spent >$200 million on LSR. The developers of the Domain project got a $100 million tax break for agreeing to let LSR have a few acres of the project for a train station and parking lot. The COA has spent millions preparing the Seaholm site for LSR’s “Grand Central Station”, and millions more for “Complete Streets” projects surrounding Seaholm. The LSR main depot in San Antonio has already been built at the old Kelly Air Base. (It was justified as an intermodal bus stop.) Spending hundreds of millions for useless beauty products is killing Austin affordability.
Insight. Senator Kirk Watson held a press conference this week to hype the $5 billion dollar bus lane / toll lane project on I-35. He mentioned several sources of funding for I-35 including “CAMPO’s $230 million ready cash”. That $230 million is the future toll revenue from the MoPac toll lanes, but CAMPO had previously dedicated that money to the LSR project. This means that insiders already know that LSR will be killed at some point. (Like after they have looted more of the federal funding.)
Blood is in the water. LSR opponents should be organizing now! There will be another CAMPO meeting this Summer and it will feature a vote on killing LSR. If we can find 20 activists who will lobby selected board members, issue public statements, and speak at the CAMPO hearing, we will win. We need to identify candidates for the November ballot who will pledge their support. We need to create a coalition of like minded public interest groups. And we will slaughter LSR before Republicrats can loot it.
The CAMPO report (see page 24) is an excellent summary of the situation. Please also try to watch the live CAMPO meeting on Monday. The meeting begins at 6 pm and the LSR discussion, Item #7, could begin anytime between 6:30 and 7:30 pm.