Thursday, August 14, 2008

Cat's Out of The Bag

Cat's out of the bag - SHADOW TOLLS CREEP OUT

Last month Orange County Transportation Authority staff began a series

of appearances before OC city councils presenting:

their "Locally Preferred Alternative for South County's Major Investment Study Area."

The major investment they're talking about is: upgrade to streets, arterials

and freeways in the area from the 55 freeway south to the San Diego County line.

Funding for upgrades will come primarily from the renewal of Measure M,

the extra half-cent sales tax we all pay in Orange County.

Included in the plan are tax subsidies for the TCA.

Like we told you last year, the political 'might' of the Transportation Corridors Agency (TCA)

knows no bounds, or shame around here.

So despite trumpeting, "We're a private entity using no Public Funding to construct our toll roads,"

blah, blah, blah, they've not only inserted themselves into our Measure M funding,

they've devised a new term, "Shadow Tolls," to help save their sorry financial butts.

What would we get if TCA's shadowy plan is adopted?

First, we'd get lower tolls;

50% is the discount currently tossed around.

To address the congestion these lower tolls would cause,

TCA will add lanes to their toll roads!

That's right.

Not only will your tax money subsidize a failing concept / agency,

TCA will be adding lanes to their Loser-toll-system (while freeways,

streets and public mass transit in its many forms continue playing

second fiddle to OC failed toll roads).

What are Shadow Tolls?

The implication is, every time you'd pay a toll, some generous entity would match it

with money from heaven. But where does the money really come from?

OCTA pretends it doesn't know.

What they're suggesting (at TCA's behest) is adoption of a plan with no stated funding source?

Though it's clear to any thinking citizen the source is your pocketbook.

More taxes with a sneaky name.

What's the claimed benefit?

Through a lengthy process of traffic modeling and cost/benefit analysis,

OCTA purports to show regional traffic will be reduced, and service levels

improved. Highway Science clearly jiggered.

OCTA is the agency steadfastly refusing to allow modeling of any plans

in south county without completion of the 241.

Even though, it is increasingly likely the road will never be built.

Still, OCTA's Board won't allow a No-Trestles-toll-road version modeled?

Who are these guys (and some gals)?

Through the years, OCTA and TCA boards have shared many members.

Their politics are clear. Their loyalties not surprising.

Chalk this

blatant bit of bad transportation management up to OC politics.

Why TCA needs money:

As detailed elsewhere on this site, OC toll roads have failed, practically and financially.

TCA roads comprise over half the superhighway-miles in South Orange County.

But even before the meteoric rise in gas prices, they attracted less than a 5th

of the drivers in the region.


Because the basic model-- toll-ways / toll roads surrounded by freeways,

is a ridiculous business model.

In 2008 there are nearly 1-million 'less' toll-way users than in 2007.

There are thousands of loyal TCA patrons, but five x times that number never use toll roads.

As a result, the 73 has never (and the 241 only rarely) met it's monthly bond debt obligations

through monthly toll revenues, since the day it opened.

TCA makes up the difference with interest-earned on their dwindling investment portfolio.

And, on the failed 73 toll road, from money borrowed from the 241.

TCA's road to financial ruin from Day-1.

So, more than just a shot in the arm, this blatant tax grab / Shadow Tolls, is designed to facilitate

yet another refinancing of their sinking operation.

Bloated bureaucracies don’t die easily.

Across the nation, boondoggles like TCA survive through shenanigans regular folks get locked up for.

TCA continues to talk about “freeing up the toll roads.”

But since they’ve never (far as we can tell), paid a dime on the principal to their bond debt,

the date of "freeing up" gets pushed ever farther into the future. Think 2065.

Historically, only a few toll facilities nationwide have ever been freed-up / paid-up.

Most are continually refinanced to support the agency, and the careers which built them.

Shadow Tolls are another scam to finance TCA’s failed enterprise and to perpetuate itself.

Shadow Tolls won’t fix South OC traffic.

But rather, will continue to confuse it, and us more.

Short term benefits versus long term reality.

Toll discounts will probably increase toll road use, temporarily.

But studies by UC’s Transportation Center confirm what drivers already know:

any restriction on one part of a system causes congestion on the rest.

Therefore 'any' toll required, to use TCA’s folly-roads will contribute to

more freeway congestion.

With half the highway miles in South County under Toll,

the other half (the freeways) will always carry a disproportionate

share of OC traffic.

OC freeways will grow increasingly congested

as long as the 73 and 241 charge even nominal tolls.

But forget nominal.

There’s a limit to how much 'subsidy' from cities, county, or state,

will be willing to kick in.

So, toll discounts will be artificially low when introduced; reflecting

“congestion pricing” (highest tolls during peak commute hours);

subject to the ebb and flow of political-will for as long as they’re

in effect, as tolls slowly rise and rise and rise...again.

How 'they' pulled this off:

TCA is the tail that wags OCTA's dog.

With roots in Orange County’s Republican Central Committee, TCA founders

and board members are longtime county politicians, aspiring to higher office

and or continued employment.

The Toll Roads stand as this county’s symbol of independence from Sacramento:

a thumb in eye to state transportation planners and politicians who balked at funding

county freeways in the 70's, so local developers could grow fat / ever richer on OC's

profitable urban sprawl.

Rather than pay for the roads themselves, TCA encouraged bond sales to clueless

investors who believed, erroneously, OC drivers would pay any-price to live the

California Dream. Too bad they didn’t do their homework.

Now TCA faces the inevitable admission of their failure.

But not before one stupendous last blast public snow job - Shadow Tolls.

TCA's Shadow Toll Game Plan:

1) They’ve quashed studying any and all alternative no-toll-road plans.

Like the obvious: Freeing up OC-toll roads now, getting back 51-miles

of instant new freeways now, instead of 2065 or later.

2) Twisting arm of puppet agency, OCTA, to include Shadow Tolls

in its “preferred alternative” master plan.

3) OCTA floats idea (sans any reference to source of subsidies) before

their 'friends' on local city councils.

None of whom ask one pertinent question.

4) Launch low key PR effort to lubricate voting public (YOU) for the inevitable.

5) Then, if we squeal when the real thieving starts, they’ll buy the biggest media

blast ever. Bigger than before Del Mar, to convince us, Shadow Tolls are the

most generous thing TCA has ever done for the motoring public.

Stay tuned - it gets even better.

TCA's cooks are busy stirring.

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